Sunday, January 20, 2013

January / John Clare (3)


   She from her memory oft repeats
Witches’ dread powers and fairy feats:
How one has oft been known to prance
In cowcribs, like a coach, to France,                      
And ride on sheep-trays from the fold
A race-horse speed to Burton-hold;
To join the midnight mystery’s rout,
Where witches meet the yews about:
And how, when met with unawares,
They turn at once to cats or hares,
And race along with hellish flight,
Now here, now there, now out of sight!—
And how the other tiny things
Will leave their moonlight meadow-rings,                
And, unperceiv’d, through key-holes creep,
When all around have sunk to sleep,
To feast on what the cotter leaves,—
Mice are not reckon’d greater thieves.
They take away, as well as eat,
And still the housewife’s eye they cheat,
In spite of all the folks that swarm
In cottage small and larger farm;
They through each key-hole pop and pop,
Like wasps into a grocer’s shop,                            
With all the things that they can win
From chance to put their plunder in;—
As shells of walnuts, split in two
By crows, who with the kernels flew;
Or acorn-cups, by stock-doves pluck’d,
Or egg-shells by a cuckoo suck’d;
With broad leaves of the sycamore
They clothe their stolen dainties o’er:
And when in cellar they regale,
Bring hazel-nuts to hold their ale;                            
With bung-holes bor’d by squirrels well,
To get the kernel from the shell;
Or maggots a way out to win,
When all is gone that grew within:
And be the key-holes e’er so high,
Rush poles a ladder’s help supply,
Where soft the climbers fearless tread,
On spindles made of spiders’ thread.
And foul, or fair, or dark the night,
Their wild-fire lamps are burning bright:                  
For which full many a daring crime
Is acted in the summer-time;—
When glow-worm found in lanes remote
Is murder’d for its shining coat,
And put in flowers, that Nature weaves
With hollow shapes and silken leaves,
Such as the Canterbury bell,
Serving for lamp or lantern well;
Or, following with unwearied watch
The flight of one they cannot match,                            
As silence sliveth upon sleep,
Or thieves by dozing watch-dogs creep,
They steal from Jack-a-Lantern’s tails
A light, whose guidance never fails
To aid them in the darkest night
And guide their plundering steps aright.
Rattling away in printless tracks,
Some, housed on beetles’ glossy backs,
Go whisking on—and others hie
As fast as loaded moths can fly:                                  
Some urge, the morning cock to shun,
The hardest gallop mice can run,
In chariots, lolling at their ease,
Made of whate’er their fancies please;—
Things that in childhood’s memory dwell—
Scoop’d crow-pot-stone, or cockle-shell,
With wheels at hand of mallow seeds,
Where childish sport was stringing beads;
And thus equipp’d, they softly pass
Like shadows on the summer-grass,                            
And glide away in troops together
Just as the Spring-wind drives a feather.
As light as happy dreams they creep,
Nor break the feeblest link of sleep:
A midge, if in their road a-bed,
Feels not the wheels run o’er his head,
But sleeps till sunrise calls him up,
Unconscious of the passing troop.—

John Clare
from The Shepherd's Calendar, 1827

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Read "January" complete
Read The Shepherd's Calendar complete
John Clare biography

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