October 28, 2004

Early hay poems from Lydgate to Hood.

John Lydgate (c1370-c1451).
“That now is hay some-tyme was grase” c 1400.

Thomas Tusser (1524?-1580).
“Iulies Abstract”
from Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie 1580.

Robert Herrick.Robert Herrick (1591-1674).
“To Meadows”

Andrew Marvell.Andrew Marvell (1621-1678 ).
Verses from “Upon Appleton House to my Lord Fairfax”

James Thomson (1700-1748).
"Summer" from The Seasons

James Thomson.<Robert Dodsley (1703-1764).
“Agriculture. A Poem”

James Grahame (1765-1811).
“June” from British Georgics

Samuel Woodworth (1784-1842).
“The Hay-makers”

Thomas Hood.Thomas Hood (1799-1845).
“That Flesh is Grass is Now as Clear as Day”

Thomas Hood (1799-1845).
"Miss Killmansegg and Her Precious Leg. A Legend"

Book of hours. c1250. This group of ten poems includes one from the early fifteenth century, one each from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and three each from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The earliest by Lydgate echoes biblical metaphor, including several in the Psalms (e.g., “As for man, his days are as grass..” (Ps 103, line 15) and the more famous lines in Isaiah 40 (“All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:/ The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass./ The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Our section on Bosch places this motif in folklore and painting, and, four centuries after Lydgate, Hood gives it an ironic, worldly twist. Between Lydgate and Hood are the familiar celebrations of haymaking as one of the archetypal activities of high summer (compare the visual themes of Bruegel and Rubens), prescriptions for good practice, and detailed descriptions of work and play in the hay, which appear in such parallel period paintings as the Dixton Manor panorama, dignified Stubbs tableaux, and cheerful romps of Rowlandson. Thanks to Robert Hanna who found and forwarded Herrick's melancholy meditation on mown meadows.

Bening. Haymaking and hunting. John Lydgate (c1370-c1451).
“That now is hay some-tyme was grase” c 1400.
from The Minor Poems part 2 Secular Poems. (1910-1934).
[lines 126-136]

Who clymbeth hyest gothe ofte base,
Ensample in medowes thow mayst se
That nowe is heye some tyme was grase.

Go forth anon, thou short dite,
Bydde folke not trust this worlde at all,
Bydde theme remembre on e cite
Which is a-bove celestiall;
Of precious stones bylt is the wall,
Who clymbeth theder gothe nevar base,
Out of that place may be no fall,
Ther is no heye but all fresh grase.

Bening. Haymaking. c 1525. Thomas Tusser (1524?-1580).
“Iulies Abstract”
from Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie 1580.
Go sirs, and away,
to ted and make hay.
If stormes drawes nie,
then cock apace crie.
Let hay still bide,
till well it be dride.
Hay made) away carrie,
no longer then tarrie.
Who best way titheth,
he best way thriueth.
Two good hay makers,
woorth twentie crakers.
Let dallops about,
be mowne and had out.
See hay doo looke greene,
see feeld ye rake cleene.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674).
Waite. Daisy field.“To Meadows”

YE have been fresh and green,
Ye have been fill'd with flowers,
And ye the walks have been
Where maids have spent their hours.

You have beheld how they
With wicker arks did come
To kiss and bear away
The richer cowslips home.

You've heard them sweetly sing,
And seen them in a round:
Each virgin like a spring,
With honeysuckles crown'd.

But now we see none here
Whose silv'ry feet did tread
And with dishevell'd hair
Adorn'd this smoother mead.

Like unthrifts, having spent
Your stock and needy grown,
You're left here to lament
Your poor estates, alone.

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678 ).
Verses from “Upon Appleton House to my Lord Fairfax”
from Miscellaneous poems (1681).
[lines 385-446]

Dixton Manor haymaking.XLIX
No Scene that turns with Engines strange
Does oftner then these Meadows change,
For when the Sun the Grass hath vext,
The tawny Mowers enter next;
[Page 90]
Who seem like Israelites to be,
Walking on foot through a green Sea.
To them the Grassy Deeps divide,
And crowd a Lane to either Side.
With whistling Sithe, and Elbow strong,
These Massacre the Grass along:
While one, unknowing, carves the Rail,
Whose yet unfeather'd Quils her fail.
The Edge all bloody from its Breast
He draws, and does his stroke detest;
Fearing the Flesh untimely mow'd
To him a Fate as black forebode.
Gainsborough. Landscape with peasant and horses. 1755.LI
But bloody Thestylis, that waites
To bring the mowing Camp their Cates,
Greedy as Kites has trust it up,
And forthwith means on it to sup:
When on another quick She lights,
And cryes, he call'd us Israelites;
But now, to make his saying true,
Rails rain for Quails, for Manna Dew.
Unhappy Birds! what does it boot
To build below the Grasses Root;
When Lowness is unsafe as Hight,
And Chance o'retakes what scapeth spight?
And now your Orphan Parents Call
Sounds your untimely Funeral.
Death-Trumpets creak in such a Note,
And 'tis the Sourdine in their Throat.
[Page 91]
Dixton Manor haymaking.LIII
Or sooner hatch or higher build:
The Mower now commands the Field;
In whose new Traverse seemeth wrought
A Camp of Battail newly fought:
Where, as the Meads with Hay, the Plain
Lyes quilted ore with Bodies slain:
The Women that with forks it fling,
Do represent the Pillaging.
And now the careless Victors play,
Dancing the Triumphs of the Hay;
Where every Mowers wholesome Heat
Smells like an Alexanders sweat.
Their Females fragrant as the Mead
Which they in Fairy Circles tread:
When at their Dances End they kiss,
Their new-made Hay not sweeter is.
Lens. Haymaking.LV
When after this 'tis pil'd in Cocks,
Like a calm Sea it shews the Rocks:
We wondring in the River near
How Boats among them safely steer.
Or, like the Desert Memphis Sand,
Short Pyramids of Hay do stand.
And such the Roman Camps do rise
In Hills for Soldiers Obsequies.
This Scene again withdrawing brings
A new and empty Face of things;
A levell'd space, as smooth and plain,
As Clothes for Lilly strecht to stain.
[Page 92]
The World when first created sure
Was such a Table rase and pure.

James Thomson (1700-1748).
from The Seasons from The Poetical Works (1830).[lines 352-370]

Dixton Manor haymaking.Now swarms the village o'er the jovial mead:
[Page 74 ]
The rustic youth, brown with meridian toil,
Healthful and strong; full as the summer-rose
Blown by prevailing suns, the ruddy maid,
Half naked, swelling on the sight, and all
Her kindled graces burning o'er her cheek.
E'en stooping age is here; and infant hands
Trail the long rake, or, with the fragrant load
O'ercharged, amid the kind oppression roll.
Wide flies the tedded grain; all in a row
Advancing broad, or wheeling round the field,
They spread the breathing harvest to the sun,
That throws refreshful round a rural smell:
Or, as they rake the green-appearing ground,
And drive the dusky wave along the mead,
The russet hay-cock rises thick behind,
In order gay. While heard from dale to dale,
Waking the breeze, resounds the blended voice
Of happy labour, love, and social glee.

Robert Dodsley (1703-1764).
“Agriculture. A Poem”
from Trifles (1777) CANTO THE THIRD.

ARGUMENT. Of hay-making. A method of preserving hay from being mow-burnt, or taking fire. ..

Stubbs. Haymakers. 1794.While thus at ease, beneath embellish'd shades,
We rove delighted; lo! the ripening mead
Calls forth the labouring hinds. In slanting rows,
With still-approaching step, and level'd stroke
[Page 135]
The early mower, bending o'er his scythe,
Lays low the slender grass; emblem of Man,
Falling beneath the ruthless hand of Time.
Then follows blithe, equipt with fork and rake,
In light array, the train of nymphs and swains.
Wide o'er the field, their labour seeming sport,
They toss the withering herbage. Light it flies,
Borne on the wings of Zephyr; whose soft gale,
Now while th' ascending sun's bright beam exhales
The grateful sweetness of the new-mown hay,
Breathing refreshment, fans the toiling swain.
And soon, the jocund dale and echoing hill
Resound with merriment. The simple jest,
The village tale of scandal, and the taunts
Of rude unpolish'd wit, raise sudden bursts
Of laughter from beneath the spreading oak,
Where thrown at ease, and shelter'd from the sun,
The plain repast, and wholesome bev'rage cheer
Their spirits. Light as air they spring, renew'd,
Wootton.  View of the Severn Valley.To social labour: soon the ponderous wain
Moves slowly onwards with its fragrant load,
And swells the barn capacious: or, to crown
Their toil, large tapering pyramids they build,
The magazines of Plenty, to ensure
From Winter's want the flocks, and lowing herds.

But do the threatning clouds precipitate
Thy work, and hurry to the field thy team,
Ere the sun's heat, or penetrating wind,
Hath drawn its moisture from the fading grass?
Or hath the bursting shower thy labours drench'd
With sudden innundation? Ah, with care
Accumulate thy load, or in the mow,
[Page 136]
Oudry. Ferme. 1750.Or on the rising rick. The smother'd damps,
Fermenting, glow within; and latent sparks
At length ingender'd, kindle by degrees,
Till, wide and wider spreading, they admit
The fatal blast, which instantly consumes,
In flames resistless, thy collected store.
This dire disaster to avoid, prepare
A hollow basket, or the concave round
Of some capacious vessel; to its sides
Affix a triple cord: then let the swains,
Full in the center of thy purpos'd heap,
Place the obtrusive barrier; raising still
As they advance, by its united bands,
The wide machine. Thus leaving in the midst
An empty space, the cooling air draws in,
And from the flame, or from offensive taints
Pernicious to thy cattle, saves their food.

James Grahame (1765-1811).
from British Georgics (1812).
[lines 1480-1607]

Hills. Studies of haymakers. c 1804.Hark! the whetstone rasps
Along the mower's scythe; for now's the time
[Page 101]
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---
[Page 102]
To ope a vista to some ivied tower---
Thy cottage raze; but when the day is done,
Atcherley. Scything.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,
[Page 103]
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;
J. J. Wilson. Haymaking.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,
[Page 104]
Hogarth. Landscape with haymakers. 1730s.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,
Lambert. Longford Castle. 1743.The feeble remnant, 'mid their fated homes,
Await their hapless doom;---the insidious mine
Meanwhile proceeds, and soon (like human states)
[Page 105]
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,
Dessar. Peasant Woman and Haystacks, Giverny. 1892.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,
[Page 106]
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
Picard. Early Acadia.Of arms full-stretched;---then, from below, with forks
Up-poised, the fragrant heaps are spread,
[Page 107]
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.

Samuel Woodworth (1784-1842).
“The Hay-makers”
from The poetical works (1861)

Rowlandson.  Rural sports. 1814.It is sweet, love, to stray,
When the noon-tide is over,
Through the windrows of hay,
And the white-blossomed clover;
[Page 35]
Where each lass may partake
In the toil and the pleasure,
Keeping time, with the rake,
To the lark's tuneful measure.
Oh 'tis sweet thus to stray,
When the noon-tide is over,
Through the windrows of hay,
And the white-blossomed clover.

There the swains cut their paths
Through the sections assigned them,
Leaving sweet-scented swaths
Swelling gayly behind them.
Tender childhood and age,
Sturdy manhood and beauty,
All with ardor engage
In so pleasing a duty.
Oh 'tis sweet thus to stray,
When the noon-tide is over,
Through the windrows of hay,
And the white-blossomed clover.

Wood. Haying 1939.As the billow of grass
Over the meadow is driven,
By some rose-visaged lass
'Tis divided and riven,
When her swain lends his aid,
And the green hillock rises,
[Page 36]
Then the half-willing maid
With a sly kiss surprises.
Oh 'tis sweet thus to stray,
When the noon-tide is over,
Through the windrows of hay,
And the white blossomed clover.

See the gay romping elves,
Now the sweet task is over,
All amusing themselves,
On the balm-breathing clover;
There the swain whispers love
To his heart's dearest treasure,
Who affects to reprove,
While her eyes beam with pleasure.
Oh 'tis sweet thus to stray,
When the noon-tide is over,
Through the windrows of hay,
And the white-blossomed clover.

Hearn. Landscape and figures. 1783. Thomas Hood (1799-1845).
“That Flesh is Grass is Now as Clear as Day”
from The Complete Poetical Works (1906)

“That flesh is grass is now as clear as day,
To any but the merest purblind pup,
Death cuts it down, and then, to make her hay,
My Lady B--- comes and rakes it up.”

Mulready. Haymaking. 1846. Thomas Hood (1799-1845).
"Miss Killmansegg and Her Precious Leg. A Legend"
lines 1421-1427
from The Complete Poetical Works (1906)

“Who hath not felt that breath in the air,
A perfume and freshness strange and rare,
A warmth in the light, and a bliss everywhere,
When young hearts yearn together?
All sweets below, and all sunny above,
Oh! there's nothing in life like making love,
Save making hay in fine weather!”

Posted by Alan Ritch at October 28, 2004 12:54 PM