She threw a conker at his head,
“Boy,” she said “let’s battle.
Or else we girls shall count the dead
Before your weapons rattle.
The fields are ripe in rich array
And filled with lazy cattle,
Let’s give ‘em a good old fight today,
Boy,” she said “let’s battle.”
The prize agreed, the boundaries drawn
With graveyard in between,
The children charged the corpsy lawn
And battled fair and clean.
The girls had gathered prudently
The missiles of the trees,
And hurled the chestnuts vigorously
On cheeks and open knees.
The boys soon made a swift retreat;
Their leader, left alone,
Was marched before the tombstone seat
Which was the new queen’s throne.
She held her branchy sceptre high
And with a grin commanded.
A kiss, (as they’d agreed), the prize
She rightly now demanded.
The little lad screwed up his nose
And when the kiss was done,
He ran away to change his clothes
And curse the girl who’d won.
But she called bravely, as before,
“On this field I’ve held sway,
And since all’s fair in love and war,
In August heat the horseflies breed and bite
The flanks they lurk upon; a curling kite
Tricks the eye and flies her looping way
Then dives the height and drops to steal her prey.
A scarlet nose pokes out from shrouded den;
Hid from hound and filled with scent of hen,
And stirrup-high the barley ebbs and flows
Along the path; a pony deals the blows
That crumple flat the corn beneath his feet,
As perspiration bathes him in the heat.
All lazy sits the world as August air
Confounds the beasts that stir beyond the lair.
The heat increased, the farmers leave their chores
And rest awhile to sleep the scorching pause.
Yet in the calm an anger sits and brews
For nature knows the sun will soon refuse
His reign. The bastard winter then shall gloat
The isle is his and ringed with frozen moat;
The reapers in his wake shall make his war
And root aloft his father’s golden floor.
Thus earth abhors the sun; the lark that sings
Laments a world subjected by such kings;
And warmth is nothing, creatures mourn the beams
For summer sun they know, though constant seems,
Forgets the toils that winter-beasts abide,
And by and by shall toss his crown aside.
Thus in the midst of August horseflies bite,
Revenging on the flanks the faithless light.
Northamptonshire’s Speech to its Cousin Cumbria
(upon the suggestion that only the latter has the power to inspire)
The lines of peaks and poets soar
And seem to rise the higher
But words are worth their salt and more
In even the humblest shire.
Here are no piles of gnarly stone
Nor writhing roads between,
No osprey here who shrieks alone
No lake’s enchanted gleam.
Your wild things cling where mountains fall,
No rocky face the same,
Our land is low, our beasts are small
And all well-ploughed and tame.
Here pylons shepherd ambling fields
Adorned in golden fleece,
The trees with bending branches shield,
The Nene slips past in peace.
And only a madman’s halting feet
Disturb the country road.
Long gone is she he’s gone to meet,
Passing with papery load.
And highland queen regards the dell
Which she must always rue
Where axes and ambitions fell:
A mound, no more, in view.
And Naseby’s field in peaceful stretch
Must echo now and ever,
The screams of lord and lowly wretch,
The gunshots in the heather.
These shades make shift to linger still,
Around our mortal coil;
Where history lies in every hill
And memories trace the soil.
Then laud your might and heaven raise
Your peaks and poets higher
But Cumbria, reserve some praise
For even the humblest shire.