James Grahame Poems >>
British Georgics. October

Fair shines the sun, but with a meekened smile
Regretful, on the variegated woods
And glittering streams, where floats the hazel spray,
The yellow leaf, or rowan's ruby branch.
Hushed are the groves; each woodland pipe is mute,
Save when the redbreast mourns the falling leaf.
How plaintively, in interrupted trills,
He sings the dirge of the departing year!
Of various plume and chirp, the flocking birds
Alight on hedge or bush, where, late concealed,
Their nests now hang apparent to the view.

  If, 'mid the tassels of the leafless ash,
A fieldfare flock alight, for early frosts
Prepare, and timely save the precious root,
Before the penetrating power has reached
The unseen stores. If, planted in fair rows,
They marshalled grew, the plough will best perform
The reaping task: amid the tumbling soil,
The vegetable mine, exposed to view,
The gatherers' basket fills.

               Some, to secure
From possibility of frost's access,
Dig pits, and there throw in the gathered crop:
A mode unwise; for thus, if water gain
Admittance to the store, there it collects,
And to itself assimilates the whole.
Exclusion of the atmosphere is gained,
As well by heaping earth above the roots,
As by interring them. Chuse, then, a spot
The driest of the field, and on the surface pile
A heap pyramidal, bedded on straw.
Let not the bulk be great, lest pressure bruise
The under-layers; and do not grudge the toil
Of subdivision into many heaps.
In thickness let the covering cone be more
Than what the strict necessity requires,
And loosely laid, save at the surface, smooth
And flattened down.

                 How ceaseless is the round
Of rural labour! Soon as on the field
The withered haulms and suckers crackling blaze,
And, with their far-extending volumes, load
The wings of Autumn's latest lingering breeze,
The wheaten seed-time all your care demands:
Delay not, then, but watchful seize the tide,
That, ere begins the frost's severer sway,
Hostile to vegetation's earliest stage,
The fibre's may have time, shooting around,
To penetrate, and fasten in the soil.

  In briny pickle strong, some drench the grain,
And from the surface scum the worthless part.
When thus prepared, with lusty even growth
The embryons sprout; and, while all nature droops,
The bladed ridges, robed in tender green,
Revive the heart with presages of Spring.

  While still the ambiguous season, unconfirmed,
Retains some summer signs, yet more displays
Of Winter's near approach, man, bird, and beast,
Begin to droop, as if the waning year
Some strange malignant influence had dispensed.
Chief in the horse, each weakness, hurt, or flaw,
Which genial summer food, and genial warmth,
Will oft conceal, appears, nor can elude
Even eyes unskilled. Now is the buyer's time
To seek the crowded fair. A slow survey
First take of all the rows: examine well,
In his quiescent state, the horse that hits
Your roaming eye: mark if one foot he points,
Unfailing sign of lameness: mark his eyes,
If slumbrous or alert: till well surveyed,
Forbear your hands, for, handling, you arouse
The sluggish into spirit not their own.
Of signs of strength, the least deceitful are,
A neck of muscle, which, when sideward turned,
Seems like a cable coil of some great ship,
And under it a breast jutting and broad,
Knurled like the trunk of ancient oak or elm;
Short pastern joints; full hoofs, and deep withal
Of sable hue; a waist compact and round;
Round haunch; high shoulder; head not large,
With eyes full-orbed. For temper watch his head,
And, if he greet your gently-stroking hand
With ears laid backward, and projecting snout,
Proceed elsewhere, and make another choice.

  If on a horse untrained to load or draught
Your choice should fall,-- by lenient, soothing means,
Tame, not subdue, his spirit to the yoke.
At first, a lightly-loaded sack, to mill
Or market, let him bear, and often stroke
His trembling neck, and cheer him with your voice.
Let not the lash, or stern command, alarm
His startled ear; but gently lead him on.--
O think how short the time, since, joyous free,
He roamed the mead, or, by his mother's side,
Attended plough or harrow, scampering gay;
And think how soon his years of youth and strength
Will fly, and leave him to that wretched doom
Which ever terminates the horse's life,--
Toil more and more severe, as age, decay,
Disease, unnerve his limbs, till, sinking faint
Upon the road, the brutal stroke resounds.

  When, on the rustling pathway of the grove,
Falling from branch to branch, the frequent leaf
Gently alights, and whispers as it falls,
How short, how fleeting, is the life of man!
Then is the planting season; then the sap
Has ceased to circulate; and while the power
Of vegetation slumbering lies, the change
From the warm fostering spot, where first the plant
Put forth its leaf, remains unfelt, till Spring,
By slow degrees, awake the vital spark,
And, with a whispering zephyr, gently breathe
O'er swelling bud and slowly-spreading leaf,
A sweet oblivion of its infant couch.

  Some mingle, with the fair leaf-bearing trees,
The bristled piny tribes; and, by a word
Misled, believe that thus they nurse the plants.
But mark the progress :---- rapid is the growth
Of all the race of pines; soon they o'ertop,
O'erspread, and, like some nurses, overlay,
And choak their tender charge; or, if betimes
They're thinned, still with their taller growth they shade,
From light and heat, the lower-spreading kinds;
And thus, surrounded by a sable ring
Of firs, as in a pit, lurks the poor oak,
Beholding but the zenith of the sky.
What tree ere throve doomed to perpetual shade?
Is warmth superfluous to the youngling plant?
Does not the genial sunbeam of the Spring
Gladden, with kindly influence, bud and spray?---
To break the blast, not to exclude the air,
And light, and heat, be that your aim, an end
That's best attained by other obvious means
Than mingling pines as nurses to your groves.
Draw them in rows along the bounding line;
And, in proportion to the planted space,
And different degrees of slope and height,
Let other piny rows athwart be drawn.

  Not satisfied with using firs to screen
The leafy tribes, improvers some there are,
Enamoured of deformity and gloom,
Who strangely deem they beautify the land
By planting woods of pine, or sable belts,
Like funeral processions, long drawn out.
But not the eye alone these woeful groves
Offend: no cheerful rustle, like the trees
With smiling foliage clothed, give they;
A rushing sound moans through their waving boughs,
Grateful to him alone whose sorrow is past hope.

  Nor is it only on the barren moor,
Or mountain bleak, these northern hordes intrude;
No, they usurp the warm and sheltered glen,
Supplant the levelled bank of greenwood trees,
And, with their poisonous drop, the primrose wan,
The purple violet, the columbine,
And all the lowly children of the vale,
Both flower and flowering underwood, destroy.

  Idolaters of piny groves maintain,
That no where else, when fair deciduous trees
Their foliage lose, does verdure cheer the eye.
Verdure! O word abused! does that dark range,
Dingy and sullen, sable as the cloud
That low'rs on Winter's brow, deserve the name
Of verdure? -- lovely hue! that makes yon field
Of Autumn's close, and threats of muttering storms.
To eyes unprejudiced by Fashion's law,
More pleasing far the leafless forest scene,
Whether beneath the storm it undulate
A deep-empurpled sea, or tranquil rest
In moveless beauty, while the frosty power
Adorns each spray and twig with fleecy plumes.

  Let lovers of the forest first consult
The nature of the ground. Moist abode
Best suits the willow tribes, yet will they thrive
In any soil. The alder, too, prefers
A station dank; chiefly the river side
It loves to haunt, down to the very brink,
Rooted oft-times beneath the gliding stream,
While round each tree a kindred bush upsprings.
In moist, not swampy soils, the elm delights:
No tree bears transplantation like the elm;
With sure success the elm may be removed,
Even when the twentieth spring draws forth the buds,
No scanty foliage, no decaying twigs,
Betoken signs of change: clinging to life,
An elm-tree stake puts forth young shoots, and spreads
Its verdant foliage in the gap it fills.
The dry hill-side, though sterile be the mould,
Delights the beechen tree. In every soil,
Or warm or cold, or moist or dry, the birch
Will rear its smooth and glossy stem, and spread
Its odoriferous foliage. Loamy moulds
Best suit the ash; yet will it thrive in all,
Save in stiff clays, or in the oozy swamp.
The monarch of the woods delights in plains
And valley sides, nor shuns the mountain's brow;
Regardless of the storm, the oak's vast limbs
Stretch equal all around, and scorn the blast:
So, when transformed into the floating towers,
That bear Britannia's thunder o'er the deep,
Heaved on the mountain billows, they defy
The elemental war, the battle's strife,
And proudly quell the storm of flood and fire.
But fitter far such themes for him who sung
Ye Mariners of England! in a strain
More grand, inspired, than e'er from Grecian lyre
Or Roman flowed,-- that bard of soul sublime,
Who, in prophetic vision, dared to light
The torch of Hope at Nature's funeral pile!

  Meeter for me, amid the rustling leaves,
To trace the woodland path, and mark the tints
So varied, yet harmonious, that adorn
The trees retentive of their summer robes :--
The beech of orange hue; the oak embrowned;
The yellow elm; the sycamore so red;
The alder's verdure deep, of all the trees
The latest to disrobe; the hazle, hung
With russet clusters :-- Hark! that crashing branch,
As to the maid he loves, the clambering youth
Down weighs the husky store; while others catch,
With hooked rods, the highest slender sprays,
And bend them to some upward stretching hand,
Or shake the ripened shower, and, dexterous, twitch,
From the fair bosom's shield, the blushing prize.
One climbs the precipice's crag, and stretches,
Dizzying the gazer's eye, in dread attempt,
His arm, to reach some richly-clustered branch;
And though he's foiled, perhaps a trembling voice,
And upturned eye, with eager clasping hands,
Make disappointment sweet, and first confess
A mutual flame which oft the tongue denied.

  And now they bear the woodland harvest home,
And store it up for blythesome Hallowe'en,
A night of mirth and glee to old and young.
With the first star that twinkles in the east,
From house to house, joyous, the schoolboys bear
Their new-pulled stocks, while, 'mid the curled blades,
A few dim candles in derision shine
Of Romish rites, now happily forgot.
As each goes out, the bearer homeward hies,
And 'twixt the lintel and the thatch, lays up
The well singed emblem of his future mate.
Then round the fire, full many a cottage ring
Cheerful convenes, to burn the boding nuts.
Some lovingly, in mutual flames, consume,
Till, wasting into embers grey, (sign of long life
Together spent), they cause sometimes the event
Believed to be foretold; some, when thrown in,
Exploding, bound away, as if they spurned
Their proffered partner. Marion to the wood,
Thus slighted, hied, from rowan-tree two-stemmed,
A sprig to pull: with quaking heart she passed
The gloomy firs, the lightning-shivered oak,
The ruined mill, all silent 'neath the moon.
Oft did she pause, and once she would have turned,
As cross her path the startled howlet flew,
Sailing along, but, from an aged thorn,
The stock-dove faintly coo'd beside his mate;--
Forward she sped, and with the dear-won prize,
Breathless, returned, nor waited long, till, lo,
A sister-spray adorned her true-love's breast.
And now, by turns, the laughing circle strives,
Plunging, to catch the floating fruit, that still
Eludes the attempt; nor is the triple spell
Of dishes, ranged to cheat the groping hand,
Forgot, nor aught of all the various sports
Which hoar tradition hands from age to age.