James Grahame Poems >>
British Georgics. June

Beneath the fervour of the noon-tide beam
All Nature's works in placid stillness pause,--
Save man, and his joint labourer the horse,
The bee, and all the idly busy insect tribes;
Even 'mid the deepest groves, the merry bird
Sits drowsily, with head beneath its wing;
Each woodland note is hushed, save when the plaint
Of cooing ring-dove steals upon the ear.
Let man the lesson read, and learn to know
The seasons of the day, as of the year;
To mark the hours for labour and for rest,
Nor sacrifice convenience, case, and health,
To method's rules, which only then are wise,
When bending to the changing year's decree.
The shortened reign of night, the early peep
Of dawn, protracted long, yet giving light
Abundant for the labours of the field,
Point out the hours for toil. Why should the plough,
Or brandished hoe, gleam in the sultry ray,
When man and beast, beneath a load of heat
Oft panting stop oppressed. Hence Fever comes,
And hence the deadly sun-stroke; hence old age,
And prematurely lyart locks, to man;
And hence (what, in these calculating times,
Will seem of more account) an unseen loss,
Proportioned to the cattle's shortened years.

  Wiser than we, our fathers ere the dawn
Were in the field, and, when the sultry hours
Approached, enjoyed soft sleep. Let us be taught
By them; by nature lengthening out our day
To twice ten hours,-- and labour in the cool.
Yes,-- let the husbandman arouse to toil,
While yet the sky a deep-empurpled tint
Northward displays,-- before the corncraik's call
In mist-veiled meads awake the nestling lark,
To hail the dawn. Sweet is the dubious bound
Of night and morn, when spray and plant are drenched
In dew; sweet now the odour-breathing birch,
The gaudy broom, the orchard's blushing boughs,
The milk-white thorn, on which the blackbird roosts,
Till light he shakes his ruffling plumes, and chaunts
His roudelay; and sweet the bean-field rows,
'Tween which the drilling plough is artful steered,
Shaking the dew-drop gently from the bloom.

  See how the blooms around each bladed shoot,
From root to summit cluster thick the stalk;
(A beauteous sceptre fit for Ceres' hand)--
Then mark the contrast of the ear-crowned stalk,
Barren below, and in that difference learn
Why, 'twixt the bean-field's marshalled ranks, is left
Free space for air and sun; and why the spikes
Of bearded grain wave equal o'er the plain.
Hence, too, this lesson learn,-- the sloping croft
Suits well the podded kind; for there soft Zephyr,
Kissing the lowest flowers, refreshes all,
Then waves his lingering wings, wafting afar
A balmy odour: struck with new delight,
The toil-worn traveller pauses on his way,
And, with a smile of pleasure, snuffs the air.
Perhaps some veteran, whom Egyptic sands
Have reft of sight, (O when will warfare cease!)
Leans on his staff, and wishes that but once,
But only once, he could behold these blooms,
Which now recal his father's little field.

  Now is the time before the thistle blow,
While gule is in the flower, and charlock breathes
Its cloying scent around, the weeding task
To urge between the turnip's verdant ranks.
Emburied by the double mould-board, down
On either side the noxious race are laid,
While, by the waves of crumbling earth heaved up,
The plants are cherished.

               Some the hoe prefer,
Which female hands, or, if of lighter make,
The childish grasp can wield; even his small hands,
Of years so simple, that he grieves to hurt
The pretty flowers, which, strung about his neck,
He wears with more delight than kings their crowns.
Thus, too, the crop itself (soon as the plants
Four leaves spread fully forth) is duly thinned.

  Besides the plough and hoe, the sweeping scythe
Will much avail to wage the weeding war.--
If o'er your leas the yellow ragwort spread
A gaudy forest; or the seedy dock
Uprear its stalk prolific; or the tribe
Of thistles fenced with prickly arms,-- spare not
The emblem dear, but ruthless lay it low,
With all its brother cumberers of the ground:
For, if allowed to stand, the down-winged seed
Flies far, a pastime to your playful elves,
To you a cause of meikle loss and bale.
Let none of all the intrusive race even form
Their seed; for know,-- the fructifying stage
Of vegetation most exhausts the soil;
And, though cut down before they shed their fruit,
Mixed with the compost mound, they but create
A magazine of poisons for your fields.

  Some herbs, that, to the unobserving eye
Of ignorance, are prized of small account,
Or classed with weeds, deserve a better name,
And should be spared: The aromatic tribes,
Mint, sage, and flowery thyme, are sovereign antidotes
Against the insect pest, powerful though small,
Blighting at once the green leaf and the grain.
Seldom I've seen this ruin, where the buzz
Of numerous bees comes from the wild-thyme balk,
That parts the various crops. The smaller race
Of insects shun most odours: hence our sires
Around and in their gardens, wont to rear
The strong-fumed elder; hence (the cause forgot)
Our garden borders still with boxwood fringed.
But if the tiny brood,-- viewless at first,
Save by the microscopic power, that opes
The vast invisible of Nature's works,
Minutely grand,-- have gathered strength to foil
Such weak annoyance; fear not round your fields,
Or even between your ridges, green and full
Of sap, to kindle heaps of birchen twigs
And bitter broom, mixed with the dark green leaves
And blossoms white of elder;-- thick a cloud
Of acrid smoke, in rolling wreaths, invests
The death-struck hosts, galling the gazer's eye,
Thus proving, with what potency malign
Into the filmy organs of the foe
Diminutive, it needs must penetrate.

  But better the prevention than the cure;
And for prevention nought so much avails
As plentiful manure; for then the seeds
Burst vigorous from their cells, nor linger long,
Blanched and enervated beneath the mould:
Quickly the blades the vivifying air
Inhale, assume a deep and deeper green,
And with such constant lusty growth expand
The leaf luxuriant, that no rest is found,
No tranquil nidus for the adhesive eggs,
Which thus, for ever marred, abortive prove.

  Such is the culture of the verdant crops,
That in the wintry months fresh food supply
To herd and flock,-- most grateful interchange
With strawy sheaf thrown in from time to time,
Of fragrant armful.

            Hark! the whetstone rasps
Along the mower's scythe; for now's the time
To reap the grassy mead,-- ere yet the bee
Into purple clover-flower can shoot
Her searching tube,-- ere yet the playful imp
Chacing, waist-deep, the restless butterfly,
Can from the red flowers such the honied juice;
Now every stalk and leaf is full distent
With richest sap; nor is the latent strength,
By which a second growth rivals the first,
Exhausted by the efflorescent stage.

  Though other field-works at the twilight break
Of day begin, shunning the sultry hours,
Hay-harvest, first and last, demands the sun.
Not till his thirsty beam have sipped the dew
That glistering returns his morning smile,
The mower's scythe be heard: then equal ranged,
With crescent strokes that closely graze the ground,
The stooping band extend the ridgy swathes.
Ah! spare, thou pitying swain, a ridge-breadth round
The partridge nest! so shall no new-come lord--
To ope a vista to some ivied tower,--
Thy cottage raze; but when the day is done,
Still shall the twig-bowered seat, on which thy sire
Was wont at even-tide to talk, invite
Thy weary limbs; there peace and health shall bless
Thy frugal fare, served by the unhired hand,
That seeks no wages save a parent's smile.

  To dry the swathe, and yet to save the sap,
Should be your double aim. Some, void of skill,
Believe, that by long bleaching in the sun
Their end is gained; but thus they scorch, not dry,
The fragrant wreaths. This ancient error shun.

  Soon as the scythes the mid-way field have reached,
See old and young at distance due succeed;
The waning spinstress, and the busom maid;
The boy rejoicing in the important toil,
And striving, though with yet unequal strength,
To match the best,-- all with inverted rakes
Toss the fresh wreath, and ted it lightly round,
With gleesome hearts, feeling the toil no task.
The very dogs seem smitten with the joy
Of this new merriment, this flowery work,
And, deeming all in sport, run, bark, and frisk,
Or toss, with buried snout, the tedded flakes.

  Full soon the rake gains on the creeping scythe;
And now the sun, with westering wheel, begins
To slope his course, when, half forespent, the band
Bethink themselves, 'tis time to pause from toil.
Straight to the hedge-row shade, with willing step,
Though slow, they wend,-- and, seated on the sward
In peaceful circle, join the gray-haired sire,
In asking God to bless the daily bread
He bounteously bestows! with cheerful hearts
Their bread they eat, nor other beverage seek
Than what the milky pail unstinted gives.
Finished the brief repast, and thanks returned,
Some sleep the hour away, some talk and jeer,
While willing laughter, on the thread-bare jest,
Bestows the meed of wit; others, apart,
Hold whispering converse with the lass they love.
The younger wights, with busy eye, explore
The foggage, where, concealed with meikle art,
The brown bee's cups in rude-formed clusters lie:
Or, should they find a sable swarm's retreat,
Deep earthed, the mining spade must lay it bare.
Nor unresisting do the inmates yield
Their little state; forth, at the first alarm,
They swarming rush, and chacing, in long train,
The flying foe, deal sharp, not deadly wounds.
Rallied, at length, the assailants to the charge,
With doublets doffed, attack the stinging tribes,
And leaguering the porch, ruthless beat down
The issuing hosts, till, by degrees reduced,
The feeble remnant, 'mid their fated homes,
Await their hapless doom;-- the insidious mine
Meanwhile proceeds, and soon (like human states)
The little kingdom and its treasures lie
Prostrate and ruined 'neath the spoiler's hand.

  While thus glides on the mid-day hour, the pause
Has not been useless; diligent the sun
(The time though short) already has prepared
The scattered verdure for the windrow waves.
First flat and low, till, as the day declines,
Now tossed, now side-long rolled, by many a rake,
Accumulating slow, waist high they swell.
One thing forget not,-- that athwart the breeze
The rows be laid; for thus all through the heaps,
Quite loosely piled, the drying influence sifts.
Some leave them here to imbibe the midnight dews,
Or drenching shower, and day by day repeat,
For three full suns, the same unvaried course.
Be wiser thou, proportioning the time,
And quantity of labour, to the kind
And richness of the crop: Some grasses need
Much both of sun and breeze: the clover kinds,
And chief the red, so succulent, require,
Unless well mingled with the lighter tribes,
Much spreading, tossing, rolling to and fro.

  Others again, whate'er the grassy crop,
If one day's sun they gain, no longer trust
The fickle sky, but rear the verdant cock
Of size diminutive; these, with a little sheaf
Bound near the tops, and by the fingers combed,
Then circularly spread like bee-hive's thatch,
They shield from sudden rain or nightly dew.
So fenced, the little rows, if gently raised
From time to time, in seven days more may join
To rear the swelling tramprick, and defy
Both wind and rain. Beware, nor long delay
To pile the stack, on trees and boughs transverse,
From damp secured :-- see, it surmounts the reach
Of arms full-stretched ;-- then, from below, with forks
Up-poised, the fragrant heaps are spread,
And trampled with much jest and merriment,
And hurtless falls of blythesome lad and lass.

  To destine all your grassy crop to hay
Is thriftless husbandry. In summer drouths
Preserve a portion green for stake and stall;
For in the pasture-field, the biting flies
Unceasingly, though lashed away, return,
And still return, tormenting, to the charge;
Till, goaded past endurance, round the field
The maddened horse scours snorting, while the herd
Gallop in awkward guise, with tails erect,--
And, wildly bellowing, spite of hedge or ditch,
Rush to some neighbouring stream, and, plunging lave
Their heaving sides.

            Nor less the fleecy tribes
Suffer from noon-day heats. Upon thy hills,
Fair Scotland! which the goodly forest crowneed
In times of old, a tree, or sheltering bush,
Is now but rarely seen,-- the mossy breach,
Or stone, or flood-scooped bank, the only shield
Where, screened but scantily, the panting sheep
Can shun the sweltering beam: hence various ills
Assail the harmless race. Nature points out
The remedy,-- a shade; and what so fit
For shade as trees: a narrow belt will serve,
If crescent-formed, to screen a numerous flock.
Select the spot with skill; trees love not heights.
Stunted and slow, upon the stormy brow,
They'll scarce afford your children's flock a shade.
Observe where Nature plants;-- the little haugh,
The murmuring brooklet's cradle, or the side
Of grassy slope, just where it joints the plain.
There plant the bonny birch, the spreading elm,
The alder, quick of growth and early green,
The broad-leaved plane; and careful fence the whole.

  Where, Ettrick! now, thy forest wide out-stretched,
Here towering high, in all its greenwood pride,
As swelled the mountain steeps, and there as low
Sinking into the dale, one sylvan scene,
Extending far as eye could reach, unbroke
Save by the winding river's course, or cliff
Projecting, or sweet sunny glade, where lay,
In ruminating peace, the fallow deer,
A grove of antlers, or by airy tower
That far o'erlooked to guard the green domain,
Where, Ettrick, now thy pride! save in the song
Of that bold Minstrel, whose loud-clanging strings,
Struck by the lightning of his ardent soul,
Awaken echoes that responses made
To noise of wars recorded in his lay!
Where, Cheviot! now, thy oaken canopy
Of boughs, beneath whose twilight vault, full-armed,
The horseman rode, nor scathed his nodding crest!
Where now thine. Torwood! sacred to the cause
Of Liberty! where now the tree revered,
Beneath whose boughs the head of Wallace lay
That ill-starved eve, ere Graham at Falkirk fell,
Beneath whose boughs the royal tent was stretched
Of Bruce, preparing for the glorious day
Of Bannockburn! At Bannockburn -- what heart,
That boasts one drop of Scottish blood, but feels
A patriot glow burn thrilling through his frame,
New-nerve his languid arm, and make him smile
At, (what in sober mood stirs bodings dark,)
At Gallic thunder threatening Albion's shores!
Even yet the ploughman, as with sideward curve
He passes by the memorable stone
(Fit pedestal for Freedom's form sublime,)
Wherein was fixed the Scottish standard, feels
A conscious pride his bosom swell, and grasps
With firmer hold the smooth-worn shafts.

  To them who on a lovely morn of June,
At break of day, knelt on the dewy sward,
While full in view Inchaffray's abbot reared
The sacred host; to them who, ere the shut
Of blood-besprinkled flowers, fell in the cause
Of Freedom and their Country! to the men
Who that day's fight survived, and saw once more
Their homes, their children;-- and, when silvery hairs
Their temples thin besprent, lived to recount,
On winter nights, the achievements of that day!--
To them be ever raised the muses' voice
In grateful song triumphant;-- for by them
Was saved that independent state, so long maintained,
From which, though in an evil hour resigned,
Are now derived that liberty, those laws,
Beneath whose equal rule the swain secure
Now wandering, at the silent gloamin tide,
Amid his earing fields, anticipates,
With secret joy, and thankfulness of heart
Exuberantly full, a plenteous year!