Countryside Around Dixton Manor, Circa 1715 by Ken Smith
Now strike up drum
cum harvest man cum.
Blowe horne or sleapers
and cheere up thy reapers
Layer under layer under the paintwork
England is making its Midsummer hayó
the dancing morris, pipelads and drum,
scythemen and rakers, cockers and carters
and centrefield my lord with his ladies
riding where now the pylon hums
with its wires over spring wheat
through the early morning mist.
These are the same hedgebacks,
same lie to the landscape, Mickle Mead,
Barrowdine, Harp Field and Sausage
still here though the names gone now.
In oils, unsigned, anonymous, a jobber
moving through landscape, used maybe
the wide angle lens of the camera oscura
for this sweep of a corner of Gloustershire,
back when all was thought well enough,
and nothing would change beyond thisó
these peasants sweating in harvest
content dreaming brown ale and a fumble
among the haycocks, and the dancers dance off
to their drink and their shillings. My lord lies now
and since and soon and thereafter in Alderton
in St Mary of Antioch, long dead.
Long gone, nameless maids in a row,
long curve of the back of 23 men
in a Mexican wave of swung scythes
to their lost graves. Two gossips
by the gate that is still a gate
maybe went for infantry, and the pipeboy
shipped out to the far world, most
stayed, went hungry, died anyway.
The paintingís a lie, the landscape true
where the field keeps its shape. Everything
beyond this moment is yet to happen.
Everyone here is part of the dust now.
If my heart aches itís for this
though none of itís true:
the world we have lost never was
so we never lost it:
glitter of horse brass, bells
rolling over the evening:
all my lordís dream of himself
in a hired manís painting:
same tale then as now
and this has not changed either:
the enrichment of the rich,
impoverishment of the poor.
None but the reaper
will come to your door.
[Countryside around Dixton Manor is the title of a huge painting by an anonymous artist, dated circa 1715, on view in Cheltenham Art Gallery.
The harvest verse is from Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, 1580, by Thomas Tusser, published by OUP, 1984]