from "Holywell"

From covert hedge, on either side,
The blackbirds flutter'd terrified,
Mistaking me for pilfering boy
That doth too oft their nests destroy;
And ‘prink, prink, prink,’ they took to wing,
In snugger shades to build and sing.
From tufted grass or bush, the hare
Oft sprung from her endanger'd lair;
Surprise was startled on her rout,
So near one's feet she bolted out.
The sun each tree-top mounted o'er,
And got church-steeple height or more:
And as I soodled on and on,
The ground was warm to look upon,
It e'en invited one to rest,
And have a nap upon its breast:
But thought upon my journey's end,
Where doubtful fancies did depend,
Urg'd on my lazy feet to roam,
Like truant school-boy kept from home

(lines 53 - 72)

The Nightingale's Nest

Ronnie Blythe on Desert Island Discs in 2001 -

(One of his choices being Ted Hughes reading "The Nightingale's Nest" at Westminster Abbey on 13th June 1989 - see posting below):

Up this green woodland-ride let's softly rove,
And list the nightingale — she dwells just here.
Hush ! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love;
For here I've heard her many a merry year—
At morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day,
As though she lived on song. This very spot,
Just where that old-man's-beard all wildly trails
Rude arbours o'er the road, and stops the way —
And where that child its blue-bell flowers hath got,
Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails—
There have I hunted like a very boy,
Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn
To find her nest, and see her feed her young.
And vainly did I many hours employ:
All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.
And where those crimping fern-leaves ramp among
The hazel's under boughs, I've nestled down,
And watched her while she sung ; and her renown
Hath made me marvel that so famed a bird
Should have no better dress than russet brown.
Her wings would tremble in her ecstasy,
And feathers stand on end, as 'twere with joy,
And mouth wide open to release her heart
Of its out-sobbing songs. The happiest part
Of summer's fame she shared, for so to me
Did happy fancies shapen her employ;
But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred,
All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain:
The timid bird had left the hazel bush,
And at a distance hid to sing again.
Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,
Rich Ecstasy would pour its luscious strain,
Till envy spurred the emulating thrush
To start less wild and scarce inferior songs;
For while of half the year Care him bereaves,
To damp the ardour of his speckled breast;
The nightingale to summer's life belongs,
And naked trees, and winter's nipping wrongs,
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
Her joys are evergreen, her world is wide—
Hark ! there she is as usual— let's be hush—
For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guest,
Her curious house is hidden. Part aside
These hazel branches in a gentle way,
And stoop right cautious 'neath the rustling boughs,
For we will have another search to day,
And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round;
And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows,
We'll wade right through, it is a likely nook:
In such like spots, and often on the ground,
They'll build, where rude boys never think to look—
Aye, as I live! her secret nest is here,
Upon this white-thorn stump! I've searched about
For hours in vain. There! put that bramble by—
Nay, trample on its branches and get near.
How subtle is the bird! she started out,
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh,
Ere we were past the brambles; and now, near
Her nest, she sudden stops — as choking fear,
That might betray her home. So even now
We'll leave it as we found it: safety's guard
Of pathless solitudes shall keep it still.
See there! she's sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.
Sing on, sweet bird! may no worse hap befall
Thy visions, than the fear that now deceives.
We will not plunder music of its dower,
Nor turn this spot of happiness to thrall;
For melody seems hid in every flower,
That blossoms near thy home. These harebells all
Seem bowing with the beautiful in song;
And gaping cuckoo-flower, with spotted leaves,
Seems blushing of the singing it has heard.
How curious is the nest; no other bird
Uses such loose materials, or weaves
Its dwelling in such spots: dead oaken leaves
Are placed without, and velvet moss within,
And little scraps of grass, and, scant and spare,
What scarcely seem materials, down and hair;
For from men's haunts she nothing seems to win.
Yet Nature is the builder, and contrives
Homes for her children's comfort, even here;
Where Solitude's disciples spend their lives
Unseen, save when a wanderer passes near
That loves such pleasant places. Deep adown,
The nest is made a hermit's mossy cell.
Snug lie her curious eggs in number five,
Of deadened green, or rather olive brown;
And the old prickly thorn-bush guards them well.
So here we'll leave them, still unknown to wrong,
As the old woodland's legacy of song.


One gloomy eve I roamed about
  Neath Oxey's hazel bowers,
While timid hares were darting out,
  To crop the dewy flowers;
And soothing was the scene to me,
  Right pleased was my soul,
My breast was calm as summer's sea
  When waves forget to roll.

But short was even's placid smile,
  My startled soul to charm,
When Nelly lightly skipt the stile,
  With milk-pail on her arm:
One careless look on me she flung,
  As bright as parting day;
And like a hawk from covert sprung,
  It pounced my peace away.

A World for Love

O this world is all too rude for thee with much ado & care
O this world is but a rude world & hurts a thing so fair
Was there a nook in which the world had never been to sere
That world would prove a paradise when thou & love was near
& there to pluck the blackberry & there to reach the sloe
How joyously & quietly would love thy partner go
Then rest when weary on a bank where not a grassy blade
Had ere been bent by troubles feet & love thy pillow made
For summer would be evergreen though sloes was in their prime
& winter smile his frowns to spring in beautys happy clime
& months would come & months would go & all in sunny moods
& every thing inspired by thee grow beautifully good
& there to seek a cot unknown to any care & pain
& there to shut the door alone on singing wind & rain
Far far away from all the world more rude then rain or wind
& who could wish a sweeter home or better place to find
Then thus to live & love with thee thou beautiful delight
Then thus to love & live with thee the summer day & night
& earth itself where thou had rest would surely smile to see
Herself grow eden once again possest of love & thee

(from ‘Midsummer Cushion’)

Native Scenes

O Native Scenes, for ever dear!
So blest, so happy as I here have been.
So charm'd with nature in each varied scene,
To leave you all is cutting and severe.
Ye hawthorn bushes that from winds would screen,
Where oft I've shelter'd from a threaten'd shower ;
In youth's past bliss, in childhood's happy hour,
Ye woods I've wandered, seeking out the nest;
Ye meadows gay that rear'd rae many a flower,
Where, pulling cowslips, I've been doubly blest.
Humming gay fancies as I pluck'd the prize :
Oh, fate unkind! beloved scenes, adieu!
Your vanish'd pleasures crowd my swimming eyes,
And make the wounded heart to bleed anew.

Oh, Wert Thou in the Storm

Oh, wert thou in the storm,
How I would shield thee!
To keep thee dry and warm
A camp I would build thee.

Though the clouds poured again,
Not a drop should harm thee;
The music of wind and rain
Rather should charm thee.

Oh, wert thou in the storm,
A shed I would build for thee,
To keep thee dry and warm.
How I would shield thee!

The rain should not wet thee
Nor thunderclap harm thee;
By thy side I would set me
To comfort and warm thee.

I would sit by thy side, love,
While the dread storm was over,
And the wings of an angel
My charmer would cover.

Sonnet: "Rural Scenes"

I never saw a man in all my days—
One whom the calm of quietness pervades—
Who gave not woods and fields his hearty praise,
And felt a happiness in summer shades.
There I meet common thoughts, that all may read
Who love the quiet fields:—I note them well,
Because they give me joy as I proceed,
And joy renewed, when I their beauties tell
In simple verse, and unambitious songs,
That in some mossy cottage haply may
Be read, and win the praise of humble tongues
In the green shadows of some after-day.
For rural fame may likeliest rapture yield
To hearts, whose songs are gathered from the field.

When with our little ones we spent

When with our little ones we spent
Each Sunday after tea,
And up the wood's dark side we went
Or pasture's rushy lea,
To look among the woodland boughs
To find the bird's retreat,
Or crop the cowslip for the cows;
Then sat to rest the little feet
In many a pleasant place,
And see the lambs, who tried to bleat,
Come first in every race,
Then laugh'd the children's joys to view,
Who ran across the lea
At birds that from the rushes flew,
And many a wandering bee.


[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)