Saturday, February 23, 2013

February / John Clare

A Thaw


The snow has left the cottage top;
   The thatch-moss grows in brighter green;
And eaves in quick succession drop,
   Where grinning icicles have been;
Pit-patting with a pleasant noise
   In tubs set by the cottage-door;
While ducks and geese, with happy joys,
   Plunge in the yard-pond brimming o’er.


The sun peeps through the window-pane;
   Which children mark with laughing eye,                    
And in the wet street steal again,
   To tell each other Spring is nigh:
Then, as young hope the past recalls,
   In playing groups they often draw,
To build beside the sunny walls
   Their spring-time huts of sticks or straw.


And oft in pleasure’s dreams they hie
   Round homesteads by the village side,
Scratching the hedgerow mosses by,
   Where painted pooty shells abide;                          
Mistaking oft the ivy spray
   For leaves that come with budding Spring,
And wond’ring, in their search for play,
   Why birds delay to build and sing.


The milkmaid singing leaves her bed,
   As glad as happy thoughts can be,
While magpies chatter o’er her head
   As jocund in the change as she:
Her cows around the closes stray,
   Nor ling’ring wait the foddering-boy;                      
Tossing the mole-hills in their play,
   And staring round with frolic joy.


The shepherd now is often seen
   Near warm banks o’er his hook to bend;
Or o’er a gate or stile to lean,
   Chattering to a passing friend:
Ploughmen go whistling to their toils,
   And yoke again the rested plough;
And, mingling o’er the mellow soils,
   Boys shout, and whips are noising now.


The barking dogs, by lane and wood,
   Drive sheep a-field from foddering ground;
And Echo, in her summer mood,
   Briskly mocks the cheering sound.
The flocks, as from a prison broke,
   Shake their wet fleeces in the sun,
While, following fast, a misty smoke
   Reeks from the moist grass as they run.


No more behind his master’s heels
   The dog creeps on his winter-pace;                        
But cocks his tail, and o’er the fields
   Runs many a wild and random chase,
Following, in spite of chiding calls,
   The startled cat with harmless glee,
Scaring her up the weed-green walls,
   Or mossy mottled apple tree.


As crows from morning perches fly,
   He barks and follows them in vain;
E’en larks will catch his nimble eye,
   And off he starts and barks again,                        
With breathless haste and blinded guess,
   Oft following where the hare hath gone;
Forgetting, in his joy’s excess,
   His frolic puppy-days are done!


The hedgehog, from his hollow root,
   Sees the wood-moss clear of snow,
And hunts the hedge for fallen fruit—
   Crab, hip, and winter-bitten sloe;
But often check’d by sudden fears,
   As shepherd-dog his haunt espies,                          
He rolls up in a ball of spears,
   And all his barking rage defies.


The gladdened swine bolt from the sty,
   And round the yard in freedom run,
Or stretching in their slumbers lie
   Beside the cottage in the sun.
The young horse whinneys to his mate,
   And, sickening from the thresher’s door,
Rubs at the straw-yard’s banded gate,
   Longing for freedom on the moor.                          


The small birds think their wants are o’er,
   To see the snow-hills fret again,
And, from the barn’s chaff-littered door,
   Betake them to the greening plain.
The woodman’s robin startles coy,
   Nor longer to his elbow comes,
To peck, with hunger’s eager joy,
   ’Mong mossy stulps the littered crumbs.


’Neath hedge and walls that screen the wind,
   The gnats for play will flock together;                    
And e’en poor flies some hope will find
   To venture in the mocking weather;
From out their hiding-holes again,
   With feeble pace, they often creep
Along the sun-warmed window-pane,
   Like dreaming things that walk in sleep.


The mavis thrush with wild delight,
   Upon the orchard’s dripping tree,
Mutters, to see the day so bright,
   Fragments of young Hope’s poesy:                          
And oft Dame stops her buzzing wheel
   To hear the robin’s note once more,
Who tootles while he pecks his meal
   From sweet-briar hips beside the door.


The sunbeams on the hedges lie,
   The south wind murmurs summer soft;
The maids hang out white clothes to dry
   Around the elder-skirted croft:
A calm of pleasure listens round,
   And almost whispers Winter by;                            
While Fancy dreams of Summer’s sound,
   And quiet rapture fills the eye.


Thus Nature of the Spring will dream
   While south winds thaw; but soon again
Frost breathes upon the stiff’ning stream,
   And numbs it into ice: the plain
Soon wears its mourning garb of white;
   And icicles, that fret at noon,
Will eke their icy tails at night
   Beneath the chilly stars and moon.                        


Nature soon sickens of her joys,
   And all is sad and dumb again,
Save merry shouts of sliding boys
   About the frozen furrow’d plain.
The foddering-boy forgets his song,
   And silent goes with folded arms;
And croodling shepherds bend along,
   Crouching to the whizzing storms

John Clare
from The Shepherd's Calendar, 1827

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Read The Shepherd's Calendar complete
John Clare biography

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