Make hay while the sun shines
Hot upon the breathless fields.
In the childhood of the summer,
The smell of wilted timothy and meadowsweet
and dust hangs heavy on the heated air
As the scythe goes swinging to and fro.
And each wide penduluming swing
That slices out a swath of grass
Is one swing closer to the bread,
And cheese and spring cooled ale
In the blessed oaken shade
That waits beyond the stacked stone wall
Into straw-hat shaded, sweaty ears.
The sisters following the scythe
With diligence and hay rakes
Tedding in the scyther’s wake,
Notice, smile, and nod in silent joy
As the rhythm of the scythe is checked,
The interrupted arc reset
To leave a cowlick tuft of grass unfelled,
And the mottled quail who sits within
Statue-still upon her nest,
For them to rake so carefully around.
The next day there is windrowing
And on the third day after scything,
The fallen hay will rise again,
Sun-dried, mounded up by rakes
And tossed up fork by fork
To the sister on the wain
Who piles the meadow’s scythe-shorn tresses
High above the wagon bed
With diligence and hay fork,
And levels out the load.
Anon, the great grey speckled horses
Slow and stop, forgetful of their task,
Distracted by a grassy tuft just out of reach
But “Walk on!” whets their memory,
Recalls them to the work at hand,
And wistfully they lean
Their great grey speckled shoulders
Once again into the harnesses.
And with a creak, a swish, a jingle,
They tauten up the traces and walk on.
Till finally, at long last,
The last long afternoon
Of this first haying of the year
Rolls gratefully into the evening,
The great grey speckled horses and their wain
Roll gratefully into the barnyard
Finally, at long last.
They stand together patiently,
Their great grey speckled heads
Bowed low in weary benediction,
As their daily bread is forked into the hayloft.
The rakes and forks are hung up in their places,
The emptied haywain rolled into the barn,
The great grey speckled horses curried, stalled and fed,
The heavy leather harnesses unbuckled and hung up,
And now the last of them, the wielder of the scythe
Still dripping from the pump,
Sits down and fills his plate.
“You’re downright daft, you know, boy.”
The old man shakes his head, bemused,
And passes down the plate of ham.
“Now, da,” the sisters chime in unison.
“Can we not do without that little bit of hay
To spare a mother and her babes.”
The first born, darling of his sisters, grins,
And helps himself to boiled tatties.
“Daft as a fox, you mean,”
The woman mutters, smiling wryly.
And then aloud she says,
“There’s rhubarb pie for afters.”
Poem © 2012 The Owl Underground
N.B., Every Sunday, as a writer’s exercise, The Mag posts a picture . This Sunday’s picture, #125, “Chilmark Hay” by Thomas Hart Benton, refers to Chilmark, MA, a town on Martha’s Vineyard. There’s only one horse and one farmer in the picture. He probably used a horse-drawn hay mower to mow the hay, and a horse-drawn tedder to windrow it. My poem refers to a team of horses, mowing hay with a scythe, and a family effort, as well as wildlife non-native to America. — but, that’s OK. I have a poetic license.