A song and a sermon of beans.

While some of us are still gathering in the harvest, I don’t think it’s too late to post about my garden beans. I have been working on a bean story since last summer, which I thought would be the end of my pole bean career, or at the least, the end of growing my favorite Blue Lakes in two-foot high vegetable boxes; I found myself swaying and tottering as I would stand in the boxes in order to pick them, trying not to stand on the basil plants, and it was unnerving.

So this year, I grew bush beans for the first time ever, but they were terribly disappointing. They had a very short peak of productivity, and instead of the fear of breaking my back falling out of the planting box, I knew the reality of slow backbreaking labor, bending over the jungle where the beans were even harder to find than when strung up on twine. I’m going back to pole beans, and will just have to figure something out to make picking safer.

More recently I harvested the Painted Lady perennial runner beans that I’ve told you about a few times. This year they produced so heavily from the five or six plants in the corners of my boxes, that I have enough to make a pot of soup, and I plan to create a recipe just for them.

In the time of harvest I found that Les Murray wrote a poem about beanstalks. In the title he mentions broad beans, which is one of the names I’ve heard for fava beans, which I also grew this year. However, his description of his beans does not match what I know of favas. It sounds more like regular green bean pole beans. So maybe in Australia they use different words. In any case, he highlights many aspects of this favorite garden vegetable in a joyful and celebratory way.


Beanstalks, in any breeze, are a slack church parade
without belief, saying trespass against us in unison,
recruits in mint Air Force dacron, with unbuttoned leaves.

Upright with water like men, square in stem-section
they grow to great lengths, drink rain, keel over all ways,
kink down and grow up afresh, with proffered new greenstuff.

Above the cat-and-mouse floor of a thin bean forest
snails hang rapt in their food, ants hurry through several dimensions:
spiders tense and sag like little black flags in their cordage.

Going out to pick beans with the sun high as fence-tops, you find
plenty, and fetch them. An hour or a cloud later
you find shirtfulls more. At every hour of daylight

appear more that you missed: ripe, knobbly ones, fleshy-sided,
thin-straight, thin-crescent, frown-shaped, bird-shouldered, boat-keeled ones,
beans knuckled and single-bulged, minute green dolphins at suck,

beans upright like lecturing, outstretched like blessing fingers
in the incident light, and more still, oblique to your notice
that the noon glare or cloud-light or afternoon slants will uncover

till you ask yourself Could I have overlooked so many, or
do they form in an hour? unfolding into reality
like templates for subtly broad grins, like unique caught expressions,

like edible meanings, each sealed around with a string
and affixed to its moment, an unceasing colloquial assembly,
the portly, the stiff, and those lolling in pointed green slippers …

Wondering who’ll take the spare bagfulls, you grin with happiness
– it is your health – you vow to pick them all
even the last few, weeks off yet, misshapen as toes.

-Les Murray

Spanish Musica pole beans 2018

8 thoughts on “A song and a sermon of beans.

  1. I often get more out of poems when they are connected with personal stories. The “Broad Bean” poem by itself seems like a magician’s display of word tricks, an impressive achievement, very entertaining. But reading about your hands-on experiences with beans helps me believe that Murray himself might have had more respect for beans than simply as curious objects from which to make an amusing poem. I did enjoy the poem, even before I saw it here. But with your introduction I’m more likely to enjoy beans themselves, whether as a garden observer or as a consumer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No bean poems were born in our garden, but I did hear M. saying that he is not likely to plant quite as many next year. Come rainy cold nights when the garden is fallow, we might sing a different song given what nice packets of sorted tender beans we blanched and froze for the keeping. And I do hope beans break down well in the compost, for the ones Murray describes as
    “ripe, knobbly ones, fleshy-sided,thin-straight, thin-crescent, frown-shaped,
    bird-shouldered, boat-keeled ones, beans knuckled and single-bulged,
    minute green dolphins at suck…”
    were returned by the piles to molder back into the soil.

    I don’t think you read the last poem I posted…nothing so wordy as what beans drew forth from Les Murray.


  3. In the past I grew both bush and pole beans. Bush beans are ready about 2 weeks earlier than the pole beans ( around here anyway). But the bush beans sprawl hopelessly and, as you say, finding the beans is a back breaking job. Next year it will be only pole beans for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Blue Lakes are a classic for green beans. How I remember those days of planting, picking and canning green beans during our farm days. Good memories and your poem told of one with the same memory. I like those hulled painted lady beans. The hulls remind me of a favorite of ours, field peas.

    Liked by 1 person

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