Intense the viewless flood of heat descends
On hill, and dale, and wood, and tangled brake,
Where, to the chirping grasshopper, the broom,
With crackling pod, responds; the fields embrowned,
Begin to rustle in the autumn breeze,
While from the waving shelter, bolder grown,
The lev’ret, at the misty hour of morn,
Forth venturing, limps to nip the dewy grass.
The partridge, too, and her light-footed brood,
As yet half-fledged, now haunt the corn-field skirts,
Or on new-weeded turnip fields are spied,
Running, in lengthened file, between the drills.
Now to the heath, ere yet the wished-for morn,
That licences the game of death, arrive,
The sportsman hies to mark the moor-hen’s haunt.
Boisterous with joy, his dogs bark, jump, and howl,
And running out before, in frolic chace,
Return as fast, marring his stumbling steps.
But when they reach the purple waste, afar,
With stooping heads, they roam, oft leaping up,
With backward look, to mark their master’s mien.
He, with keen eye, prowling, surveys the ground,
And haply finds the game his dogs have missed.
Yes, with relentless eye, he sees the dam,
Basking by some old cairn, amid her brood,
Or spreading o’er their harmless heads her wings;
He sees, unmoved by all a mother’s cares,
And, as they rise, he counts his destined prey,
Noting, with forward-darting look, the spot,
Where their yet feeble wings they panting rest.
Oft, at this season, faintly meets the ear
The song of harvest bands, that plod their way
From dark Lochaber, or the distant isles,
Journeying for weeks to gain a month of toil:
Sweet is the falling of the single voice,
And sweet the joining of the choral swell,
Without a pause ta’en up by old and young,
Alternating, in wildly-measured strain.
Thus they, ‘mid clouds of flying dust, beguile,
With songs of ancient times, their tedious way.
At city gate, or market-place, now groupes
Of motley aspect wait a master’s call.
The grey-haired man, leaning upon his staff,
Is there; the stripling, and the sun-burnt maid;
The sallow artizan, who quits his tools,
To breathe awhile among the pleasant fields,
And earn at once health, and his daily bread.
No scowling tyrant there goes round, and round,
Viewing the human merchandize with look
That fiends in vain would match; no dread is there
Of separation; parents, children, friends,
With one consent, take or reject the meed;
Place, time, and master, all are in their choice.
Scotland, “with all thy faults, I love thee still!”
For freedom here still on the poor man smiles,
Sweetens his crust, and his hard pillow smoothes.
O ye, who guide the state, and mould the laws,
Beware lest, with your imposts overstrained,
Beware! lest thus ye crush that noble spirit,
Which lives by equal laws, with them expires.–
Unequal burdens make the o’erburdened slaves;
And, making slaves, they make men cowards too.
But hence this joyless theme, and let me seek
The fields once more;– hark! at yon cottage door
The sickle harsh upon the grindstone grates,
Which, merrily, most uncouth music makes,
Drowning the song of him who whirls it round.
And now it oft befals, when farmers’ hopes
Are all but realized, a mildew creeps
Along the wheaten ridge, blighting the ears.
Haste, then, the sickle urge, nor he deterred
Though, in some spots, a greenish tint pronounce
The ears unripe: the vegetating stage
Ere now is past; and should no canker shoot
Its poison through the plant, the grain will prove,
Though seeming immature, a healthy crop.
But, if allowed to stand, the subtle pest
Pervades stalk, husk, and grain, blasting the whole.
And even when your wheaten fields betrays
No sickly hue, but gives a lusty rustle,
When waving in the wind, wait not in hope
That, standing, it will gain in bulk and weight:
Avail yourself betimes of sky serene,
And with the sun the reapers lead afield.
How pleasant to the husbandman the sight
Of gleaming sickles, and of swelling sheaves!
How joyfully he twists the rustling band,
And, pressing with his knee, binds up the sheaf!
While merrily the jest and taunt go round,
Running, like scattered fire, along the line.
And still the master’s joke should, mingling, cheer
The stooping row, and make their labour light.
Beware, ye swains! whose level fields extend
Along a river-side, and build your sheaves
Beyond the utmost verge of highest floods.
Or, if you trust them on the perilous spot,
Watch carefully the signs foreboding change.
No sign of gathering storms, both wind and rain,
Is surer than the sea-fowl’s inland flight.
For though the conflict of the winds and waves
Be distant far, a sympathetic heave
Is felt along the tranquil seeming bays,
Warning the hovering flocks of surges loud
That soon will lash the shore, and render vain
The piercing sight, which, in a peaceful sea,
Discerns, high on the wing, the finny prey:
But while their briny harvest thus is marred,
On shore the coming deluge draws the race
Of reptiles, from their haunts, in mead and grove
Concealed,– the puffing frog, the horned snail,
And all the species of the slimy tribes,
Repast profusely spread.
He, who contemns
These auguries, nor timely moves his shocks
To safer ground, will rue when, with the dawn
Awaking, loud the river’s roar he hears:
To doubt, in vain he strives; his eye confirms
The tidings of his ear, and rapid down
The foamy current he beholds his sheaves
Sweeping along, while, ‘mid the havoc, bleats
The floating lamb, with meek unconscious face.
Some rivers, by the mountain-torrents fed,
Rush down, with swell so sudden and so high,
That all her fleetness cannot save the hare,
Unless (as erst befel in Clyde’s fair dale,)
She gain some passing rick: there close she squats.
Now in the middle current shot along
In swift career, now near the eddying side
Whirling amazed, while from the dizzy shore
Some shepherd’s dog discerns the floating prize,
And, barking, scours along, then stops, but fears
To venture in; onward meanwhile she sails,
Till, through the broadened vale, the stream expand
In gentler course, and gliding past the bank,
Restore her, fearful, to the fields again.
Floods, ruinous to husbandmen, enrich
The land itself: See how the pendent sprays
That in the flood were dipt, are soiled, and judge
How richly fraught with vegetable food
The stream subsides upon the deluged plain.
This rich deposit oft unheeded lies
In little creeks, and windings of the stream,
Accumulated deep; whence, if removed
To swell the compost pile, another store,
Soon as another flood recedes, your care rewards.
But if your bank, from Nature, has received
No flexure, no recess, to intercept
The watery wealth, boldly the shore indent
With little bays, narrow and slanting up,
The past each entrance, smooth the current’s force
May harmlessly, with easy flow, glide by.
A verdure deep, with many a daisy gemmed,
In early spring, delights the eye of him
Whose compost heaps, rich with alluvial mud,
O’erspread his pasture fields; for thus the roots
At once are shielded from the wintry frosts,
And fed with food, like that which, after showers
Of softest fall, or on a dewy morn,
Cloudy and still, is seen in earthly coils
Vermicular, appearing through the sward.
Thus human art still most successful proves,
When following nature with unconscious step.
Full many are the stores of rich manure
That lie neglected. Every sluggish ditch
And stagnant puddle, during summer heats,
Is bottomed with a fertilizing layer.
One sign unerring of a magazine,
On which the power putrescent has produced
Its full effect, is that small insect scum,
Minute and sable as the explosive grain,
Withal so light, that, by the softest breath
Of Autumn breeze, ’tis driven to and fro,
Would husbandmen look round with searching eye,
And use those meliorating means which lie
Oft unsuspected, or, if known, despised,
More rarely would they time and gold expend
For the vile sweepings of the noisome town.
The flaxen crop, which now ’tis time to pull,
Steeped in some neighbouring pond, converts
The simple water into strong manure.
Yet many, heedless, bear to far-off moors
The sheaves diminutive, and sink them deep
In sable pits, from whence was scooped the peat;
Or wantonly, in running brooks, immerge
This poison fatal to the scaly tribes.
Alas! below the tainted pool behold
The frequent upturned-side gleam in the sun.
Britannia, to thy richest treasures blind,
Treasures that teem in river, firth and sea,–
Why sleep thy laws, and why that harvest blight
Which, without seed or toil, is gained? Extend
Protection to thy hardy mountaineers,
And, since extruded from their native wilds,
Permit them free possession of the waves.
How sweet, o’er Scotia’s hill-encircled seas,
The evening sun-beam, slanting down the glens,
Illumes the scene where now the busy oars
Ply to the chaunted strain,– soft, soothing, wild,–
Of days of other years,– perhaps a song,
Or cadence of some vocal ruin, spared
By ruthless Time, relenting to destroy
Those lays with which the voice of Cona lulled
The weary wave that slumbered on the shore!
But now, with bustling noise, from every stern
Run out the folded nets, and, in the brine
Plunging, leave far behind a foamy track.
In lowland dales, at this bland hour of eve,
The village herd slow from the common wends
Each to her well-known stall, while loud the horn
Blows many a needless blast; and homeward shots
Of sated sportsmen, at the moorland skirts,
Returning weary, break the placid hush.
O peaceful war! alas, in other lands,
The sylvan war is silent. Loud the roar
Of thundering ordnance echoes ‘mid the rocks
Of proud Iberia, throned amid the blaze
Of pealing tubes; her hands distained
With other vintage than the wine-press yields;
Her crown with thistles, roses, shamrocks, wreathed;
And at her feet the Gallic lilies torn,
Deep-blushing with the blood of murdered babes.
Around her see the shattered columns form,
While Freedom’s standard, waving in her grasp,
Soars like an eagle o’er the storm-fraught clouds.
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