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

Of old and young their daily tasks pursue
The barleys beard is grey and wheat is brown
And wakens toil betimes to leave the town
The reapers leave their beds before the sun
And gleaners follow in the toils begun
To pick the littered ear the reaper leaves
And glean in open fields among the sheaves
The ruddy child nursed in the lap of care
In toils rude strife to do his little share
Beside his mother poddles oer the land
Sun burnt and stooping with a weary hand
Picking his tiney glean of corn or wheat
While crackling stubbles wound his little feet
Full glad he often is to sit awhile
Upon a smooth green baulk to ease his toil
And feign would spend an idle hour to play
With insects strangers to the moiling day
Creeping about each rush and grassy stem
And often wishes he was one of them
In weariness of heart that he might lye
Hid in the grass from the days burning eye
That raises tender blisters on his skin
Thro holes or openings that have lost a pin
Free from the crackling stubs to toil and glean
And smiles to think how happy he had been
Whilst his expecting mother stops to tye
Her handful up and waiting his supply

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

The rhythm and hard labour of these harvest days have been a sweet relief to John. They have rendered him too tired to think. All morning the team of men, in smocks and wide-brimmed hats of rush or straw, worked together. They swung their curved blades in the easy accord that their health depends upon, for to be out of rhythm is to cut flesh to bone of the man alongside. From time to time they stopped to sharpen their blades, drawing the whet-stones along the curved blades, two strokes below and one above. The scythes rang out like cutlasses. Then they'd return to their harvest, Richard Royce leading, the others falling in behind, like fiddlers in a band with their bows rising and falling in perfect time.

The women followed, Ann Clare and Betsy Jackson amongst them. They gathered the fallen swathes of wheat in their arms and lifted them up, as though tending the fallen. They tied each sheaf with twisted straw. They leaned the sheaves together, six at a time, into stocks. Behind them row upon row of lifted stooks stood, each like a cluster of tousle-headed prisoners of war bound together back to back. Overhead a fierce sun beat down upon bent backs.

On the other side of Lolham Bridge Field, where Mr Bull's and Bob Turnill's stooks had stood three weeks in bright sunshine, two great carts had been drawn to the edge of their furlongs. One man stood in each and built the load, six more forked the sheaves up to them as they worked. The waiting horses stamped in the heat.

Beyond them, where the stooks had all been taken, Kitty Otter, Sophie Clare and a gaggle of other girls, old women and village paupers were gleaning the stubble for spilt grain.

Hugh Lupton – The Ballad of John Clare (Chapter 7 – Harvest)

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