Hurrahing in Harvest
SUMMER ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic – as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! –
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet
Gerard Manley Hopkins drafted this, typically complex and prematurely modern, sonnet on September 1st 1877 in the Vale of Clwyd, as he walked home from a day’s fishing in the River Elwy. It seems a harvest festival sort of poem.
Blusterous winds, unending rains, autumn of chaos,
The four seas, eight directions one solid cloud:
Horses going, cows coming, who can make out for sure?
Muddy Jing river, clear Wei, how to tell them apart?
From grain tips, ears sprouting, millet heads turned to black;
No word of how farmers, farmers’ wives are faring.
In the city, exchange a bed of quilt, get a meagre peck of grain –
Just agree, don’t argue over which is worth more!
Du Fu, one of China’s greatest poets, wrote this in 754 CE when the weather had been even wetter in northern China, than it was here at the end of the Summer, although we are unlikely to suffer the food shortages and inflation they did because of ruined crops. The poem is about more than the weather, though, as it reflects the sense of a civilisation under attack from outside.
Edward Thomas wrote this before the start of the First World War. Ivor Gurney’s view was that it said all that needed to be said about the English language.
Out of us all that make rhymes,
Will you choose sometimes –
As the winds use a crack in a wall or a drain,
Their joy or their pain to whistle through –
Choose me, you English words?
I know you: you are light as dreams,
Tough as oak, precious as gold, as poppies and corn
Or as an old cloak: sweet as our birds to the ear,
As the burnet rose in the heat of Midsummer:
Strange as the races of dead and unborn:
Strange and sweet equally, and familiar, to the eye,
As the dearest faces that a man knows,
And as lost homes are: but though older far
Than oldest yew – as our hills are, old –
Worn new again and again, young as our streams after rain:
And as dear as the earth which you prove that we love.
Make me content with some sweetness
From Wales whose nightingales have no wings –
From Wiltshire and Kent and Herefordshire,
And the villages there – from the names, and the things
No less. Let me sometimes dance with you,
Or climb or stand perchance in ecstacy,
Fixed and free in a rhyme, as poets do.
Another Thomas Hardy poem, but quite different from the last one. I suspect that few of us welcome insects into our homes. We might just be more tolerant of bumblebees (Hardy’s dumbledore) as we tend to view these more positively than we do flies, although we know they are better off outside.
A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter – winged, horned, and spined –
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While ‘mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands …
Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space.
My guests parade my new-penned ink,
Or bang at the lamp-glass, whirl, and sink.
“God’s humblest, they!” I muse. Yet why?
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.
Thomas Hardy’s picture of everyday country life, far away from battlefields, could have been drawn from life round here a hundred years ago. Though a man harrowing with a horse seems so distant now, other things endure.
Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.
Robert Burns wrote this in 1793, towards the end of his life. It’s as much about roses as the lilac, but isn’t the best known of his rose songs. You will usually hear it sung to the traditional tune Hughie Graham – he was a notorious cattle thief who terrorized the debatable lands between England and Scotland in the mid-16th century.
O WERE my Love yon lilac fair,
Wi’ purple blossoms to the spring,
And I, a bird to shelter there,
When wearied on my little wing!
How I wad mourn when it was torn
By autumn wild and winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing,
When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.
O gin my love were yon red rose,
That grows upon the castle wa’;
And I mysel a drap o’ dew,
Into her bonie breast to fa’!
O there, beyond expression blest,
I’d feast on beauty a’ the night;
Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest,
Till fley’d awa by Phoebus’ light!
Charlotte Mary Mew was born in London in 1869. She is said to have been haunted by unrequited love and the fear of madness throughout her life. Mew is not known as a war poet, but this poem is as much about life and renewed human hope as it is about the seasons. It was written a hundred years ago between the landings at Gallipoli and the first Zeppelin raid on London.
Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where the wounded trees
Wait with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun, and even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please,
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit today with their great Dead, hands in their hands
Eyes in their eyes
At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things
And changing skies.