Rustic Fishing.

A poem by John Clare

On Sunday mornings, freed from hard employ,
How oft I mark the mischievous young boy
With anxious haste his pole and lines provide,
For make-shifts oft crook'd pins to thread were tied;
And delve his knife with wishes ever warm
In rotten dunghills for the grub and worm,
The harmless treachery of his hooks to bait;
Tracking the dewy grass with many a mate,
To seek the brook that down the meadows glides,
Where the grey willow shadows by its sides,
Where flag and reed in wild disorder spread,
And bending bulrush bows its taper head;
And, just above the surface of the floods,
Where water-lilies mount their snowy buds,
On whose broad swimming leaves of glossy green
The shining dragon-fly is often seen;
Where hanging thorns, with roots wash'd bare, appear,
That shield the moor-hen's nest from year to year;
While crowding osiers mingling wild among
Prove snug asylums to her brood when young,
Who, when surpris'd by foes approaching near,
Plunge 'neath the weeping bough and disappear.
There far from terrors that the parson brings,
Or church bell hearing when its summons rings,
Half hid in meadow-sweet and keck's high flowers,
In lonely sport they spend the Sunday hours.
Though ill supplied for fishing seems the brook,
That breaks the mead in many a stinted crook,
Oft choak'd in weeds, and foil'd to find a road,
The choice retirement of the snake and toad,
Then lost in shallows dimpling restlessly,
In fluttering struggles murmuring to be free,--
O'er gravel stones its depth can scarcely hide
It runs the remnant of its broken tide,
Till, seemly weary of each choak'd control,
It rests collected in some gulled hole
Scoop'd by the sudden floods when winter's snow
Melts in confusion by a hasty thaw;
There bent in hopeful musings on the brink
They watch their floating corks that seldom sink,
Save when a wary roach or silver bream
Nibbles the worm as passing up the stream,
Just urging expectation's hopes to stay
To view the dodging cork, then slink away;
Still hopes keep burning with untir'd delight,
Still wobbling curves keep wavering like a bite:
If but the breezy wind their floats should spring,
And move the water with a troubling ring,
A captive fish still fills the anxious eyes
And willow-wicks lie ready for the prize;
Till evening gales awaken damp and chill,
And nip the hopes that morning suns instil;
And resting flies have tired their gauzy wing,
Nor longer tempt the watching fish to spring,
Who at the worm no nibbles more repeat,
But lunge from night in sheltering flag-retreat.
Then disappointed in their day's employ,
They seek amusement in a feebler joy.
Short is the sigh for fancies prov'd untrue:
With humbler hopes still pleasure they pursue
Where the rude oak-bridge scales the narrow pass,
Half hid in rustling reeds and scrambling grass,
Or stepping stones stride o'er the narrow sloughs
Which maidens daily cross to milk their cows;
There they in artless glee for minnows run,
And wade and dabble past the setting sun;
Chasing the struttle o'er the shallow tide,
And flat stones turning up where gudgeons hide.
All former hopes their ill success delay'd,
In this new change they fancy well repaid.
And thus they wade, and chatter o'er their joys
Till night, unlook'd-for, young success destroys,
Drives home the sons of solitude and streams,
And stops uncloy'd hope's ever-fresh'ning dreams.
They then, like school-boys that at truant play,
In sloomy fear lounge on their homeward way,
And inly tremble, as they gain the town,
Where chastisement awaits with many a frown,
And hazel twigs, in readiness prepar'd,
For their long absence bring a meet reward.

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