[Image: The Shepherd’s Calendar (June) – Carry Akroyd]

The hay time butterflyes dance up and down
And gads that teaze like whasps the timid maid
And drive the herdboys cows to pond and shade
Who when his dogs assistance fails to stop
Is forcd his half made oaten pipes to drop
And start and halloo thro the dancing heat
To keep their gadding tumult from the wheat
Who in their rage will dangers overlook
And leap like hunters oer the pasture brook
Brushing thro blossomd beans in maddening haste
And stroying corn they scarce can stop to taste
Labour pursues its toil in weary mood
And feign woud rest wi shadows in the wood
The mowing gangs bend oer the beeded grass
Where oft the gipseys hungry journeying ass
Will turn its wishes from the meadow paths
Listning the rustle of the falling swaths

John Clare – The Shepherd’s Calendar (June - excerpt)

Bright June has come, and the barley's silken beard grows long and green, and on Lolham Bridge Field it nods and dances to every shifting whim of the wind.

From dawn to dusk the frantic bees wallow in fox-glove and bean flower as though no glut of labour or journeying could fill their store with honey enough for all. And from dawn to dusk, when the sun shines, the mowing teams are out upon Heath Field. The swish of their curved scythes is the sound of June breathing and the rasp of the whet-stones against the iron blades is the sound of June coughing. For sickness and health are as rain and shine, and all men know that for every week of fine weather there will be a debt to pay in slanting showers. And a closer look betrays the rotten teeth, the small-pox scars, the twisted spines, the swollen joints and all the curses that hard labour and a scant wage bring.

Parker Clare swings his blade in the mowing line, as ready as any though stiffer than some. From time to time he calls a halt to mop his face. Around him the cut swathes sweeten the air. Behind him the raking women turn and toss yesterday's labour and at the far end of the field the lifted hay-cocks wait upon the wain.

On Woodcroft Field Ann and Sophie Clare have been gathering and shelling beans with the other women in John Close's employ, Sophie's ears acute to the rise and fall of the gossip that surrounds her, gleaning what she can.

John has joined a shearing team, working his way from farm to farm these last five weeks.

Such is the timeless round of summer labour upon the face of the parish, an old, hard, familiar melody. But there is a new sound alongside the sighing of the scythe, the bleating of the sheep and the rising and falling of the talk. It is the sound of posts being hammered into the ground and measuring chains pulled tight between. The sound of ropes being stretched across fields and commons where new boundaries will fall, of men shouting from mark to mark where roads will be cut or streams straightened, of splashes of red paint being daubed onto trees that are to be felled. The Earl of Fitzwilliam has sent surveyors out to mark the lie of the land for enclosure. Slowly, from day to day, a new pattern of squares, fine as the web of a net or a snare, is set across the looping, winding limbs of the parish.

Hugh Lupton – The Ballad of John Clare (Chapter 4)


Dr Peter Kalve said...

This passage is rather wonderful - the sounds and the toil and the beauty, but then that sad coda, signalling the future horrors of enclosure; all excellently juxtaposed against that lovely passage from "June" in The Shepherd's Calendar.

Warms the heart of this homesick Northamptonshire lad!

Roger R... said...

If you haven't read Hugh Lupton's book Peter... it is a required read! Hugh's love of language and storytelling shine through. In my opinion the best of the recent Clare novels. (RR)