Saturday, September 14, 2013

September / John Clare


Harvest awakes the morning still,
And toil’s rude groups the valleys fill;
Deserted is each cottage hearth
To all life, save the cricket’s mirth;
Each burring wheel its sabbath meets,
Nor walks a gossip in the streets;
The bench beneath the eldern bough,
Lined o’er with grass, is empty now,
Where blackbirds, caged from out the sun,
Would whistle while their mistress spun:                
All haunt the thronged fields, to share
The harvest’s lingering bounty there.

    As yet, no meddling boys resort
About the streets in idle sport;
The butterfly enjoys its hour,
And flirts, unchased, from flower to flower;
The humming bees, which morning calls
From out the low hut’s mortar walls,
And passing boy no more controls —
Fly undisturb’d about their holes;                      
The sparrows in glad chirpings meet,
Unpelted in the quiet street.
None but imprison’d children now
Are seen, where dames with angry brow
Threaten each younker to his seat,
Who, through the window, eyes the street;
Or from his hornbook turns away,
To mourn for liberty and play.

    Yet loud are morning’s early sounds;
The farm or cottage yard abounds                        
With creaking noise of opening gate,
And clanking pumps, where boys await
With idle motion, to supply
The thirst of cattle crowding nigh.
Upon the dovecote’s mossy slates,
The pigeons coo around their mates;
And close beside the stable wall,
Where morning sunbeams earliest fall,
The basking hen, in playful rout,
Flaps the powdery dust about.                            
Within the barn-hole sits the cat
Watching to seize the thirsty rat,
Who oft at morn its dwelling leaves
To drink the moisture from the eaves;
The red-breast, with his nimble eye,
Dares scarcely stop to catch the fly,
That, tangled in the spider’s snare,
Mourns in vain for freedom there.
The dog beside the threshold lies,
Mocking sleep, with half-shut eyes —                      
With head crouch’d down upon his feet,
Till strangers pass his sunny seat —
Then quick he pricks his ears to hark,
And bustles up to growl and bark;
While boys in fear stop short their song,
And sneak in startled speed along;
And beggar, creeping like a snail,
To make his hungry hopes prevail
O’er the warm heart of charity,
Leaves his lame halt and hastens by.                    

    The maid afield now leaves the farm,
With dinner basket on her arm,
Loitering unseen in narrow lane,
To be o’ertook by following swain,
Who, happy thus her truth to prove,
Carries the load and talks of love.
Soon as the dew is off the ground,
Rumbling like distant thunder round,
The waggons haste the corn to load,
And hurry down the dusty road;                          
While driving boy with eager eye
Watches the church clock passing by —
Whose gilt hands glitter in the sun —
To see how far the hours have run;
Right happy, in the breathless day,
To see time wearing fast away.
But now and then a sudden shower
Will bring to toil a resting hour;
Then, under sheltering shocks, a crowd
Of merry voices mingle loud,                            
Draining, with leisure’s laughing eye,
Each welcome, bubbling bottle dry;
Till peeping suns dry up the rain,
Then off they start to toil again.

   Anon the fields are getting clear,
And glad sounds hum in labour’s ear;
When children halloo “Here they come!”
And run to meet the Harvest Home,
Cover’d with boughs, and throng’d with boys,
Who mingle loud a merry noise,                          
And, when they meet the stack-throng’d yard
Cross-buns and pence their shouts reward.
Then comes the harvest-supper night,
Which rustics welcome with delight;
When merry game and tiresome tale,
And songs, increasing with the ale,
Their mingled uproar interpose,
To crown the harvest’s happy close;
While Mirth, that at the scene abides,
Laughs, till she almost cracks her sides.                

   Now harvest’s busy hum declines,
And labour half its help resigns.
Boys, glad at heart, to play return;
The shepherds to their peace sojourn,
Rush-bosom’d solitudes among,
Which busy toil disturb’d so long.
The gossip, happy all is o’er,
Visits again her neighbour’s door,
On scandal’s idle tales to dwell,
Which harvest had no time to tell;                      
And free from all its sultry strife,
Enjoys once more her idle life.
A few, whom waning toil reprieves,
Thread the forest’s sea of leaves,
Where the pheasant loves to hide,
And the darkest glooms abide,
Beneath the old oaks moss’d and grey,
Whose shadows seem as old as they;
Where time hath many seasons won,
Since aught beneath them saw the sun;                    
Within these brambly solitudes,
The ragged, noisy boy intrudes,
To gather nuts, that, ripe and brown,
As soon as shook will patter down.

   Thus harvest ends its busy reign,
And leaves the fields their peace again;
Where Autumn’s shadows idly muse
And tinge the trees in many hues:
Amid whose scenes I’m fain to dwell,
And sing of what I love so well.                        
But hollow winds, and tumbling floods,
And humming showers, and moaning woods,
All startle into sudden strife,
And wake a mighty lay to life;
Making, amid their strains divine,
Unheard a song so mean as mine.

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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