Through boughs still leafless, or through foliage thin,
The sloping primrose-bed lies fair exposed,
Begemmed with simple flowers, gladdening the sight.
Hail! month of buds and blooms, of shooting blades
That spread the fallow fields with vivid green!
Hail, Nature’s birth-time! hail, ye gentle showers
That, in the opening blossoms, lie like tears
In infant eyes, soon giving place to smiles,
To sunny smiles of peace, of joy serene.
How calm the woods! as if they all had stilled
Their waving branches, listening to the songs
Of love-tuned ditties, warbled sweet from thorns
Enwreathed with forming flowers : all other sounds
Are hushed,– unless, scared from the brooding task
By man’s approach, the sudden whirring wing
Betray the bush where hangs half hid the nest:
Return, poor bird! I’ll find another path,
Until thy pleasing task be done; return,
(‘Tis not the spoiler’s step,) complete thy work,
Cheered by thy twig-perched mate: enough for me
To hear his song, far sweeter there, I ween,
Than, through the wirey grate, a captive’s lay.
Now clover fields expand the luscious blade,
But tender still, while, on the upland leas,
The yeanlings stagger round their bleating dams:
The orchard’s drooping boughs put forth their blooms,
Purple of loveliest hue yblent with white:
The sweetbrier’s buds unfold; and perfumed gales
A lullaby o’er Nature’s cradle sigh.
Soon as the earliest swallow skims the mead,
The barley sowing is by some begun;
While others wait until her clay-built nest,
Completed, in the window-corner hang;
Or till the schoolboy mock the cuckoo’s note.
He that would reap a plenteous barley crop,
Should in saline infusion drench the seed;
For thus the nascent embryo, ere it shoots,
Is fortified against the ravenous grub.
When so prepared, no dwarfish patch deforms
The field irregular, but every ridge
Erects its bristling awns, equal in height,
Like steely points by marshalled phalanx reared.
The seed-time closed, the fences, hedge and ditch,
Demand your tendance; first the ditches clear,
And then, with cautious hand, the hedges lop,
Broad at the bottom, tapering by degrees,
As to the top the shears or bill ascend.
Some husbandmen, as if by rage impelled,
With unrelenting hatchets, level low
Each full-grown hedge, just as it gains its prime,–
Now in its full blown beauty: withering, soiled,
The flowery branches lie, with here and there
A ruined nest inverted, while behold!–
‘Stead of the sheltering thicket stretching fair,–
A row of stumps, from which, in future years,
Another hedge, of weaker stem and twig,
May spring again to shield the fenceless croft.
And whence this love of massacre! this rage
Perverse, unnatural, so near a-kin
To that propensity, infecting some
Who think, — that Nature gave the noble steed
A spine six joints too long; that ears acute
Deform the head, and should be roundly pared;
And that the neck surmounted by the mane,
The cloud where dwells the thunder, is improved
When modelled by the bristling back of hog!
Oft times, ’tis true, a single row of thorns
Is found a feeble fence; but to destroy
That row, is not the mode to give it strength.
The error lies in planting single rows;–
And, heedless of variety of soil,
Clay, sand, or gravel, — dry, or wet, or cold,–
Planting the hawthorn shrub as fit for all.
In marshy soils, the hawthorn, covered o’er
With lichen gray, appears an aged bush
While only young, and in this bloomy month
Puts forth no blossom: stuntedly it grows,
With sickly sprays in dusky foliage robed.
Nor is the single stripe preferred for thrift
Of ground: observe the space it occupies;–
The bank, which common custom thus allots,
Contains full oft a space from side to side
Superfluous, which, if used aright, would give
A fence impregnable to herd or flock.
The genius of the thorn is misconceived;
It loves not solitude; like all the tribes
With prickles armed, the under-growth of woods,
It thrives most vigorously when interwarped
With kindred, not with sister shrubs: Observe,
In woodland glades, the thickets that present
The closest barrier to the rambling step,
Are those where shrubs of various kinds combine.
A hedge should be a thicket lengthened out,
Where, though one plant may fail (and if one plant
In hedges of a single file decay,
The flaw is rarely cured,) ’tis scarcely missed.
Let then your bulging quickset-bank be clothed,
From side to side, with shrubs of various kinds.
Let hawthorn chief prevail, but with it mix
The bramble with its stretching limbs; the brier,
Whose prickly leaves and twigs resent the touch
Of hostile mouth; the sloethorn’s hardy spray,
Unbending, armed with formidable prongs;
The plumtree wild, the willow, and the whim,
Of brilliant golden hue, where, blossom-perched,
Carols the linnet of the roseat plumes.
Let these, united in confusion strong,
Grow up unchecked, save at the bounding line;
There place your foot, let not a twig encroach.
Thus on a space, not more than what you waste
In fostering, with thriftless care and cost,
A single row of plants, (which, like a chain,
Is useless if a single link give way,)
You rear a verdant mound, combining strength,
And durability with beauty’s charm,–
Displaying, from the time of opening buds
Till ripening grain wave girt in its embrace,
An ever-varying wreath of flowers and fruits,
Which, to an eye that’s fanciful, might seem
A crown encircling Ceres’ rustling head.
Now, ‘mid the general glow of opening blooms,
Coy maidens blush consent, nor slight the gift,
From neighbouring fair brought home, till now refused.
Swains, seize the sunny hours to make your hay,
For woman’s smiles are fickle as the sky:
Bespeak the priest, bespeak the minstrel too,
Ere May, to wedlock hostile, stop the banns.
The appointed day arrives, a blythesome day
Of festive jollity; yet not devoid
Of soft regret to her about to leave
A parent’s roof; yes, at the word join hands,
A tear reluctant starts, as she beholds
Her mother’s look, her father’s silvery hairs.
But serious thoughts take flight, when from the barn,
Soon as the bands are knit, a jocund sound
Strikes briskly up, and nimble feet beat fast
Upon the earthen floor. Through many a reel,
With various steps uncouth, some new, some old,
Some all the dancer’s own, with Highland flings
Not void of grace, the lads and lasses strive
To dance each other down; and oft, when quite
Forespent, the fingers merrily cracked, the bound,
The rallying shout well-timed, and sudden change
To sprightlier tune, revive the flagging foot,
And make it feel as if it tripped in air.
When all are tired, and all his stock of reels
The minstrel, o’er and o’er again, has run,
The cheering flaggon circles round; meanwhile
A softened tune, and slower measure, flows
Sweet from the strings, and stills the boisterous joy.
May be, The Bonny Broom of Cowdenknows,
(If simply played, though not with master hand,)
Or Patie’s Mill, or Bush aboon Traquair,
Inspire a tranquil gladness through the breast;
Or that most mournful strain, the sad Lament
For Floddenfield, drives mirth from every face,
And makes the firmest heart strive hard to curb
The rising tear, — till, with unpausing bow,
The blythe strathspey springs up, reminding some
Of nights when Gow’s old arm, (nor old the tale,)
Unceasing, save when reeking cans went round,
Made heart and heel leap light as bounding roe.
Alas! no more shall we behold that look
So venerable, yet so blent with mirth,
And festive joy sedate; that ancient garb
Unvaried,– tartan hose, and bonnet blue!
No more shall Beauty’s partial eye draw forth
The full intoxication of his strain,
Mellifluous, strong, exuberantly rich!
No more, amid the pauses of the dance,
Shall he repeat those measures, that in days
Of other years, could soothe a falling prince,
And light his visage with a transient smile
Of melancholy joy, — like autumn sun
Gilding a sere tree with a passing beam!
Or play to sportive children on the green
Dancing at gloaming hour; or willing cheer,
With strains unbought, the shepherd’s bridal-day!
But light now failing, glimmering candles shine
In ready chandeliers of moulded clay
Stuck round the walls, displaying to the view
The ceiling, rich with cobweb-drapery hung.
Meanwhile, from mill and smiddy, field and barn,
Fresh groupes come hastening in: but of them all
The miller bears the gree, as rafter high
He leaps, and, lighting, shakes a dusty cloud all round.
In harmless merriment protracted long,
The hours glide by. At last, the stocking thrown,
And duly every gossip rite performed,
Youths, maids, and matrons, take their several ways;
While drouthy carles, waiting for the moon,
Sit down again, and quaff till day-light dawn.
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Based on Keywords: enwreathed, chandeliers, ever-varying, deforms, husbandmen, tendance, modelled, occupies, prickles, hatchets, saline