The Happy Harvesters. - A Cantata.

A poem by Charles Sangster

I.

Autumn, like an old poet in a haze
Of golden visions, dreams away his days,
So Hafiz-like that one may almost hear
The singer's thoughts imbue the atmosphere;
Sweet as the dreamings of the nightingales
Ere yet their songs have waked the eastern vales,
Or stirred the airy echoes of the wood
That haunt the forest's social solitude.
His thoughts are pastorals; his days are rife
With the calm wisdom of that inner life
That makes the poet heir to worlds unknown,
All space his empire, and the sun his throne.
As the bee stores the sweetness of the flowers,
So into autumn's variegated hours
Is hived the Hybla richness of the year;
Choice souls imbibing the ambrosial cheer,
As autumn, seated on the highest hills,
Gleans honied secrets from the passing rills;
While from below, the harvest canzonas
Link vale to mountain with a chain of praise.
Foremost among the honoured sons of toil
Are they who overcome the stubborn soil;
Brave Cincinnatus in his country home
Was even greater than when lord of Rome.
Down sinks the sun behind the lofty pines
That skirt the mountain, like the straggling lines
Of Ceres' army looking from the height
On the dim lowlands deepening into night;
Soft-featured twilight, peering through the maze,
Sees the first starbeam pierce the purple haze;
Through all the vales the vespers of the birds
Cheer the young shepherds homeward with their herds;
And the stout axles of the heavy wain
Creak 'neath the fulness of the ripened grain,
As the swarth builders of the precious load,
Returning homewards, sing their Autumn Ode.


AUTUMN ODE.

God of the Harvest! Thou, whose sun
Has ripened all the golden grain,
We bless Thee for Thy bounteous store,
The cup of Plenty running o'er,
The sunshine and the rain.

The year laughs out for very joy,
Its silver treble echoing
Like a sweet anthem through the woods,
Till mellowed by the solitudes
It folds its glossy wing.

But our united voices blend
From day to day unweariedly;
Sure as the sun rolls up the morn,
Or twilight from the eve is born,
Our song ascends to Thee.

Where'er the various-tinted woods,
In all their autumn splendour dressed,
Impart their gold and purple dyes
To distant hills and farthest skies
Along the crimson west:

Across the smooth, extended plain,
By rushing stream and broad lagoon,
On shady height and sunny dale,
Wherever scuds the balmy gale,
Or gleams the autumn moon:

From inland seas of yellow grain,
Where cheerful Labour, heaven-blest,
With willing hands and keen-edged scythe,
And accents musically blythe,
Reveals its lordly crest:

From clover-fields and meadows wide,
Where moves the richly-laden wain
To barns well-stored with new-made hay,
Or where the flail at early day
Rolls out the ripened grain:

From meads and pastures on the hills,
And in the mountain valleys deep,
Alive with beeves and sweet-breathed kine
Of famous Ayr or Devon's line,
And shepherd-guarded sheep:

The spirits of the golden year,
From crystal caves and grottoes dim,
From forest depths and mossy sward,
Myriad-tongued, with one accord
Peal forth their harvest hymn.


II.

Their daily labour in the happy fields
A two-fold crop of grain and pleasure yields,
While round their hearths, before their evening fires,
Whore comfort reigns, whence weariness retires,
The level tracts, denuded of their grain,
In calm dispute are bravely shorn again,
Till some rough reaper, on a tide of song,
Like a bold pirate, captivates the throng:


A SONG FOR THE FLAIL.

A song, a song for the good old Flail,
And the brawny arms that wield it,
Hearty and hale, in our yeoman mail,
Like intrepid knights we'll shield it.
We are old nature's peers,
Right royal cavaliers!
Knights of the Plough! for no Golden Fleece we sail,
We're Princes in our own right - our sceptre is the Flail.

A song, a song for the golden grain,
As it wooes the flail's embraces,
In wavy sheaves like a golden main,
With its bright spray in our faces.

Mirth hastens at our call,
Jovial hearts have we all!
Knights of the Plough! for no Golden Fleece we sail,
We're Princes in our own right - our sceptre is the Flail.

A song, a song for the good old Flail,
That our fathers used before us;
A song for the Flail, and the faces hale
Of the queenly dames that bore us!
We are old nature's peers,
Right royal cavaliers!
Knights of the Plough! for no Golden Fleece we sail,
We're Princes in our own right - our sceptre is the Flail.


III.

Fair was the maid, and lovely as the morn
From starry Night and rosy Twilight born,
Within whose mind a rivulet of song
Rehearsed the strains that from her lips ere long
Welled free and sparkling, as the vocal woods
Repeat the day-spring's sweetest interludes.
Her gentle eyes' serenest depths of blue
Shrined love and truth, and all their retinue;
The health and beauty of her youthful face
Made it the Harem of each maiden grace;
And such perfection blended with her air,
She seemed some stately Goddess moving there:
Beholding her, you thought she might have been
The long-lost, flower-loving Proserpine:


AN AUTUMN CHANGE.

"Oh, dreamy autumn days!
I seek your faded ways,
As one who calmly strays
Through visions of the past;
I walk the golden hours,
And where I gathered flowers
The stricken leaves in showers
Are hurled upon the blast."

Thus mused the lonely maid,
As through the autumn glade,
With pensive heart, she strayed,
Regretting Love's delay;
In vain the traitor flies!
To pleading lips and eyes,
Sweet looks, and tender sighs,
He falls an easy prey.

"Oh, dreamy autumn days!
I tread your bridal ways,
As one who homeward strays,
Through realms divinely fair;
I walk Love's radiant hours,
Fragrant with passion flowers,
And blessings fall like dowers
Down the elysian air."

Thus mused the maiden now,
With sunny heart and brow,
For Love had turned his prow

Towards the Golden Isles,
Where from Pierean springs
The soul of Music sings
Its sweet imaginings,
Through all the Land of Smiles.


IV.

Up the wide chimney rolls the social fire,
Warming the hearts of matron, youth, and sire;
Painting such grotesque shadows on the wall,
The stripling looms a giant stout and tall,
While they whose statures reach the common height
Seem spectres mocking the hilarious night.
From hand to hand the ripened fruit went round,
And rural sports a pleased acceptance found;
The youthful fiddler on his three-legged stool,
Fancied himself at least an Ole Bull;
Some easy bumpkin, seated on the floor,
Hunted the slipper till his ribs were sore;
Some chose the graceful waltz or lively reel,
While deeper heads the chess battalions wheel
Till some old veteran, compelled to yield,
More brave than skilful, vanquished, quits the field.
As a flushed harper, when the doubtful fight
Favors the prowess of some stately knight,
In stirring numbers of triumphal song
Upholds the spirits of the victor throng,
A sturdy ploughboy, wedded to the soil,
Thus sung the praises of the partner of his toil:

{47}

THE SOLDIERS OF THE PLOUGH.

No maiden dream, nor fancy theme,
Brown Labour's muse would sing;
Her stately mien and russet sheen
Demand a stronger wing,
Long ages since, the sage, the prince,
The man of lordly brow,
All honour gave that army brave,
The Soldiers of the Plough.
Kind heaven speed the Plough!
And bless the hands that guide it;
God gives the seed -
The bread we need,
Man's labour must provide it.

In every land, the toiling hand
Is blest as it deserves;
Not so the race who, in disgrace,
From honest labour swerves.
From fairest bowers bring rarest flowers,
To deck the swarthy brow
Of those whose toil improves the soil,
The Soldiers of the Plough.
Kind heaven speed the Plough!
And bless the hands that guide it;
God gives the seed -
The bread we need,
Man's labour must provide it.

Blest is his lot, in hall or cot,
Who lives as nature wills,
Who pours his corn from Ceres' horn,
And quaffs his native rills!
No breeze that sweeps trade's stormy deeps,
Can touch his golden prow;
Their foes are few, their lives are true,
The Soldiers of the Plough.
Kind heaven speed the Plough!
And bless the hands that guide it;
God gives the seed -
The bread we need,
Man's labour must provide it.


V.

Fast sped the rushing chariot of the Hours.
Without, the Harvest Moon, through fleecy bowers
Of hazy cloudlets, swept her graceful way,
Proud as an empress on her marriage-day;
The admiring planets lit her stately march
With smiles that gleamed along the silent arch,
And all the starry midnight blazed with light,
As if 'twere earth and heaven's nuptial-night;
The cock crowed, certain that the day had broke,
The aged house-dog suddenly awoke,
And bayed so loud a challenge to the moon,
From the old orchard fled the thievish 'coon;
Within, the lightest hearts that ever beat
Still found their harmless pleasures pure and sweet;
The fire still burned on the capacious hearth,
In sympathy with the redundant mirth;

Old graybeards felt the glow of youth revive,
Old matrons smiled upon the human hive,
Where life's rare nectar, fit for gods to sip,
In forfeit kisses passed from lip to lip.
Be hushed rude Mirth! as merry as the May
Is she who comes to sing her roundelay:


CLAIRE.

Whither now, blushing Claire?
Maid of the sylph-like air,
Blooming and debonair,
Whither so early?
Chasing the merry morn,
Down through the golden corn?
List'ning the hunter's horn
Ring through the barley?

"Flowerets fresh and fair,"
Answered the blushing Claire,
"Fit for my bridal hair,
Bloom 'mongst the barley;
Hark! 'tis the hunter's horn,
Waking the sylvan morn,
And through the yellow corn
Comes my brave Charlie."

Through the dew-dripping grain
Pressed the heart-stricken swain,
Crushed with a weight of pain,

Drooped like the barley;
Ah! timid shepherd boy!
Man's love should ne'er be coy,
Sweet is Claire's maiden joy,
Kissing her Charlie!


VI.

A pleasant soul as ever trilled a song
Was hers who warbled "Claire." All the day long
Her voice was ringing like a bridal bell;
Gladness and joy leaped up at every swell;
And love was deeper, warmer, for the tone
That clasped the heart like an enchanted zone.
A youth was there more comely than the rest,
One who could turn a furrow with the best,
Compete for manly strength and portly air,
Or wield a scythe with any reaper there.
The spirit of her voice had moved above
The waters of his soul, and waked his song to Love:


BALLAD.

"Come tell me, merry Brooklet, of a gentle Maid I seek,
Thou'lt know her by the freshness of the rose upon her cheek;
Her eyes are chaste and tender, and so serenely bright,
You can read her heart's pure secrets by their warm religious light."

"The Maid has not come hither," said the Brooklet in reply;
"I've listened for her footfall ere the stars were in the sky;
The Fountain has been singing of a Maid, with eyes so bright
You may read the cherished secrets of her bosom by their light."

"Pray tell me, merry Brooklet, what saith her thoughts of one
Who wronged her loving nature ere the setting of the sun?
What say they of yon autumn moon that smiles so mournfully
On the slowly-dying season, and the blasted moorland tree?"

"She sitteth by the Fountain," the Brook replied again,
"Her heart as pure as heaven, and her thoughts without a stain;
'Oh, fickle moon, and changeful man!' she saith, 'a year ago
All the paths were true-love-lighted where I'm groping now in woe.'

"She sitteth by the Fountain, the gentle mists arise,
And kiss away the tear-pearls that tremble in her eyes,
The Fountain singeth to me that the Maiden in her dream
Shrinks as the vapours claim her as the Oread of the stream."

Off sped the merry Streamlet adown the sloping vale;
The Shepherd seeks the Fountain, where sits the Maiden pale;
And to the wandering Brooklet, through many a lonely wild,
The burden of the Fountain was, that Love was reconciled.


VII.

But soon the Morn, on many a distant height,
Fingers the raven locks of lingering Night;
The last dark shadows that precede the day
Have stripped the splendour from the Milky Way;
And Nature seems disturbed by fitful dreams,
As one who shudders when the owlet screams;
The painful burden of the Whippoorwill,
Like a vague Sorrow, floats from hill to hill;
Along the vales the doleful accents run,
Where the white vapours dread the burning sun;
While human voices stir the haunted air,
One sings "the Plough," another warbles "Claire:"
The Happy Harvesters, a lightsome throng,
Dispersing homewards, prove the excellence of Song.

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