Then comes the harvest supper

Here is the last part of John Clare’s September poem in his Shepherd’s Calendar; this is the time of year when hedgerow fruits will be preserved, and apples turned to cider. The harvest supper is still celebrated in villages around here, a great evening of eating, drinking and dancing!

Then comes the harvest supper night
Which rustics welcome with delight
When merry game and tiresome tale
And songs increasing with the ale
Their mingled uproar interpose
To crown the harvests happy close
While rural mirth that there abides
Laughs till she almost cracks her sides

Now harvests busy hum declines
And labour half its help resigns
Boys glad at heart to play return
The shepherds to their peace sojourn
Rush-bosomed solitudes among
Which busy toil disturbed so long
The gossip happy all is oer
Visits again her neighbours door
For scandals idle tales to dwell
Which harvest had no time to tell
And on each bench at even tide
Which trailing vine leaves nearly hide
And free from all its sultry strife
Enjoy once more their idle life
A few whom waning toil reprieves
Thread the forests sea of leaves
Where the pheasant loves to hide
And the darkest glooms abide
Beneath the old oaks mossd and grey
Whose shadows seem as old as they
Where time hath many seasons won
Since aught beneath them saw the sun.
Within these brambly solitudes
The ragged noisy boy intrudes
To gather nuts that ripe and brown
As soon as shook will patter down
Thus harvest ends its busy reign
And leaves the fields their peace again
Where autumns shadows idly muse
And tinge the trees with many hues
Amid whose scenes I’m feign to dwell
And sing of what I love so well
But hollow winds and tumbling floods
And humming showers and moaning woods
All startle into sudden strife
And wake a mighty lay to life
Making amid their strains divine
All songs in vain so mean as mine

The bees their teazing music hum

September has been a mixture – summer and autumn, and yesterday had an almost wintry feel! All is restored and it’s warm and mild today, blue skies and sunshine!

Here is a little more from John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar:

Where the holly oak so tall
Far oer tops the garden wall
That latest blooms for bees provide
Hived on stone benches close beside
The bees their teazing music hum
And threaten war to all that come
Save the old dame whose jealous care
Places a trapping bottle there
Filled with mock sweets in whose disguise
The honey loving hornet dies

Upon the dovecoats mossy slates
The piegons coo around their mates
Where morns sunbeams early fall
By the barn or stable wall
Basking hens in playfull rout
Flap the smoaking dust about
In the barn hole sits the cat
Watching within the thirsty rat
Who oft at morn its dwelling leaves
To drink the moisture from the eves
The redbreast with his nimble eye
Dare scarcely stop to catch the flye
That tangled in the spiders snare
Mourns in vain for freedom there
The dog beside the threshold lyes
Mocking sleep with half shut eyes
With head crouched down upon his feet
Till strangers pass his sunny seat
Then quick he pricks his ears to hark
And bustles up to growl and bark
While boys in fear stop short their song
And sneak on hurrys fears along
And beggar creeping like a snail
To make his hungry hopes prevail
Oer the warm heart of charity
Leaves his lame halt and hastens bye

The fields are all alive

More from John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar… here are further verses from August…

The fields are all alive with busy noise
Of labours sounds and insects humming joys
Some oer the glittering sickle sweating stoop
Startling full oft the partridge coveys up
Some oer the rustling scythe go bending on
And shockers follow where their toils have gone
First turning swaths to wither in the sun
Where mice from terrors dangers nimbly run
Leaving their tender young in fears alarm
Lapt up in nests of chimbled grasses warm
And oft themselves for safty search in vain
From the rude boy or churlish hearted swain
Who beat their stone chinkd forks about the groun(
And spread an instant murder all around
Tho oft the anxious maidens tender prayer
Urges the clown their little lives to spare
Who sighs while trailing the long rake along
At scenes so cruel and forgets her song
And stays wi love his murder aiming hand
Some ted the puffing winnow down the land
And others following roll them up in heaps
While cleanly as a barn door beesome sweeps
The hawling drag wi gathering weeds entwind
And singing rakers end the toils behind

John Clare 1793 – 1864

Harvest approaches with its bustling day

We have had a lovely couple of days;warm sun, washing drying on the line – yes, there was a bit of a chilly wind, but we can ignore that! It’s not rained! We’ve had blue sky! The windows are open! More rain and cool weather is forecast, but we’ve had a bit of summer!

I wonder how the farmers have been managing their harvests? As I was reading John Clare’s poem on August in his Shepherd’s calendar, it seemed as if the summers of bygone times were idyllic… maybe they were. The Shepherd’s Calendar was published in 1827 – I don’t know when exactly it was written, probably over quite a period of time, but maybe Clare was thinking of the summer of 1826 which was the hottest on record (until the 1976 summer)

Here is the first part of his verses for August:

Harvest approaches with its bustling day
The wheat tans brown and barley bleaches grey
In yellow garb the oat land intervenes
And tawney glooms the valley thronged with beans
Silent the village grows, wood wandering dreams
Seem not so lovely as its quiet seems
Doors are shut up as on a winters day
And not a child about them lies at play
The dust that winnows neath the breezes feet
Is all that stirs about the silent street
Fancy might think that desert spreading fear
Had whisperd terrors into quiets ear
Or plundering armys past the place had come
And drove the lost inhabitants from home
The fields now claim them where a motley crew
Of old and young their daily tasks pursue
The barleys beard is grey and wheat is brown
And wakens toil betimes to leave the town
The reapers leave their beds before the sun
And gleaners follow when home toils are done
To pick the littered ear the reaper leaves
And glean in open fields among the sheaves

The ruddy child nursed in the lap of care
In toils rude ways to do its little share
Beside its mother poddles oer the land
Sun burnt and stooping with a weary hand
Picking its tiney glean of corn or wheat
While crackling stubbles wound its legs and feet
Full glad it often is to sit awhile
Upon a smooth green baulk to ease its toil
And feign would spend an idle hour to play
With insects strangers to the moiling day
Creeping about each rush and grassy stem

John Clare 1793 –  1864

The sun slopes in the west

We’re coming to the end of July, and it’s a rather variable end… sunshine and showers – actually sunshine and a cloudburst today. We were at a lovely wedding on Monday, but it was cold and very windy; it didn’t spoil the celebrations but it would have been nice to have had blue skies above the very happy couple!

Here is an except from John Clare’s ‘Shepherd’s Calendar’ for July:

Loud is the summers busy song
The smallest breeze can find a tongue
Where insects of each tiney size
Grow teazing with their melodys
Till noon burns with its blistering breath
Around and day dyes still as death
The busy noise of man and brute
Is on a sudden lost and mute
The cuckoo singing as she flies
No more to mocking boy replys
Even the brook that leaps along
Seems weary of its bubbling song
And so soft its waters creep
Tired silence sinks in sounder sleep
The cricket on its banks is dumb
The very flies forget to hum
And save the waggon rocking round
The landscape sleeps without a sound

The breeze is stopt the lazy bough
Hath not a leaf that dances now
The totter grass upon the hill
And spiders threads are standing still
The feathers dropt from more hens wing
Which to the waters surface cling
Are stedfast and as heavy seem
As stones beneath them in the stream
Hawkweeds and Groundsells fanning downs
Unruffled keep their seedy crowns
And in the oven heated air
Not one light thing is floating there
-Save that to the earnest eye
The restless heat seems twittering bye
Noon swoons beneath the heat it made
And flowers een wither in the shade
Untill the sun slopes in the west
Like weary traveler glad to rest
On pillard clouds of many hues
Then natures voice its joy renews
And checkerd field and grassy plain
Hum with their summer songs again
A requiem to the days decline
Whose setting sun beams cooly shine
A welcome to days feeble powers
As evening dews on thirsty flowers

John Clare  1793 – 1864

Among the grassy woods

The Shepherd’s Calendar by John Clare was published in 1827 when John was twenty-four years old. You can visit John Clare’s Cottage not far from Peterborough which has connections to my own family.

The cottage website describes John’s Shepherd’s Calendar: “The poem provides a calendar of the country year, in which the various tasks performed by the farm labourer take their place: ploughing in February, lambing in March, and hay-making in June.  The countryman’s year is also punctuated by celebrations and festivals, such as May Day games, sheep-shearing feasts, Harvest Home, and Christmas. Rooted in popular culture, the poem has many vivid descriptions of the flowers, birds, and beasts of the hedgerow and field.”

Here is an extract from the verses about the month of July:

Others journying too and fro
Among the grassy woods below
Musing as if they felt and knew
The pleasant scenes they wandered thro
Where each bent round them seems to be
Hugh as a jiant timber tree
While pismires from their castles come
In crowds to seek the litterd crumb
Which he on purpose drops that they
May hawl the heavy loads away
Shaping the while their dark employs
To his own visionary joys
Picturing such a life as theirs
As free from summers sweating cares
And inly wishing that his own
Coud meet with joys so thickly sown
Sport seems the all that they pursue
And play the only work they do
The cowboy still cuts short the day
In mingling mischief with his play
Oft in the pond with weeds oer grown
Hurling quick the plashing stone
To cheat his dog who watching lies
And instant plunges for the prize
And tho each effort proves as vain
He shakes his coat and dives again
Till wearied with the fruitless play
Then drops his tail and sneaks away
Nor longer heeds the bawling boy
Who seeks new sports with added joy

John Clare

July the month of summers prime

I suppose because we missed the beginning of the year – far away around the other side of the world in January and February, the year seems very short and hardly believable that we have passed the halfway mark of the year.

However, it is July… not Quintus as the Romans called it before changing its name to honour Julius Caesar. According to statistics, it should be the warmest month of the year, which surprised me as I thought that would be August… however when I think back to being at school, it always seemed roasting hot when we were sitting in stuffy classrooms and halls doing our end of year exams.

Here, John Clare celebrates this month:

July the month of summers prime
Again resumes her busy time
Scythes tinkle in each grassy dell
Where solitude was wont to dwell
And meadows they are mad with noise
Of laughing maids and shouting boys
Making up the withering hay
With merry hearts as light as play
The very insects on the ground
So nimbly bustle all around
Among the grass or dusty soil
They seem partakers in the toil
The very landscape reels with life
While mid the busy stir and strife
Of industry the shepherd still
Enjoys his summer dreams at will
Bent oer his hook or listless laid
Beneath the pastures willow shade
Whose foliage shines so cool and grey
Amid the sultry hues of day
As if the mornings misty veil
Yet lingered in their shadows pale
Or lolling in a musing mood
On mounds where saxon castles stood
Upon whose deeply buried walls
The ivyed oaks dark shadow falls
Oft picking up with wondering gaze
Some little thing of other days
Saved from the wreck of time-as beads
Or broken pots among the weeds
Of curious shapes-and many a stone
Of roman pavements thickly sown
Oft hoping as he searches round
That buried riches may be found

John Clare (1793 – 1864)