I’ve been sent this poem by Neil Diment, community officer for the HayTime project in the North Pennines AONB. Neil was one of the participants on the Transylvania Haymaking Festival and writes, “Having, at long last, tried my hand at traditional haymaking I can perhaps now appreciate more the sentiments expressed in the poem.”
Their homage men pay to the mowing machine
Which does all the work of a dozen as one,
And, cutting a passageway smoothly and keen,
Keeps steadily on till its labor is done;
But I like to remember the primitive way
When I joined with my fellows to gather the hay,
And labor was pleasantly tempered by play.
The sweep of the scythe as it came and it went,
And the fall at its swish of the green crescent swath;
The swing of the mower with body well-bent,
As the steel gave him room on its pitiless path:
The pause for a moment each haymaker made,
When the grass clogged a little and progress was stayed,
And the clickety-click as he whetted the blade.
The farmer behind with the fork in his grip
To scatter the ridges of grass to the light,
Grim, busy and steady, no smile on his lip,
And a hope that the work would be over by night;
His glances were cast now and then to the sky,
And in fear that some sign of a rain storm was nigh,
He watched every cloud that went lazily by.
The fun of the nooning out under the trees
Where the dainties I mowed as my scythe had the grass,
Where I lolled back in hope of a puff of the breeze,
And saw the gay butterflies flutter and pass,
And laughed at some worn, but yet ever new joke,
And felt my heart beat with a trip-hammer stroke
When to her I loved dearly another one spoke.
The calm hush of noonday was pleasantly stirred
By the buzz of our voices, the noise of our glee;
And once in a lull cometh notes of a bird,
Undisturbed by our presence, far up in a tree.
We sat at our ease as we chatted and laughed,
While our mugs of cool switchel we carelessly quaffed,
And thought that Jove’s nectar ne’er equalled the draught.
But the frolic next day was the best of it all,
When in windrows they raked the dried grass as it lay,
The girls with us then—-there was one, Katy Ball,
Our neighbor’s fair daughter, who helped with the hay.
I wore her sunbonnet and she wore my hat—-
I dare say I looked like a great, awkward flat;
But what did I care at the moment for that?
For at night when we loaded our wains with the crop
Till they seemed like dark blots on a background of sky,
And Katy with me rode in one on the top,
What monarch in state was so happy as I?
With my darling, all blushes, enthroned by my side,
I sat there in tremulous pleasure and pride—-
Dear Katy! ah, black was the day when she died!
A wonderful thing is your mowing machine,
That sweeps o’er the meadow in merciless way;
But I sigh for the scythe, curved and tempered and keen,
And the labor and joy of the earlier day;
I sigh for the toil that was mingled with fun,
The contentment we felt when the end had been won,
And the sound, peaceful slumber when daylight was done.
The lush grass of Lehigh, it grows as of yore,
The hay smells as sweetly, the sun is as bright;
But all the old glory of hay-time is o’er,
And the toil of the season has lost its delight;
The scythe and the hay rake are hung up for show,
The fork gives the tedder its place in the row;
And gone are the joys of the loved long ago.
Thomas Dunn English (1819-1902)