The Chimney-Sweeps Of Cheltenham

A poem by Alfred Noyes

When hawthorn buds are creaming white,
And the red foolscap all stuck with may,
Then lasses walk with eyes alight,
And it's chimney-sweepers' dancing day.

For the chimney-sweeps of Cheltenham town,
Sooty of face as a swallow of wing,
Come whistling, singing, dancing down
With white teeth flashing as they sing.

And Jack-in-the green, by a clown in blue,
Walks like a two-legged bush of may,
With the little wee lads that wriggled up the flue
Ere Cheltenham town cried "dancing day."

For brooms were short and the chimneys tall,
And the gipsies caught 'em these blackbirds cheap,
So Cheltenham bought them, spry and small,
And shoved them up in the dark to sweep.

For Cheltenham town was cruel of old,
But she has been gathering garlands gay,
And the little wee lads are in green and gold,
For it's chimney-sweepers' dancing day.

And red as a rose, and blue as the sky,
With teeth as white as their faces are black,
The master-sweeps go dancing by,
With a gridiron painted on every back.

But when they are ranged in the market-place,
The clown's wife comes with an iron spoon,
And cozens a penny for her sweet face
To keep their golden throats in tune.

Then, hushing the riot of that mad throng,
And sweet as the voice of a long-dead May,
A wandering pedlar lifts 'em a song,
Of chimney-sweepers' dancing day;

And the sooty faces, they try to recall....
As they gather around in their spell-struck rings....
But nobody knows that singer at all
Or the curious old-time air he sings:--

Why are you dancing, O chimney-sweeps of Cheltenham,
And where did you win you these may-coats so fine;
For some are red as roses, and some are gold as daffodils,
But who, ah, who remembers, now, a little lad of mine?

Lady, we are dancing, as we danced in old England
When the may was more than may, very long ago:
As for our may-coats, it was your white hands, lady,
Filled our sooty hearts and minds with blossom, white as snow.

It was a beautiful face we saw, wandering through Cheltenham.
It was a beautiful song we heard, very far away,
Weeping for a little lad stolen by the gipsies,
Broke our hearts and filled 'em with the glory of the may.

Many a little lad had we, chirruping in the chimney-tops,
Twirling out a sooty broom, a blot against the blue.
Ah, but when we called to him, and when he saw and ran to her,
All our winter ended, and our world was made anew.

Then she gave us may-coats of gold and green and crimson,
Then, with a long garland, she led our hearts away,
Whispering, "Remember, though the boughs forget the hawthorn,
Yet shall I return to you, that was your lady May."--

But why are you dancing now, O chimney-sweeps of Cheltenham,
And why are you singing of a May that is fled?--
O, there's music to be born, though we pluck the old fiddle-strings,
And a world's May awaking where the fields lay dead.

And we dance, dance, dreaming of a lady most beautiful
That shall walk the green valleys of this dark earth one day,
And call to us gently, "O chimney-sweeps of Cheltenham,
I am looking for my children. Awake, and come away."

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