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 . Forefathers

    HERE they went with smock and crook,
    Toiled in the sun, lolled in the shade,
    Here they mudded out the brook
    And here their hatchet cleared the glade
    Harvest-supper woke their wit,
    Huntsman's moon their wooings lit.

    From this church they led their brides,
    From this church themselves were led
    Shoulder-high ; on these waysides
    Sat to take their beer and bread.
    Names are gone--what men they were
    These their cottages declare.

    Names are vanished, save the few
    In the old brown Bible scrawled;
    These were men of pith and thew,
    Whom the city never called;
    Scarce could read or hold a quill,
    Built the barn, the forge, the mill.

    On the green they watched their sons
    Playing till too dark to see,
    As their fathers watched them once,
    As my father once watched me;
    While the bat and beetle flew
    On the warm air webbed with dew.

    Unrecorded, unrenowned,
    Men from whom my ways begin,
    Here I know you by your ground
    But I know you not within--
    All is mist, and there survives
    Not a moment of your lives.

    Like the bee that now is blown
    Honey-heavy on my hand,
    From the toppling tansy-throne
    In the green tempestuous land,--
    I'm in clover now, nor know
    Who made honey long ago.

    Edmund Blunden

 . Gleaning

    ALONG the baulk the grasses drenched in dews
    Soak through the morning gleaner's clumsy shoes,
    And cloying cobwebs trammel their brown cheeks
    While from the shouldering sun the dewfog reeks.
    Now soon begun, on ground where yesterday
    The rakers' warning-sheaf forbade their way,
    Hard clucking dames in great white hoods make haste
    To cram their lapbags with the barley waste,
    Scrambling as if a thousand were but one,
    Careless of stabbing thistles. Now the sun
    Gulps up the dew and dries the stubs, and scores
    Of tiny people trundle out of doors
    Among the stiff stalks, where the scratched hands ply
    Red ants and blackamoors and such as fly;
    Tunbellied, too, with legs a finger long,
    The spider harvestman ; the churlish strong
    Black scorpion, prickled earwig, and that mite
    Who shuts up like a leaden shot in fright
    And lies for dead. And still before the rout
    The young rats and the fieldmice whisk about
    And from the trod whisp out the leveret darts,
    Bawled at by boys that pass with blundering carts
    Top-heavy to the red-tiled barns.--And still
    The children feed their corn sacks with good will,
    And farmwives ever faster stoop and flounce.

    The hawk drops down a plummet's speed to pounce
    The nibbling mouse or resting lark away,
    The lost mole tries to pierce the mattocked clay
    In agony and terror of the sun.

    The dinner hour and its grudged leisure won,
    All sit below the pollards on the dykes
    Rasped with the twinge of creeping barley spikes.
    Sweet beyond telling now the small beer goes
    From the hooped hardwood bottles, the wasp knows,
    And even hornets whizz from the eaten ash ;
    Then crusts are dropt and switches snatched to slash,
    While safe in shadow of the apron thrown
    Aside the bush which years before was grown
    To snap the poacher's nets, the baby sleeps.
    Now toil returns, in red-hot fluttering light
    And far afield the weary rabble creeps,
    Oft happening blind wheat, black among the white,
    That smutches where it touches quick as soot;--
    Oft gaping where the landrail seems afoot,
    Who with such magic throws his baffling speech
    Far off he sounds when scarce beyond arm's reach.
    The dogs are left to mind the morning's gam,
    But squinting knaves can slouch to steal the grain.
    Close to the farm the fields are gleaned agen,
    Where the boy droves the turkey and white hen
    To pick the shelled sweet corn, their hue and cry
    Answers the gleaners' gabble; and sows trudge by
    With little pigs to play and rootle there,
    And all the fields are full of din and blare.

    So steals the time past, so they glean and gloat;
    The hobby-horse whirs round, the moth's dust coat
    Blends with the stubble, scarlet soldiers fly
    In airy pleasure; but the gleaners' eye
    Sees little but their spoils, or robin-flower
    Ever on tenterhooks to shun the shower,
    Their weather-prophet never known astray;
    When he folds up, then towards the hedge glean they.
    But now the dragon of the skies droops, pales,
    And wandering in the wet grey western vales
    Stumbles, and passes, and the gleaning's done.
    The farmer with fat hares slung on his gun
    Gives folks goodnight, as down the ruts they pull
    The creaking two-wheeled handcarts bursting full,
    And whimpering children cease their teazing squawls
    While left alone the supping partridge calls--
    Till all at home is stacked from mischief's way,
    To thrash and dress the first wild windy day;
    And each good wife crowns weariness with pride,
    With such small riches more than satisfied.

    Edmund Blunden

 . Journey

    ALONG the relic of an ancient ride
    Where all the summer's weeds, an upstart race,
    The thoroughfare of centuries denied,
    We took our way, nor wished a better place.

    There gilded flies and bees buzzed sweet content;
    The path became a glade, a thousand ways
    About the hills and holes the brambles went,
    With first dewberries blue as thunder haze.

    Red rosy flowers a thicket swarmed beyond
    Where long ago the faint brook's dropples died,
    And, not to drown us in their blossomed pond,
    Into the pasture's gap we turned aside.

    Stern on their knolls the patriarch thistles stood,
    Nid-nodding in assembly passing wise,
    While often urchin winds in antic rude
    Plucked their white beards, puffed them to sink or rise

    Like tufts stolen from the clouds whose concourse slow
    Darkened awhile or lightened travelling on,
    The darkest turning whiter than new snow
    As through the clifts the sun a moment shone.

    A nameless track, a rabble of outcast weeds,
    And knots of thistle-wool in clownish chase,
    What fare were these to furnish pleasure's needs?
    We laughed at time, nor wished a better place.

    Edmund Blunden

 . Reunion in War

    THE windmill in his smock of white
    Stared from his little crest,
    Like a slow smoke was the moonlight
    As I went like one possessed

    Where the glebe path makes shortest way;
    The stammering wicket swung.
    I passed amid the crosses grey
    Where opiate yew-boughs hung.

    The bleached grass shuddered into sighs,
    The dogs that knew this moon
    Far up were harrying sheep, the cries
    Of hunting owls went on.

    And I among the dead made haste
    And over flat vault stones
    Set in the path unheeding paced
    Nor thought of those chill bones.

    Thus to my sweetheart's cottage I,
    Who long had been away,
    Turned as the traveller turns adry
    To brooks to moist his clay.

    Her cottage stood like a dream, so clear
    And yet so dark; and now
    I thought to find my more than dear
    And if she'd kept her vow.

    Old house dog from his barrel came
    Without a voice, and knew
    And licked my hand; all seemed the same
    To the moonlight and the dew.

    By the white damson then I took
    The tallest osier wand
    And thrice upon her casement strook,
    And she, so fair, so fond,

    Looked out, and saw in wild delight
    And tiptoed down to me,
    And cried in silent joy that night
    Beside the bullace tree.

    O cruel time to take away,
    And worse to bring agen;
    Why slept not I in Flanders clay
    With all the murdered men?

    For I had changed, or she had changed,
    Though true loves both had been,
    Even while we kissed we stood estranged
    With the ghosts of war between.

    We had not met but a moment ere
    War baffled Joy, and cried,
    " Love's but a madness, a burnt flare;
    The shell's a madman's bride."

    The cottage stood, poor stone and wood,
    Poorer than stone stood I;
    Then from her kind arms moved in a mood
    As grey as the cereclothed sky.

    The roosts were stirred, each little bird
    Called fearfully out for day;
    The church clock with his dead voice whirred
    As if he bade me stay.

    To trace with madman's fingers all
    The letters on the stones
    Where thick beneath the twitch roots crawl
    In dead men's envied bones.

    Edmund Blunden


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