The Cross Roads (or Haymakers Story)

Over the next week or two we will have the chance to enjoy one of Clare's long narrative poems.  Although published several times over the years, it has not been published in a popular collection in the form in which Clare wrote it.  

Here are Clare's own thoughts about the poem, "... the tale often touchd me as I heard it told from the simple old grannys of the village & I have preservd all their simplicity I coud by putting it in their mouths to tag in rhymes" (Letters, p.183)

As this is undoubtedly true, the story as recorded by Clare takes the reader back into another age.  We might think we have somehow 'progressed' from the state of these long-dead characters, but human nature is unchanging.  So simply by reading Clare's wonderful verse, we can immerse ourselves in his agrarian world before the Enclosures.

Stopt by the storm that long in sullen black
From the south west staind its encroaching track
Haymakers hussling from the rain to hide
Sought the grey willows by the pasture side
& there while big drops bow the grassy stems
& bleb the withering hay with pearly gems
Dimple the brook & patter in the leaves
The song & tale an hours restraint relieves
& while the old dames gossip at their ease
& pinch the snuff box empty by degrees
The young ones join in loves delightfull themes
Truths told by gipsys & expounded dreams
& mutterd things kept secrets from the rest
Of sweethearts names & who they love the best

& dazzling ribbons they delight to show
The last new favours of some weigling beau
That with such treacherey trys their hearts to move
& like the highest bribes the maidens love
The old dames jealous of their wisperd praise
Throw in their hints of mans deluding ways
& one to give her counsels more effect
& by examples illustrate the fact
Of innoscence oercome by flattering man
Thrice tappd her box & pinchd & thus began

          ‘Now wenches listen & let lovers lye
‘Yell hear a story ye may profit bye
‘Im your age threble wi some oddments to't
‘& right from wrong can tell if yell but do't
‘Ye neednt giggle underneath yer hats
‘Mines no joke matters let me tell you that
‘So keep yer quiet till my storys told
‘& dont despise yer betters cause they're old
‘I wish ye well upon my soul I do
‘& just another pinch & Ill pursue

(lines 1-34)

Originally published in The Village Minstrel (1821)

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