Saturday, July 27, 2013

July / John Clare


July, the month of Summer’s prime,
Again resumes his busy time;
Scythes tinkle in each grassy dell,
Where solitude was wont to dwell;
And meadows, they are mad with noise
Of laughing maids and shouting boys,
Making up the withering hay
With merry hearts as light as play.
The very insects on the ground
So nimbly bustle all around,                            
Among the grass, or dusty soil,
They seem partakers in the toil.
The landscape even reels with life,
While ’mid the busy stir and strife
Of industry, the shepherd still
Enjoys his summer dreams at will;
Bent o’er his hook, or listless laid
Beneath the pasture’s willow shade,
Whose foliage shines so cool and gray
Amid the sultry hues of day,                            
As if the morning’s misty veil
Yet linger’d in its shadows pale;
Or lolling in a musing mood
On mounds where Saxon castles stood,
Upon whose deeply-buried walls
The ivy’d oak’s dark shadow falls,
He oft picks up with wond’ring gaze
Some little thing of other days,
Saved from the wrecks of time — as beads,
Or broken pots among the weeds,                          
Of curious shapes — and many a stone
From Roman pavements thickly strown,
Oft hoping, as he searches round,
That buried riches may be found,
Though, search as often as he will,
His hopes are disappointed still;
Or watching, on his mossy seat,
The insect world beneath his feet,
In busy motion here and there
Like visitors to feast or fair,                          
Some climbing up the rush’s stem,
A steeple’s height or more to them,
With speed, that sees no fear to stop,
Till perch’d upon its spiry top,
Where they awhile the view survey,
Then prune their wings, and flit away,—
And others journeying to and fro
Among the grassy woods below,
Musing, as if they felt and knew
The pleasant scenes they wander’d through,              
Where each bent round them seems to be
Huge as a giant timber-tree.
Shaping the while their dark employs
To his own visionary joys,
He pictures such a life as their’s,
As free from Summer’s sultry cares,
And only wishes that his own
Could meet with joys so thickly sown:
Sport seems the all that they pursue,
And play the only work they do.                          

   The cow-boy still cuts short the day,
By mingling mischief with his play;
Oft in the pond, with weeds o’ergrown,
Hurling quick the plashing stone
To cheat his dog, who watching lies,
And instant plunges for the prize;
And though each effort proves in vain,
He shakes his coat, and dives again,
Till, wearied with the fruitless play,
He drops his tail, and sneaks away,                      
Nor longer heeds the bawling boy,
Who seeks new sports with added joy:
Now on some bank’s o’erhanging brow
Beating the wasp’s nest with a bough,
Till armies from the hole appear,
And threaten vengeance in his ear
With such determined hue-and-cry
As makes the bold besieger fly;
Then, pelting with excessive glee
The squirrel on the woodland-tree,                      
Who nimbles round from grain to grain,
And cocks his tail, and peeps again,
Half-pleased, as if he thought the fray
Which mischief made, was meant for play,
Till scared and startled into flight,
He instant tumbles out of sight.
Thus he his leisure hour employs,
And feeds on busy meddling joys,
While in the willow-shaded pool
His cattle stand, their hides to cool.                  

   Loud is the Summer’s busy song,
The smallest breeze can find a tongue,
While insects of each tiny size
Grow teazing with their melodies,
Till noon burns with its blistering breath
Around, and day dies still as death.
The busy noise of man and brute
Is on a sudden lost and mute;
Even the brook that leaps along
Seems weary of its bubbling song,                        
And, so soft its waters creep,
Tired silence sinks in sounder sleep.
The cricket on its banks is dumb,
The very flies forget to hum;
And, save the waggon rocking round,
The landscape sleeps without a sound.
The breeze is stopt, the lazy bough
Hath not a leaf that dances now;
The tottergrass upon the hill,
And spiders’ threads, are standing still;                
The feathers dropt from moorhen’s wing,
Which to the water’s surface cling,
Are steadfast, and as heavy seem
As stones beneath them in the stream;
Hawkweed and groundsel’s fanning downs
Unruffled keep their seedy crowns;
And in the oven-heated air,
Not one light thing is floating there,
Save that to the earnest eye,
The restless heat seems twittering by.                  
Noon swoons beneath the heat it made,
And flowers e’en wither in the shade,
Until the sun slopes in the west,
Like weary traveller, glad to rest,
On pillowed clouds of many hues;
Then nature’s voice its joy renews,
And chequer’d field and grassy plain
Hum, with their summer songs again,
A requiem to the day’s decline,
Whose setting sunbeams coolly shine,                    
As welcome to day’s feeble powers
As falling dews to thirsty flowers.

   Now to the pleasant pasture dells,
Where hay from closes sweetly smells,
Adown the pathway’s narrow lane
The milking maiden hies again,
With scraps of ballads never dumb,
And rosy cheeks of happy bloom,
Tann’d brown by Summer’s rude embrace,
Which adds new beauties to her face,                    
And red lips never pale with sighs,
And flowing hair, and laughing eyes
That o’er full many a heart prevail’d,
And swelling bosom loosely veiled,
White as the love it harbours there,
Unsullied with the taunts of care.

   The mower now gives labour o’er,
And on his bench beside the door
Sits down to see his children play,
Smoking a leisure hour away:                            
While from her cage the blackbird sings,
That on the woodbine arbour hings;
And all with soothing joys receive
The quiet of a Summer’s eve.

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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