James Grahame Poems >>
June (excerpted from British Georgics)

Hark! the whetstone rasps
Along the mower's scythe; for now's the time
To reap the grassy mead,—-ere yet the bee
Into the purple clover-flower can shoot
Her searching tube,—-ere yet the playful imp
Chacing, waist-deep, the restless butterfly,
Can from the red flowers suck 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 buxom 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 more 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 and 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 blythsome 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.