Image: 'The Shepherd's Calendar ~ May' by Carry Akroyd

Come queen of months in company
Wi all thy merry minstrelsy
The restless cuckoo absent long
And twittering swallows chimney song
And hedge row crickets notes that run
From every bank that fronts the sun
And swathy bees about the grass
That stops wi every bloom they pass
And every minute every hour
Keep teazing weeds that wear a flower
And toil and childhoods humming joys
For there is music in the noise

The winter time is over love

The winter time is over love
White thorns begin to bud
& brown & green of freshness love
Enlivens all the wood
Theres white clouds got agen the sun
One daisey open on the green
The primrose shows its sulphur bud
Just where the hazel stulps are seen
& ere the april time is out
Along the ridings gravel walk
The bedlam primrose blooms about
Wi' twenty blossoms on a stalk
How happy seems the drop of dew
That nestles in the daiseys eye
How blest the cloud seems in the blue
That near the sun appears to lie
How happy does thy shadows seem
That stretches oer the morning grass
They seeims to walk as in a dream
I know their shadows as they pass
The primrose over withered leaves
Now beautifully shines

Mary, Mary, charming Mary

[Image: ‘Wet Meadow’ by Carry Akroyd]

Mary, Mary, charming Mary
Now the sun has sunk to rest
& the even breeze so airy
Tries to bare thy snowy breast —
How I love wi thee to wander
Mary O how sweet wi thee,
Dusky meadows to meander
Where no soul can hear or see.

As we pause by lake or fountain
On thy bosom bending free
Ah how sweet sensations counting
When I know each throbs for me —
As thy face turns on the azure
Looking where the moon may dwell,
As I fold thy beauty’s treasure
Wheres the kiss can taste so well.

As the hour of even closes
& my lingering wi thy charms
Plants thy cheek wi maiden roses
& thy modesty alarms —
Who sweet girl could not adore thee
& tho beauty thee has blest,
When that modesty comes o’er thee
Prove that virtue pleases best.

The Swallow

Pretty swallow, once again
Come and pass me in the rain.
Pretty swallow, why so shy?
Pass again my window by.

The horsepond where he dips his wings,
The wet day prints it full of rings.
The raindrops on his [........] track
Lodge like pearls upon his back.

Then again he dips his wing
In the wrinkles of the spring,
Then oer the rushes flies again,
And pearls roll off his back like rain.

Pretty little swallow, fly
Village doors and windows by,
Whisking oer the garden pales
Where the blackbird finds the snails;

Whewing by the ladslove tree
For something only seen by thee;
Pearls that on the red rose hing
Fall off shaken by thy wing.

On that low thatched cottage stop,
In the sooty chimney pop,
Where thy wife and family
Every evening wait for thee.

Land of perpetual summer, Italy

Land of perpetual summer, Italy
Land of the golden City of the sun
Cradle of Europe’s Empire — but for thee
The rest were darkness & perpetual dun
Celestial clime & garden of the sun

Country of Virgil Hessiod — once the free
Latium & Greece both kingdoms of the sun
Their infant cradles rocked by Liberty
& still the sunniest Land is Italy

Greece Land of Homer & the muses fire
How nations read & kindle at thy name
The freeman’s sword the poet’s native lyre
Have filled thy history with a classic fame
& is not Greece, that Land of Isles, the same?

The sun shines o’er its freedom & wars cease
The despot’s chains near made it stoop to shame
Its hills & classic skys repose in peace
& freedom owns it as the soil of Greece

An early Northampton Asylum poem from 1842
(for Simona in Ancona, in the “Land of perpetual summer”)

Early Nightingale

When first we hear the shy-come nightingales,
They seem to mutter oer their songs in fear,
And, climb we eer so soft the spinney rails,
All stops as if no bird was anywhere.
The kindled bushes with the young leaves thin
Let curious eyes to search a long way in,
Until impatience cannot see or hear
The hidden music; gets but little way
Upon the path--when up the songs begin,
Full loud a moment and then low again.
But when a day or two confirms her stay
Boldly she sings and loud for half the day;
And soon the village brings the woodman's tale
Of having heard the newcome nightingale.

A Special Posting... via YouTube

The Dying Child
"He could not die when trees were green,
For he loved the time too well.
His little hands, when flowers were seen,
Were held for the bluebell,
As he was carried oer the green."

His eye glanced at the white-nosed bee;
He knew those children of the Spring:
When he was well and on the lea
He held one in his hands to sing,
Which filled his heart with glee.

"Infants, the children of the Spring!
How can an infant die
When butterflies are on the wing,
Green grass, and such a sky?
How can they die at Spring?"

"He held his hands for daisies white,
And then for violets blue,
And took them all to bed at night
That in the green fields grew,
As childhood's sweet delight."

And then he shut his little eyes,
And flowers would notice not;
Birds' nests and eggs caused no surprise,
He now no blossoms got:
They met with plaintive sighs.

"When Winter came and blasts did sigh,
And bare were plain and tree,
As he for ease in bed did lie
His soul seemed with the free,
He died so quietly."

The reunitying of two poets

On a day of quite exceptional political shenanigans came the quiet statement that Ted Hughes is to be memorialised in Poets’ Corner. He and I took part in a wonderful event there: the inclusion of John Clare, this country’s finest rural voice.

It was in 1989, and the Abbey was filled with writers. Ted read Clare’s “The Nightingale’s Nest”, and I described his life. The stone was next to that of Matthew Arnold.

In March 1820, Clare had stood there on his first visit to London. His first book of poems had been published and he was fĂȘted. Never again. A marvellous range of poetry would succeed it, but he himself would be out of sight. The tragi-triumph of his existence makes a famous story.

But at this moment in 1989, Ted and I are with Dean Mayne, and full of gratitude for his making this event possible.

Michael Mayne and I had met in Cambridge when he was Vicar of Great St Mary’s and liked to have writers preach at evensong. And Ted and I had met at the Roundhouse when we gave readings, I of Thomas Hardy and he of his own work. We used to have coffee at the ice-cream shop afterwards.

When Michael left Cambridge for Westminster Abbey, I would sometimes stay with him and Alison, and he would use the ancient Jerusalem Chamber for poetry readings. He was a genius who brought a fresh “literary” spirituality into the Abbey, both with his own writing and with George Herbert, etc.

On the day we celebrated Clare’s entrance to Poets’ Corner, I made what the children of Helpston, his Northamptonshire village, called a Midsummer Cushion. This was a square of turf stuck with wild flowers. I took it from the Stour Valley to Westminster Deanery in a carrier bag. It weighed a ton.

The Helpston schoolchildren brought flowers that had descended from those the great poet would have seen. And Ted drew the veil from the carved stone. And we all sang Clare’s sad hymn, “A stranger once did bless the Earth”. It would seem to speak of the vagabondage of Christ. Clare was homeless in “homes” for the mad.

Ted’s work is infused with natural history, and when he read Clare’s “The Nightingale’s Nest”, a poem in which a correct ornithology is fed into his own youthful experience on nesting, and the abandonment of such unkindness, he did so quite unforgettably. No one ever forgot a Ted Hughes reading — the rich voice, the perfect inflection.

And now his name calls out near Clare’s. Or soon will do. When I was with Michael, all the wall and floor-space had been used up by writers, and they had taken to the windows, where some missed-out poets, Oscar Wilde and Robert Herrick, were engraved.

This corner in the south transept is probably the most popular in the Abbey. A Tudor undergraduate started it. Wandering around, he had come across a pile of bones, dust, and armorials, all in a heap, and was shocked to find that they were Geoffrey Chaucer’s. So he reinterred them in the beautiful Purbeck marble altar-tomb, paying for it himself. Edmund Spenser would soon follow, and then nearly all Eng. Lit.

Clare’s body lies in Helpston churchyard. On 13 July, his birthday, it is carpeted with Midsummer Cushions. Once, when asked where he got his poetry, he said he kicked it out of the fields.

Ronald Blythe
Word from Wormingford
Church Times ~ 1st April 2010


Image: 'The Shepherd's Calendar ~ April’ by Carry Akroyd

The infant april joins the spring
And views its watery skye
As youngling linnet trys its wing
And fears at first to flye
With timid step she ventures on
And hardly dares to smile
The blossoms open one by one
And sunny hours beguile
But finer days approacheth yet
With scenes more sweet to charm
And suns arive that rise and set
Bright strangers to a storm
And as the birds with louder song
Each mornings glory cheers
With bolder step she speeds along
And looses all her fears
In wanton gambols like a child
She tends her early toils
And seeks the buds along the wild
That blossom while she smiles
And laughing on with nought to chide
She races with the hours
Or sports by natures lovley side
And fills her lap with flowers

(lines 1-24)