poems of love

Poems of love

This is my title, not the editor of the book these are taken from: a 1942 reprint of ‘The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems’ published by J.M.Dent & Sons  in 1939 (in Everyman Library).   Edited by Gerald Bullett with a preface dated 1933 and a second preface dated 1939.

He explains why he did not include titles for poems, unless they carried information which clarified the poem itself.   He did include the poet on each page and included names and their dates; also first lines, in indexes at end of the book.

I suppose it is a sign of those ‘old days!’ that I counted approx 115 authors listed and only five of them women: Christina Rossetti, Alice Meynell, Emily Dickinson and Emily Bronte.   Of the numerous ‘anon’ poems included, one is attributed to Ann Boleyn and written the night before her execution!  So why exclude other obvious ones?

There are various subjects included but it seems a remarkable quantity can be on life but more described as ‘love’, or’ praise in hope of love’ or maybe just ‘favours’. From the earliest of days it is a great theme which uses Nature, flora, and Classical mythological gods and episodes.  Thankfully there are a few that are more florid than floral but on the whole the poems show the wide chasm of poetic style up to the mid-Nineteenth century at least, as well as many after that seemed to happily cling to the previous centuries.

Industrialisation, enclosure and the increasing mechanisation of warfare (WW! especially) seems to have  pressed the button for change.   It then gets interestingly complicated as influences increase from literally all directions as the world becomes more connected to populations rather than just the earlier, monied or more adventurous individuals or monogrammed.


a few old poems in which I found interesting aspects enough to put forward:


Fair is my love that feeds among the lilies,

The lilies growing in the pleasant garden

Where Cupid’s Mount that well-beloved hill is,

And where that little god himself is warden.

See where my love sits in the bed of spices,

Beset all round with camphor, myrrh, and roses,

And interlaced with curious devices

Which her from all the world apart encloses.

There doth she tune her lute for her delight

And with sweet music makes the ground to move,

Whilst I, poor I, do sit in heavy plight,

Wailing alone my unrespected love,

Not daring rush into so rare a place

That gives to her, and she to it, a grace.


Bartholomew Griffin.       Ob.1602



My Love in her attire doth show her wit,

It doth so we’ll become her:

For every season she hath dressing fit,

For winter, spring and summer.

No beauty she doth miss

When all her robes are on:

But Beauty’s self she is

When all her robes are gone.





Love not me for comely grace,

For my pleasing eye or face,

Nor for any outward part,

No, nor for a constant heart:

For these may fail or turn to ill,

So thou and I shall sever:

Keep, therefore, a true woman’s eye,

And love me still but know not why –

So hast thou the same reason still

To dote upon me ever!





O waly waly up the bank,

And waly waly down the brave,

And waly waly you burn-side

Where I and my love wont to gae!

I leant my back against an aik,

I thought it was a trusty tree;

But first it bow’d, and syne it brak –

Sae my true love did lightly me.


O waly waly, but love is bonny

A little time while it is new;

But when ‘tis auld, it waxeth could

And fades awa’ like morning dew.

O wherefore should I busk my head?

Or wherefore should I kame my hair?

For my true love has me forsook,

And says he’ll never lose me mair.


But had I wish, before I kist,

That love had been sae I’ll to win,

I had locket my heart in a case of gold

And pinn’d it with a siller pin.

And O, if my young babe were born,

And set upon the nurse’s knee,

And I mysell were dead and bane,

And the green grass growing over me!





One wept whose only child was dead,

New-born, ten years ago.

‘Weep not; he is in bliss,” they said.

She answered, “Even so,


Ten years ago was born in pain

A child, not now forlorn.

But oh, ten years ago, in vain,

A mother, a mother was born.”


Alice Meynell. 1850-1922


Note, below is not in the above book but moved on in style.

BULLION                                 Amy Lowell


My thoughts

Chink against my ribs

And roll about like silver hail-stones.
I should like to spill them out,

And pour them, all shining,

Over you.

But my heart is shut upon them

And holds them straitly.


Come, You! and open my heart;

That my thoughts torment me no longer,
But glitter in your hair.



Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti


illus. from the first publication of Goblin Market

Goblin Market                                       

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:

“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries–
All ripe together
In summer weather–
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye,
Come buy, come buy.”

Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bowed her head to hear,
Lizzie veiled her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
“Lie close,” Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
“Come buy,” call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
“O! cried Lizzie, Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men.”
Lizzie covered up her eyes
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
“Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds’ weight.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes.”
“No,” said Lizzie, “no, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat’s pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.
Lizzie heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
“Come buy, come buy.”
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
“Come buy, come buy,” was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Longed but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr’d,
The rat-paced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried “Pretty Goblin” still for “Pretty Polly”;
One whistled like a bird.

But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
“Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather.”
“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answered altogether:
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore,
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away,
But gathered up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone.

Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
“Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the moonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so.”
“Nay hush,” said Laura.
“Nay hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more,” and kissed her.
“Have done with sorrow;
I’ll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons, icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink,
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap.”

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down, in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fallen snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars beamed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.

Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day’s delight,
One longing for the night.

At length slow evening came–
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homeward said: “The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep.”
But Laura loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.

And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fallen, the wind not chill:
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
“Come buy, come buy,”
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.

Till Lizzie urged, “O Laura, come,
I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glow-worm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark;
For clouds may gather even
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?”

Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
“Come buy our fruits, come buy.”
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But peering thro’ the dimness, naught discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent ’til Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain,
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
“Come buy, come buy,”
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and gray;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.

She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.

Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister’s cankerous care,
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins’ cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy.”
Beside the brook, along the glen
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
But feared to pay too dear.

She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter-time,
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter-time.

Till Laura, dwindling,
Seemed knocking at Death’s door:
Then Lizzie weighed no more
Better and worse,
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook,
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.

Laughed every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter-skelter, hurry-skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes, —
Hugged her and kissed her;
Squeezed and caressed her;
Stretched up their dishes,
Panniers and plates:
“Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs.”

“Good folk,” said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie,
“Give me much and many”; —
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
“Nay, take a seat with us,
Honor and eat with us,”
They answered grinning;
“Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavor would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us.”
“Thank you,” said Lizzie; “but one waits
At home alone for me:
So, without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee.”
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously, —
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire, —
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee, —
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tear her standard down.

One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syruped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot.
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple.
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.

In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore through the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse, —
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin skurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.

She cried “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me ?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”

Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair:
“Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin;
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?”
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.

Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.

Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame,
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about,
Like a foam-topped water-spout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life ?

Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse’s flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of gray,
Her breath was sweet as May,
And light danced in her eyes.

Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
“For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”


Christina Georgina Rossetti   1830-94      From: Goblin Market and Other Poems,1862

Pine Martens and John Clare

pine marten card

Pine Martens cover image Whittet Books


Originally untitled; NOES editors title


The martin cat long shaged of courage good
Of weazle shape a dweller in the wood
With badger hair long shagged and darting eyes
And lower then the common cat in size
Small head and running on the stoop
Snuffing the ground and hind parts shouldered up
He keeps one track and hides in lonely shade
Where print of human foot is scarcely made
Save when the woods are cut the beaten track
The woodmans dog will snuff cock tailed and black
Red legged and spotted over either eye
Snuffs barks and scrats the lice and passes bye
The great brown horned owl looks down below
And sees the shaggy martin come and go


The martin hurrys through the woodland gaps
And poachers shoot and make his skin for caps
When any woodman come and pass the place
He looks at dogs and scarcely mends his pace
And gipseys often and birdnesting boys
Look in the hole and hear a hissing noise
They climb the tree such noise they never heard
And think the great owl is a foreign bird
When the grey owl her young ones cloathed in down
Seizes the boldest boy and drives him down
They try agen and pelt to start the fray
The grey owl comes and drives them all away
And leaves the Martin twisting round his den
Left free from boys and dogs and noise and men


John Clare
Punctuation and spelling as from JC mss,  text from
‘Clare’, NOES,  Ed’s: Robinson & Summerfield, published OUP.
 If available now, a good collection to have: includes  some of Clare’s natural history writing
This poem attracted my attention because of the recent title from Whittet Books but also that it had mention of  an owl in ‘reality’, which I was  in search of for an earlier page on ‘owls’ poems.  I am glad to have found something by Clare.
I reckon the owl mentioned is the one known now as Eurasian eagle owl from Clare’s note of colour and nesting.  Not the white, Arctic Owl,  or maybe there was another variety that is now extinct.
(Pine)Martens are extremely secretive animals and now very scarce in most of England.   From this poem we can again see Clare’s quality of observation, including boys and hunters’ proclivities of the day.    Clare was not averse to egg-collecting in his youth, ( note in poem the boy climbing the tree is chased away by the owl).  I doubt he was actively a poacher or into badger hunting and the like but as always was an observer of detail of all around him, including the activities of people.   His poem of ‘Badger’ being cornered by dogs and men can be read as straightforward, vivid, descriptive fact but potentially as anti-hunting though he may not have been able to declare it openly.   It might well have been ‘cruelty’ that concerned him more.


tagged as: animals

Three Poems by Henry lawson

Well,  just trundled my way through his collected works.  There must be over 500 assorted poems in total by this earl Australian poet, writer and journalist.   Most of them fairly long to put in this post of brief reminders of style.  I complained in the last post that his repetitive rhyming and rhythms were not entirely for me.  My slight reassessment  is that at least you know what you are getting every time and that his consistency is remarkable whilst carrying a wide range of stories, or rather sketches and scenes.     Not for too much re-reading unless I need a snatch of early Australian ‘scenery’, which is effective

Three poems:


Dust, dust, dust, and a dog –

Oh, the shepherd-dog won’t be the last,

Where the long, long shadow of the old bay horse

With the shadow of his mate is cast.

A brick-brown woman, with their brick-brown kids,

And a man with his head half-mast,

The feed-bags hung, and the bedding slung,

And the blackened bucket made fast

Where the tailboard clings to the tucker and things –

So the hawker’s van goes past.


On the night train


Have you seen the Bush by moonlight, from the train, go running by,

Here a patch of glassy water, there a glimpse of mystic sky?

Have you heard the still small voice calling, yet so warm, and yet so cold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that bore you! Come to me when you are old?”


Did you see the Bush below you sweeping darkly to the range,

All unchanged and all unchanging, yet so very old and strange!

Did you hear the Bush a’calling, when your heart was young and bold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that nursed you!  Come to me when you are old?”


Through the long, vociferous cutting as the night train swiftly sped,

Did you hear the grey Bush calling from the pine-ridge overhead:

“You have seen the seas and cities; all seems done, and all seems told;

I’m the Mother Bush that loves you! Come to me now you are old?”


I am back from up the country — very sorry that I went —
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have lost a lot of idols, which were broken on the track —
Burnt a lot of fancy verses, and I’m glad that I am back.
Further out may be the pleasant scenes of which our poets boast,
But I think the country’s rather more inviting round the coast —
Anyway, I’ll stay at present at a boarding-house in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down.

Sunny plains! Great Scot! — those burning wastes of barren soil and sand
With their everlasting fences stretching out across the land!
Desolation where the crow is! Desert! where the eagle flies,
Paddocks where the luny bullock starts and stares with reddened eyes;
Where, in clouds of dust enveloped, roasted bullock-drivers creep
Slowly past the sun-dried shepherd dragged behind his crawling sheep.
Stunted “peak” of granite gleaming, glaring! like a molten mass
Turned, from some infernal furnace, on a plain devoid of grass.

Miles and miles of thirsty gutters — strings of muddy waterholes
In the place of “shining rivers” (walled by cliffs and forest boles).
“Range!” of ridgs, gullies, ridges, barren! where the madden’d flies —
Fiercer than the plagues of Egypt — swarm about your blighted eyes!
Bush! where there is no horizon! where the buried bushman sees
Nothing. Nothing! but the maddening sameness of the stunted trees!
Lonely hut where drought’s eternal — suffocating atmosphere —
Where the God forgottcn hatter dreams of city-life and beer.

Treacherous tracks that trap the stranger, endless roads that gleam and glare,
Dark and evil-looking gullies — hiding secrets here and there!
Dull, dumb flats and stony “rises,” where the bullocks sweat and bake,
And the sinister “gohanna,” and the lizard, and the snake.
Land of day and night — no morning freshness, and no afternoon,
For the great, white sun in rising brings with him the heat of noon.
Dismal country for the exile, when the shades begin to fall
From the sad, heart-breaking sunset, to the new-chum, worst of all.

Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift
O’er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift —
Dismal land when it is raining — growl of floods and oh! the “woosh”
Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush —
Ghastly fires in lonely humpies where the granite rocks are pil’d
On the rain-swept wildernesses that are wildest of the wild.

Land where gaunt and haggard women live alone and work like men,
Till their husbands, gone a-droving, will return to them again —
Homes of men! if homes had ever such a God-forgotten place,
Where the wild selector’s children fly before a stranger’s face.
Home of tragedy applauded by the dingoes’ dismal yell,
Heaven of the shanty-keeper — fitting fiend for such a hell —
And the wallaroos and wombats, and, of course, the “curlew’s call” —
And the lone sundowner tramping ever onward thro’ it all!

I am back from up the country — up the country where I went
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have left a lot of broken idols out along the track,
Burnt a lot of fancy verses — and I’m glad that I am back —
I believe the Southern poet’s dream will not be realised
Till the plains are irrigated and the land is humanised.
I intend to stay at present — as I said before — in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes — taking baths and cooling down.



I might have included others, such as:          A Bush Girl.    To my cultured critics,     Second class wait here.      Pigeon toes….       But didn’t!

On the Eve of St Agnes by John Keats

If it is 20th January, it is a suitable time to put this up.   One of Cambridge ‘A’ level poems for 2016, not sure if it still fits the themes for future exam study.  But this is one of many memorable and once popular poems from John Keats (1795-1821).

On the Eve of St Agnes

St Agnes’ Eve –  Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man;
Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees,
And back returneth, meagre, barefoot, wan,
Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees:
The sculptur’d dead, on each side, seem to freeze,
Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails:
Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat’ries,
He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.

Northward he turneth through a little door,
And scarce three steps, ere Music’s golden tongue
Flatter’d to tears this aged man and poor;
But no –  already had his deathbell rung
The joys of all his life were said and sung:
His was harsh penance on St. Agnes’ Eve:
Another way he went, and soon among
Rough ashes sat he for his soul’s reprieve,
And all night kept awake, for sinners’ sake to grieve.

That ancient Beadsman heard the prelude soft;
And so it chanc’d, for many a door was wide,
From hurry to and fro. Soon, up aloft,
The silver, snarling trumpets ‘gan to chide:
The level chambers, ready with their pride,
Were glowing to receive a thousand guests:
The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
Star’d, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their breasts.

At length burst in the argent revelry,
With plume, tiara, and all rich array,
Numerous as shadows haunting fairily
The brain, new-stuff’d, in youth, with triumphs gay
Of old romance. These let us wish away,
And turn, sole-thoughted, to one lady there,
Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,
On love, and wing’d St Agnes’ saintly care,
As she had heard old dames full many times declare.

They told her how, upon St Agnes’ Eve,
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the honey’d middle of the night,
If ceremonies due they did aright;
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline:
The music, yearning like a God in pain,
She scarcely heard: her maiden eyes divine,
Fix’d on the floor, saw many a sweeping train
Pass by –  she heeded not at all: in vain
Came many a tiptoe, amorous cavalier,
And back retir’d; not cool’d by high disdain,
But she saw not: her heart was otherwhere;
She sigh’d for Agnes’ dreams, the sweetest of the year.

She danc’d along with vague, regardless eyes,
Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and short:
The hallow’d hour was near at hand: she sighs
Amid the timbrels, and the throng’d resort
Of whisperers in anger, or in sport;
‘Mid looks of love, defiance, hate, and scorn,
Hoodwink’d with faery fancy; all amort,
Save to St Agnes and her lambs unshorn,
And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.

So, purposing each moment to retire,
She linger’d still. Meantime, across the moors,
Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire
For Madeline. Beside the portal doors,
Buttress’d from moonlight, stands he, and implores
All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
But for one moment in the tedious hours,
That he might gaze and worship all unseen;
Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss –  in sooth such things have been.

He ventures in: let no buzz’d whisper tell:
All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords
Will storm his heart, Love’s fev’rous citadel:
For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes,
Hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords,
Whose very dogs would execrations howl
Against his lineage: not one breast affords
Him any mercy, in that mansion foul,
Save one old beldame, weak in body and in soul.

Ah, happy chance! the aged creature came,
Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand,
To where he stood, hid from the torch’s flame,
Behind a broad hall-pillar, far beyond
The sound of merriment and chorus bland.
He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
And grasp’d his fingers in her palsied hand,
Saying, “Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place;
“They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race!

“Get hence! get hence! there’s dwarfish Hildebrand;
He had a fever late, and in the fit
He cursed thee and thine, both house and land:
Then there’s that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
More tame for his gray hairs –  Alas me! flit!
Flit like a ghost away.” — “Ah, gossip dear,
We’re safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
And tell me how” — “Good saints! not here, not here;
Follow me, child, or else these stones will be thy bier.”

He follow’d through a lowly arched way,
Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume,
And as she mutter’d “Well-a- – well-a-day!”
He found him in a little moonlight room,
Pale, lattic’d, chill, and silent as a tomb.
“Now tell me where is Madeline”, said he,
“O tell me, Angela, by the holy loom
Which none but secret sisterhood may see,
“When they St Agnes’ wool are weaving piously.”

“St Agnes! Ah! it is St Agnes’ Eve  —
Yet men will murder upon holy days:
Thou must hold water in a witch’s sieve,
And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays
To venture so: it fills me with amaze
To see thee, Porphyro! – – St Agnes’ Eve!
God’s help! my lady fair the conjuror plays
This very night: good angels her deceive!
But let me laugh awhile, I’ve mickle time to grieve.”

Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon,
While Porphyro upon her face doth look,
Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone
Who keepeth clos’d a wondrous riddle-book,
As spectacled she sits in chimney nook.
But soon his eyes grew brilliant, when she told
His lady’s purpose; and he scarce could brook
Tears, at the thought of those enchantments cold
And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.

Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
Flushing his brow, and in his pained heart
Made purple riot: then doth he propose
A stratagem, that makes the beldame start:
“A cruel man and impious thou art:
Sweet lady, let her pray, and sleep, and dream
Alone with her good angels, far apart
From wicked men like thee. Go, go! — I deem
Thou canst not surely be the same that thou didst seem.”

“I will not harm her, by all saints I swear,”
Quoth Porphyro: “O may I ne’er find grace
When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,
If one of her soft ringlets I displace,
Or look with ruffian passion in her face:
Good Angela, believe me by these tears;
Or I will, even in a moment’s space,
Awake, with horrid shout, my foemen’s ears,
And beard them, though they be more fang’d than wolves and bears.”

“Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?
A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,
Whose passing-bell may ere the midnight toll;
Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening,
Were never miss’d.”  Thus plaining, doth she bring
A gentler speech from burning Porphyro;
So woeful, and of such deep sorrowing,
That Angela gives promise she will do
Whatever he shall wish, betide her weal or woe.

Which was, to lead him, in close secrecy,
Even to Madeline’s chamber, and there hide
Him in a closet, of such privacy
That he might see her beauty unespied,
And win perhaps that night a peerless bride,
While legion’d fairies pac’d the coverlet,
And pale enchantment held her sleepy-eyed.
Never on such a night have lovers met,
Since Merlin paid his Demon all the monstrous debt.

“It shall be as thou wishest,” said the Dame:
“All cates and dainties shall be stored there
Quickly on this feast-night: by the tambour frame
Her own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare,
For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dare
On such a catering trust my dizzy head.
Wait here, my child, with patience; kneel in prayer
The while: Ah! thou must needs the lady wed,
Or may I never leave my grave among the dead.”

So saying, she hobbled off with busy fear.
The lover’s endless minutes slowly pass’d;
The Dame return’d, and whisper’d in his ear
To follow her; with aged eyes aghast
From fright of dim espial. Safe at last
Through many a dusky gallery, they gain
The maiden’s chamber, silken, hush’d and chaste;
Where Porphyro took covert, pleas’d amain.
His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.

Her falt’ring hand upon the balustrade,
Old Angela was feeling for the stair,
When Madeline, St Agnes’ charmed maid,
Rose, like a mission’d spirit, unaware:
With silver taper’s light, and pious care,
She turn’d, and down the aged gossip led
To a safe level matting. Now prepare,
Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed;
She comes, she comes again, like dove fray’d and fled.

Out went the taper as she hurried in;
Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died:
She closed the door, she panted, all akin
To spirits of the air, and visions wide:
No utter’d syllable, or, woe betide!
But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
Paining with eloquence her balmy side;
As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.

A casement high and triple-arch’d there was,
All garlanded with carven imag’ries
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings;
And in the midst, ‘mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush’d with blood of queens and kings.

Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast,
As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon;
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory, like a saint:
She seem’d a splendid angel, newly drest,
Save wings, for heaven: — Porphyro grew faint:
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.

Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant bodice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
In fancy, fair St Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.

Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex’d she lay,
Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress’d
Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away;
Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day;
Blissfully haven’d both from joy and pain;
Clasp’d like a missal where swart Paynims pray;
Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.

Stol’n to this paradise, and so entranced,
Porphyro gazed upon her empty dress,
And listen’d to her breathing, if it chanced
To wake into a slumbrous tenderness;
Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
And breath’d himself: then from the closet crept,
Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness,
And over the hush’d carpet, silent, stept,
And ‘tween the curtains peep’d, where, lo! — how fast she slept!

Then by the bed-side, where the faded moon
Made a dim, silver twilight, soft he set
A table, and, half anguish’d, threw thereon
A doth of woven crimson, gold, and jet: —
O for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion,
The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarinet,
Affray his ears, though but in dying tone: —
The hall door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.

And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.

These delicates he heap’d with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathed silver: sumptuous they stand
In the retired quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light. —
“And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
Open thine eyes, for meek St Agnes’ sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.”

Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm
Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dream
By the dusk curtains:—’twas a midnight charm
Impossible to melt as iced stream:
The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;
Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies:
It seem’d he never, never could redeem
From such a stedfast spell his lady’s eyes;
So mus’d awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.

Awakening up, he took her hollow lute, —
Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be,
He play’d an ancient ditty, long since mute,
In Provence call’d, “La belle dame sans mercy:”
Close to her ear touching the melody: —
Wherewith disturb’d, she utter’d a soft moan:
He ceased—she panted quick—and suddenly
Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.

Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep:
There was a painful change, that nigh expell’d
The blisses of her dream so pure and deep,
At which fair Madeline began to weep,
And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
Fearing to move or speak, she look’d so dreamingly.

“Ah, Porphyro!” said she, “but even now
Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
How chang’d thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
For if thou diest, my Love, I know not where to go.”

Beyond a mortal man impassion’d far
At these voluptuous accents, he arose,
Ethereal, flush’d, and like a throbbing star
Seen mid the sapphire heaven’s deep repose
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odour with the violet, —
Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
Like Love’s alarum pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window-panes; St Agnes’ moon hath set.

Tis dark: quick pattereth the flaw-blown sleet:
“This is no dream, my bride, my Madeline!”
‘Tis dark: the iced gusts still rave and beat:
“No dream, alas! alas! and woe is mine!
Porphyro will leave me here to fade and pine. —
Cruel! what traitor could thee hither bring?
I curse not, for my heart is lost in thine
Though thou forsakest a deceived thing; —
A dove forlorn and lost with sick unpruned wing.”

“My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!
Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?
Thy beauty’s shield, heart-shap’d and vermeil dyed?
Ah, silver shrine, here will I take my rest
After so many hours of toil and quest,
A famish’d pilgrim, —  saved by miracle.
Though I have found, I will not rob thy nest
Saving of thy sweet self; if thou think’st well
To trust, fair Madeline, to no rude infidel.

“Hark! ’tis an elfin-storm from faery land,
Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed:
Arise—arise! the morning is at hand; —
The bloated wassailers will never heed: —
Let us away, my love, with happy speed;
There are no ears to hear, or eyes to see, —
Drown’d all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead:
Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be,
For o’er the southern moors I have a home for thee.”

She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
For there were sleeping dragons all around,
At glaring watch, perhaps, with ready spears —
Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found. —
In all the house was heard no human sound.
A chain-droop’d lamp was flickering by each door;
The arras, rich with horseman, hawk, and hound,
Flutter’d in the besieging wind’s uproar;
And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.

They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;
Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide;
Where lay the Porter, in uneasy sprawl,
With a huge empty flagon by his side:
The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide,
But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:
By one, and one, the bolts fill easy slide: —
The chains lie silent on the footworn stones, —
The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.

And they are gone: ay, ages long ago
These lovers fled away into the storm.
That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe,
And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
Were long be-nightmar’d. Angela the old
Died palsy-twitch’d, with meagre face deform;
The Beadsman, after thousand aves told,
For aye unsought for slept among his ashes cold.

Arthur Symons: Some poems and notes

Venetian Night

Her eyes in the darkness shone, in the twilight shed
By the gondola bent like the darkness over her head.
Softly the gondola rocked, lights came and went;
A white glove shone as her black fan lifted and leant
Where the silk of her dress, the blue of a bittern’s wing,
Rustled against my knee, and, murmuring
The sweet slow hesitant English of a child,
Her voice was articulate laughter, her soul smiled.
Softly the gondola rocked, lights came and went;
From the sleeping houses a shadow of slumber leant
Over our heads like a wing, and the dim lagoon,
Rustling with silence, slumbered under the moon.
Softly the gondola rocked, and a pale light came
Over the waters, mild as a silver flame;
She lay back, thrilling with smiles, in the twilight shed
By the gondola bend like the darkness over her head;
I saw her eyes shine subtly, then close awhile:
I remember her silence, and, in the night, her smile.



Water and marble and that silentness
Which is not broken by a wheel or hoof;
A city like a water-lily, less
Seen than reflected, palace wall and roof,
In the unfruitful waters motionless,
Without one living grass’s green reproof;
A city without joy or weariness,
Itself beholding, from itself aloof.


White Heliotrope                  Arthur Symons

The feverish room and that white bed,
The tumbled skirts upon a chair,
The novel flung half-open where
Hat, hair-pins, puffs, and paints, are spread;

The mirror that has sucked your face
Into its secret deep of deeps,
And there mysteriously keeps
Forgotten memories of grace;

And you, half-dressed and half awake,
Your slant eyes strangely watching me,
And I, who watch you drowsily,
With eyes that, having slept not, ache;

This (need one dread? nay, dare one hope?)
Will rise, a ghost of memory, if
Ever again my handkerchief
Is scented with White Heliotrope.


To A Gitana Dancing                                 gitana-a-symons

Because you are fair as souls of the lost are fair,
And your eyelids laugh with desire, and your laughing feet
Are winged with desire, and your hands are wanton, and sweet
Is the promise of love in your lips, and the rose in your hair
Sweet, unfaded, a promise sweet to be sought,
And the maze you tread is as old as the world is old,
Therefore you hold me, body and soul, in your hold,
And time, as you dance, is not, and the world is as nought.
You dance, and I know the desire of all flesh, and the pain
Of all longing of body for body; you beckon, repel,
Entreat, and entice, and bewilder, and build up the spell,
Link by link, with deliberate steps, of a flower-soft chain.
You laugh, and I know the despair, and you smile, and I know
The delight of your love, and the flower in your hair is a star.
It brightens, I follow; it fades, and I see it afar;
You pause: I awake; have I dreamt? was it longer ago
Than a dream that I saw you smile? for you turn, you turn,
As a startled beast in the toils: it is you that entreat,
Desperate, hating the coils that have fastened your feet,
The desire you desired that has come; and your lips now yearn,
And your hands now ache, and your feet faint for love.
Longing has taken hold even on you,
You, the witch of desire; and you pause, and anew
Your stillness moves, and you pause, and your hands move.
Time, as you dance, is as nought, and the moments seem
Swift as eternity; time is at end, for you close
Eyes and lips and hands in sudden repose;
You smile: was it all no longer ago than a dream?


The Absinthe Drinker

Gently I wave the visible world away.

Far off, I hear a roar, afar yet near,

Far off and strange, a voice is in my ear,

And is the voice my own?  The words I say

Fall strangely, like a dream, across the day;

And the dim sunshine is a dream.  How clear,

New as the world to lover’s eyes, appear

The men and women passing on their way!


The world is very fair.  The hours are all

Linked in a dance of mere forgetfulness.

I am at peace with God and man.  O glide,

Sands of the hour-glass that I count not, fall

Serenely: scarce I feel your soft caress.

Rocked on this dreamy and indifferent tide.


Arthur Symons    28 feb 1865 – 1945  Jan 22

Poet, critic, translator and editor. Very involved in the literary (poetics) in his earlier years, seems to be especially appreciative of Villon and Swinburne though often enthusiastic about many others,  see ‘Figures of Several Centuries‘ by Arthur Symons (Gutenberg Project).  He covers a fair selection of literary subjects/people which are very readable and offer an opinion of the day that may add colour to the influences of today’s studies.    Not that I am a serious student, more a monkey that puts his hand in a jar until another takes its fancy.  He spent much time in Italy and especially France as well as  England so will have lived amongst many of the avant-garde of the day.  Paris was in its heyday, it’s ‘Belle Epoque’ of the arts so would have contributed much influence on Arthur Symons.

Symon’s short essay on Villon is a positive explanation of the man and his ability as a poet of intellect and passion though Villon’s view of life was tarnished (to put it mildly…….)   But then what makes people who they are?

Arthur Symons also wrote a lot of poetry.  I have only spent a short time looking but he does like to write of women and thoughts of love in most of the work I have seen.  Maybe it is the period he lived in.. (plus the sentiment of love poetry is and always has been core in all its forms).  He does seem a writer who says what he means, heart on sleeve and monkey-hand in jar.  From nigh-on a hundred years ago, times and fashion have changed, just as they have since Villon’s day.  Poets, like all artists tend to prize open their minds but the ‘reasons why’ are harder to realise than their work.    And anyway is what you get what you see?


St Martin’s Eve by John Clare

St Martin’s day is the 11th November and taken as the feast day of the saint, Martin of Tours, particularly noted as 11th minute of 11th hour of the eleventh day, eleventh month.  (See Brewers Phrase & Fable)

In England, as well as the Saints day the 11th was pastorally (upto/into 19th Century) known as the first day of winter.

This day would set the change in rural patterns of work, especially agricultural labourers and the poor when they would of necessity do less in the fields regarding crops and livestock and more forestry and work that was tied closer to home.  Though livestock would often be held closer to the barns it would still need close attention to feed and for security (in fact more if shelter not available). Winter would mean less outdoor work, or harder outdoor work very much depending on the weather.

The 11th November is also the Feast day of Bacchus.

Armistice Day (UK) has also been placed at 11, 11, 11, November since the end of the First World War.  This referring back to the St Martin’s action when as a Roman soldier in giving half his cloak, on that cold night, to a poor stranger and in the morning discovering the stranger was Jesus.

Especially in village life the Eve of St Martin would be a celebration as the last ‘Hurrah’ before the expected difficulties of the winter.

John Clare wrote a poem around one of these occasions, as usual full of acute observation:

ST MARTINS EVE                  John Clare

Now that the year grows wearisome with age                                                                                 & days grow short & nights excessive long                                                                                     No outdoor sports the village hinds engage                                                                                Still is the meadow romp and harvest song                                                                               That wont to echo from each merry throng                                                                                   At dinner hours beneath hugh spreading tree
Rude winds hath done the landscape mickle wrong
That nature in her mirth did ill foresee                                                                                       Who clingeth now to hope like shipwrecked folk at sea

The woods are desolate of song – the sky
Is all forsaken of its joyous crowd
Martin & swallow there no longer flye
– Hugh seeming rocks & deserts now enshroud
The sky for aye with shadow shaping cloud
None there of all those busy tribes remain
No song is heard save one that wails aloud
From the all lone & melancholly crane
Who like a traveller lost the right road seeks in vain

The childern hastening in from threatening rain
No longer round the fields for wild fruit run
But at their homes from morn till night remain
& wish in vain to see the welcome sun
Winters imprisonment is all begun
Yet when the wind grows troubleous & high
Pining for freedom like a lovesick nun
Around the gardens little bounds they flye
Beneath the roaring trees fallen apples to espye

But spite of all the melancholly moods                                                                                       That out of doors poor pleasures heart alarms                                                                        Flood bellowing rivers & wind roaring woods
The fireside evening owns increasing charms
What with the tale & eldern wine that warms
In purple bubbles by the blazing fire                                                                                               Of simple cots & rude old fashioned farms                                                                                They feel as blest as joys can well desire                                                                                          & midnight often joins before the guests retire

& such a group on good St Martins eve                                                                                             Was met together upon pleasure bent
Where tales & fun did cares so well deceive
That the old cottage rung with merriment                                                                                      & even the very rafters groaned and bent
Not so much it would seem from tempests din                                                                         That roared without in roaring discontent                                                                                     As from the merry noise & laugh within                                                                                     That seemed as summers sports had never absent bin

Beside the fire large apples lay to roast
& in a hugh brown pitcher creaming ale
Was warming seasoned with a nutmeg toast
The merry group of gossips to regale
Around her feet the glad cat curled her tail
Listening the crickets song with half shut eyes
While in the chimney top loud roared the gale
Its blustering howl of outdoor symphonies
That round the cottage hearth bade happier moods arise

& circling round the fire the merry folks
Brought up all sports their memory could devise
Playing upon each other merry jokes
& now one shuts his hands & archly cries
Come open wide your mouth & shut your eyes
& see what gifts are sent you—foolish thing
He doth as he is bid & quickly rise
The peals of laughter when they up & fling
The ashes in while he goes spitting from the ring

& the old dame tho not in laughing luck
For that same night at one fell sweeping stroke
Mischieving cat that at a mouse had struck
Upon the shelf her best blue china broke
Yet spite of fate so funny was the joke
She laughed until her very sides did shake
& some so tittled were they could not smoke
Laying down their pipes lest they their pipe should break
& laughed & laugh again until their ribs did ache

Then deftly one with cunning in his eyes                                                                                   With out stretched hand walks backward in the dark
Encouraged to the feet with proffered prize
If so he right can touch pretended mark
Made on the wall — & happy as a lark
He chuckles oer success by hopes prepared                                                                            While one with open mouth like greedy shark
Slives in the place & bites his finger hard
He bawls for freedom loud & shames his whole reward

Then came more games of wonderment & fun
Which set poor Hodges wisdom all aghast
Who sought three knives to hide them one by one
While one no conjuror to reveal the past
Blindfold would tell him where he hid the last
Hodge hiding two did for the third enquire
All tittered round & bade him hold it fast
But ah he shook it from his hands in ire
For while he hid the two they warmed it in the fire

Then to appease him with his burning hand
They bade him hide himself & they would tell
The very way in which he chose to stand
Hodge thought the matter most impossible
& on his knees behind the mash tub fell
& muttering said I’ll beat em now or never
Crying out “how stand I” just to prove the spell
They answered “like a fool” & thing so clever
Raised laughter against Hodge more long & loud than ever

Nor can the aged in such boisterous glee
Escape the tricks for laugh & jest designed
The old dame takes the bellows on her knee
& puffs in vain to tricks of rougery blind
Nor heeds the urgin who lets out the wind
With crafty finger & with cunning skill
That for her life the cause she cannot find
Untill the group unable to be still
Laughs out & dame though tricked smiles too against her will

Yet mid this strife of joy — on corner stool
One sits all silent doomed to worst of fate
Who made one slip in love & played the fool
& since condemned to live without a mate
No youth again courts once beguiled Kate
Tho hopes of sweethearts yet perplex her head
& charms to try by gipseys told of late
Beneath her pillow lays an onion red
To dream on this same night with whom she is to wed

& hopes that like to sunshine warming falls                                                                            Being all the solace to her withering mind                                                                               When they for dancing rise old young & all                                                                                 She in her corner musing sits behind                                                                                           Her palid cheek upon her hand reclined                                                                                 Nursing rude melancolly like a child                                                                                            Who sighs its silence to the sobbing wind                                                                                   That in the chimney roars with fury wild                                                                                 While every other heart to joy is reconciled

One thumps the warming pan with merry glee                                                                         That bright as is a mirror decks the cot                                                                                 Another droning as an humble bee                                                                                             Plays on the muffled comb till Piping hot                                                                                   With over strained exertion – yet the lot                                                                                         Is such an happy one that still he plays                                                                                      Fatigue & all its countless ills forgot                                                                                               All that he wants he wins – for rapture pays                                                                                 To his unwearied skill right earnest words of praise

Ah happy hearts how happy cant be told                                                                                        To fancy music in such clamorous noise                                                                                     Like those converting all they touched to gold                                                                       These all they hearken to convert to joys                                                                                      Thrice happy hearts – old men as wild as boys                                                                              –    Old women whom no cares of life destroys                                                                        Dance with girls – true did the bard surmise                                                                        “Where ignorance is bliss tis folly to be wise”

When weary of the dance one reads a tale                                                                                      Tho puzzled oft to spell a lengthy word                                                                                    Storys though often read yet never stale                                                                                      But gaining interest every time theyre heard                                                                            With morts of wonderment that neer occurred                                                                           Yet simple souls their faith it knows no stint                                                                           Things least to be believed are most preferred                                                                              All counterfeits as from truths sacred mint                                                                                 Are readily believed if once put down in print

Bluebeard & all his murders dread parade                                                                                  Are listened to & all mourned for & the tear                                                                           Drops from the blue eye of the listening maid                                                                          Warm as it fell upon her lovers bier                                                                                           None in the circle doubt of what they hear
It were a sin to doubt oer tales so true
So say the old whose wisdom all revere
& unto whom such reverence may be due
For honest good intents praise that belongs to few

& Tib a Tinkers Daughter is the tale
That doth by wonder their rude hearts engage
Oer young & old its witchcraft scenes prevail                                                                                In the rude legends of her pilgrimage
How she in servitude did erst engage                                                                                             To live with an old hag of dreadful fame
Who often fell in freaks of wonderous rage                                                                                     & played with Tib full many a bitter game                                                                                   Till een the children round cried out for very shame

They read how once to thrash her into chaff
The fearful witch tied Tibby in a sack
& hied her to the wood to seek a staff
That might be strong enough her bones to whack
But lucky Tib escaped ere she came back                                                                                     And tied up dog & cat her doom to share                                                                                          & pots & pans – & loud the howl and crack
That rose when the old witch with inky hair                                                                            Began the sack to thrash with no intent to spare

& when she found her unrevenged mistake
Her rage more fearful grew but all in vain
For fear no more caused Tibbys heart to ache
She far away from the old hags domain
Ran hartsomely a better place to gain
& here the younkers tongues grew wonder glib
With gladness & the reader stopt again
Declaring all too true to be a fib
& urged full glasses round to drink success to Tib

& when her sorrows & her pilgrimage
The plot of most new novels & old tales                                                                                     Grew to a close her beauty did presage                                                                                       Luck in the wind – & fortune spread her sails
In favouring bounty to Tibs summer gales                                                                                     All praised her beauty & the lucky day                                                                                            At length its rosey smiling face unveils                                                                                    When Tib of course became a lady gay
& loud the listeners laugh while childern turned to play

Anon the clock counts twelve & mid their joys
The startled blackbird smooths its feathers down
That in its cage grew weary of their noise
—The merry maiden & the noisey clown
Prepare for home & down the straggling town
To seek their cottages they tittering go
Heartened with sports & stout ale berry brown
Beside their dames like chanticleer they crow
While every lanthorn flings long gleams along the snow


Below is a well-known ballad of unknown origins, possibly Scotland where many good ballads seem to have originated, or at least remained to be handed down.  It seems typical of stories that would have circulated round fireplaces at Martinmass and is still a regular in the folk-singers’ songbook.    Clare would have known this ballad as he was an avid collector of ballads and their tunes.  Seems he had a knowledge of some 200 folk tunes for the fiddle though not all would have been with words as dance was a high priority for entertainment.

The Wife of Usher’s Well

There lived a wife at Ushers Well,
And a wealthy wife was she;
She had three stout and stalwart sons,
And sent them o’er the sea.

They hadna been a week from her,
A week but barely ane,
Whan word came to the carline wife
That her three sons were gane.

They hadna been a week from her,
A week but barely three,
Whan word came to the carlin wife
That her sons she’d never see.

“I wish the wind May never cease,
Nor (fashes) in the flood,
Till my three sons come home to me,
In earthly flesh and blood,”

It fell about the Martinmass,
When nights are lang and mirk,
The carlin wife”s three sons came hame,
And their hats were o’ the birk.

It neither grew in syke nor ditch,
Nor yet in ony sheugh;
But at the gates o Paradise,
That birk grew fair enough

“Blow up the fire, my maidens!
Bring water from the well!
For a’ my house hall feast this night,
Since my three sons are well.”

And she has made to them a bed,
She’s made it large and wide
And she’s ta’en her mantle her about,
Sat down at the bed-side.

Up then crew the red, red cock,
And up and crew the gray;
The eldest to the youngest said,
“‘Tis time we were away.”

The cock he hadna craw’d but once,
And clapp’d his wings at a’,
When the youngest to the eldest said,
“Brother, we must awa’.

“The cock doth craw, the day doth daw,
The channerin’ worlm doth chide;
Gin we be mist out o’ our place,
A sair pain we maun bide.

“Fare ye weel, my mother dear!
Fareweel to barn and byre!
And fare ye weel, the bonny lass
That kindles my mother’s fire.

This is a ballad where words are reasonably obvious though older versions seem to have been written in an even more ‘Scottish’ dialect than others.   This version can be read easily and assists with spellings that help with a vaguely original (older! Scottish!) pronunciation.   Though maybe as I am English I do not have a clue!!!

Another ballad/poem I have read is very similar but the sons appear at the door in the state in which they were called back to visit there mother:  somewhat dead and decomposed I seem to recall.  When I come across it I will write it in……