James Grahame Poems >>
British Georgics. September

Clear is the sky, and temperate the air,
That, scarcely stirring, wafts, with gentlest breath,
The gossamer light glittering in the sun.
And now, the wheat and barley harvest o'er,
Blythsome the reapers to the lighter work
Of oaten-field repair, and gaily stoop,
Grasping the lusty handfuls, while they draw,
Close to the ground, the sickle, saving thus
The useful straw for fodder or for lair.
Severe, yet cheerful, both to old and young,
This stooping labour; frequently they pause,
For reason slight, or none; sometimes to gaze
Upon the passing coach, that, 'neath a load
Enormous, seems to stagger, as it rolls,
Amid a cloud of dust; sometimes to taunt
The traveller on foot who plods his way,
And, failing in the attempted repartee,
Quickens his pace to shun the vollied shower
Of rustic wit; or by the fowler's gun
Startled, while o'er the neighbouring hedge
The wounded partridge flies, and at their feet
Falls, vainly fluttering, followed fast by dog
And master. Ruthless man! how canst thou see,
As, lifting that poor bird, it in thy face
Looks up; how can'st thou see that piteous look,
That blood-drop trickling down its panting breast,
Nor feel compunction for the barbarous deed!

  Now come the equinoctial blasts, that lay
Level the sheaves. This danger to avoid,
Look at the forest's topmost twigs, or larch,
That ever shuns the most prevailing wind,
And let your shocks, placed lengthwise to the storm,
Present their sloping ends; else, if they stand
Athwart the sweeping tempest's line, o'erthrown,
They frequent lie drenched in a furrow pool.

  But more destructive to yon new-piled sheaves,
Are rains, which, unaccompanied with wind,
Come drizzling down in ceaseless, soaking fall.
Singly the sheaves must then be placed upright:
Yet even this remedy oft fruitless proves;
For nightly gusts at intervals will blow,
And, with the morning sun, you find your work
Laid prostrate.

          Strange that implements abound,
In every process of the farmer's art,
Save this; and yet, without much pains or cost,
Means sure they are, by which, in shorter space
Than now required, if but the rain remit,
The dripping crop may thoroughly be dried.
A row of forked stakes draw cross the field,
With spars from cleft to cleft laid all along,--
On these your sheaves, bound near the tops, suspend;
Thus, while descends the rain, fast trickling off
Each dangling sheaf, the capillary bunch,
Free of the plashy ground, no moisture draws.

  In rainy harvests, when the day is dimmed
With one continued shower, sometimes the night
Clears up, and, through the parting clouds, the moon
Shoots forth, o'er tower and tree, a silvery beam.
Such interval the prudent husbandman
Will eager seize, and by the pallid light,
Though oft obscured by slowly passing clouds,
Will urge the reaping task, nor will desist,
Though on the eve, before the hallowed morn,
The brightening change begin; at such a time,
No law of God forbids the needful toil
To be protracted, till the fading orb,
And morning's bird, proclaim the day-spring nigh.
Then let your labour cease, and let not man
Determine rashly when to disregard
That heavenly precept, merciful, benign,
Keep holy to the Lord the seventh day.
On this blest day the weary reaper rests
In thankfulness of heart: see far retired,
Behind a shadowing shock, yon little groupe
Of strangers on the ground, and in their hands,
In tongue unknown in lowland plain, the Word
Of Life! O grand emprize! O generous boon!
That little book to Scotia's farthest isles,
In each low cottage, comfort speaks, and peace:
Even to the hapless exile, as he lifts
His eldest born, and, weeping, bids him take
A last look of the fast-receding shore,
It consolation speaks, pointing his view
To that blest country whence they'll ne'er depart!

  Soon as, by drying power of sun and wind,
Your crop is ready for the stack or barn,
One hour delay not; every other work
Defer, and, cheery, o'er the ridges drive
The high-piled wains; then back, with quickened pace,
Return, and lighter load of smiling elves,
Whose purple cheeks the bramble vintage dyes:
Haste, quick reload, and back, and back again,
The journey short repeat, till all your fields
Are to the stubble cleared, and gradual rise
The cheerful pyramids.

               On transverse boughs
Construct them with due care, for thus you guard
'Gainst earthy damps, and thus the pilfering mouse
More rarely will intrude, than when your sheaves
Are laid in contact with the burrowed soil.
Against this evil let the screeching owl,
A sacred bird be held; protect her nest,
Whether in neighbouring crag, within the reach
Of venturous boy, it hang, or in the rent
Of some old echoing tower, where her sad plaint
The live-long night she moans, save when she skims,
Prowling, along the ground, or, through your barn,
Her nightly rounds performs; unwelcome guest!
Whose meteor-eyes shoot horror through the dark,
And numb the tiny revellers with dread.

  Of forms the circular is most approved,
As offering, in proportion to its bulk,
The smallest surface to the storm's assault.
To turn the driving rain, the outer sheaves,
With bottoms lower than the rustling tops,
Should sloping lie. When to the crowning sheaf
Arrived, distrust the sky; the thatch lay on,
And bind with strawy coils. O pleasant sight!
These lozened ropes that, at the tapering top,
End in a wisp-wound pinnacle, a gladsome perch,
On which already sits poor Robin, proud,
And sweetly sings a song, to Harvest Home!

  The fields are swept, a tranquil silence reigns,
And pause of rural labour, far and near.
Deep is the morning's hush; from grange to grange
Responsive cock-crows, in the distance heard
Distinct as if at hand, soothe the pleased ear;
And oft, at intervals, the flail, remote,
Sends faintly through the air its deafened sound.

  Bright now the shortening day, and blythe its close,
When to the kirn, the neighbours, old and young,
Come dropping in to share the well-earned feast.
The smith aside his ponderous sledge has thrown,
Raked up his fire, and cooled the hissing brand:
His sluice the miller shuts; and from the barn
The threshers hie, to don their Sunday coats.
Simply adorned, with ribbons, blue and pink,
Bound round their braided hair, the lasses trip
To grace the feast, which now is smoaking ranged
On tables of all shape, and size, and height,
Joined awkwardly, yet to the crowded guests
A seemly joyous show, all loaded well:
But chief, at the board-head, the haggis round
Attracts all eyes, and even the goodman's grace
Prunes of its wonted length. With eager knife,
The quivering globe he then prepares to broach;
While for her gown some ancient matron quakes,
Her gown of silken woof, all figured thick
With roses white, far larger than the life,
On azure ground,-- her grannam's wedding garb,
Old as that year when Sheriffmuir was fought.
Old tales are told, and well-known jests abound,
Which laughter meets half way as ancient friends,
Nor, like the worldling, spurns because thread bare.

  When ended the repast, and board and bench
Vanish like thought, by many hands removed,
Up strikes the fiddle; quick upon the floor
The youths lead out the half-reluctant maids,
Bashful at first, and darning through the reels
With timid steps, till, by the music cheered,
With free and airy step, they bound along,
Then deftly wheel, and to their partners face,
Turning this side, now that, with varying step.
Sometimes two ancient couples o'er the floor,
Skim through a reel, and think of youthful years.

  Meanwhile the frothing bickers, soon as filled,
Are drained, and to the gauntrees oft return,
Where gossips sit, unmindful of the dance.
Salubrious beverage! Were thy sterling worth
But duly prized, no more the alembic vast
Would, like some dire volcano, vomit forth
Its floods of liquid fire, and far and wide
Lay waste the land; no more the fruitful boon
Of twice ten shrievedoms, into poison turned,
Would taint the very life-blood of the poor,
Shrivelling their heart-strings like a burning scroll.

  As merrily, in many a lowland vale,
These annual revels fill, with simple glee,
The husbandman, and cottar, man and child;--
Far on their homeward way, the Highland bands
Approach the mountain range, the bound sublime
Of Scotia's beauteous plains, while gleams of joy,
Not tearless, tint each face: As when the clouds,
That lowr along those steeps, slowly ascend,
And whiten, as they upward flit, in flakes
Still thin and thinner spreading, till, at last,
Each lofty summit gleams, each torrent-fall
Reflects the radiance of the setting sun.
And now, upon the way-worn traveller's ear,
The much-loved language, in his native glen,
Seems music sweet :-- what joy! scarce more he feels
When, in the lowly thatch his sickle hung,
He clasps his children to his throbbing heart.

  How pleasant came thy rushing, silver Tweed!
Upon my ear, when, after roaming long
In southern plains, I've reached thy lovely bank!
How bright, renowned Sark! thy little stream,
Like ray of columned light chacing a shower,
Would cross my homeward path; how sweet the sound,
When I, to hear the Doric tongue's reply,
Would ask thy well-known name!

          And must I leave,
Dear land, thy bonny braes, thy dales,
Each haunted by its wizard stream, o'erhung
With all the varied charms of bush and tree;
Thy towering hills, the lineaments sublime,
Unchanged, of Nature's face, which wont to fill
The eye of Wallace, as he, musing, planned
The grand emprize of setting Scotland free!
And must I leave the friends of youthful years,
And mould my heart anew, to take the stamp
Of foreign friendships, in a foreign land,
And learn to love the music of strange tongues!--
Yes, I may love the music of strange tongues,
And mould my heart anew, to take the stamp
Of foreign friendships, in a foreign land :--
But, to my parched mouth's roof, cleave this tongue;
My fancy fade into the yellow leaf;
And this oft-pausing heart forget to throb,
If, Scotland! thee and thine I e'er forget.