Poems on several occasions: By Stephen Duck.
Duck, Stephen, 1705-1756.
Page  10

The THRESHER's LABOUR.

To the Revd. Mr. STANLEY.
THE grateful Tribute of these rural Lays,
Which to her Patron's Hand the Muse conveys,
Deign to accept: 'Tis just she Tribute bring
To him, whose Bounty gives her Life to sing;
To him, whose gen'rous Favours tune her Voice;
And bid her, 'midst her Poverty, rejoice.
Inspir'd by these, she dares herself prepare,
To sing the Toils of each revolving Year;
Those endless Toils, which always grow anew,
And the poor Thresher's destin'd to pursue:
Ev'n these, with Pleasure, can the Muse rehearse,
When you and Gratitude demand her Verse.
Page  11
SOON as the golden Harvest quits the Plain,
And CERES' Gifts reward the Farmer's Pain;
What Corn each Sheaf will yield, intent to hear,
And guess from thence the Profits of the Year,
He calls his Reapers forth: Around we stand,
With deep Attention, waiting his Command.
To each our Task he readily divides,
And pointing, to our diff'rent Stations guides.
As he directs, to distant Barns we go;
Here two for Wheat, and there for Barley two.
But first, to shew what he expects to find,
These Words, or Words like these, disclose his Mind:
" So dry the Corn was carry'd from the Field,
" So easily 'twill thresh, so well 'twill yield;
" Sure large Days-works I well may hope for now:
" Come, strip and try; let's see what you can do."
Page  12
DIVESTED of our Cloathes, with Flail in Hand,
At proper Distance, Front to Front we stand:
And first the Threshal's gently swung, to prove
Whether with just Exactness it will move:
That once secure, we swiftly whirl them round;
From the strong Planks our Crab-tree Staves rebound,
And echoing Barns return the rattling Sound.
Now in the Air our knotty Weapons fly,
And now with equal Force descend from high;
Down one, one up, so well they keep the Time,
The CYCLOPS' Hammers could not truer chime;
Nor with more heavy Strokes could Aetna groan,
When VULCAN forg'd the Arms for THETIS' Son.
In briny Streams our Sweat descends apace,
Drops from our Locks, or trickles down our Face.
No Intermission in our Work we know;
The noisy Threshal must for ever go.
Page  13 Their Master absent, others safely play;
The sleeping Threshal does itself betray.
Nor yet, the tedious Labour to beguile,
And make the passing Minutes sweetly smile,
Can we, like Shepherds, tell a merry Tale;
The Voice is lost, drown'd by the louder Flail.
But we may think—Alas! what pleasing thing,
Here, to the Mind, can the dull Fancy bring?
Our Eye beholds no pleasing Object here,
No chearful Sound diverts our list'ning Ear.
The Shepherd well may tune his Voice to sing,
Inspir'd with all the Beauties of the Spring.
No Fountains murmur here, no Lambkins play,
No Linnets warble, and no Fields look gay;
'Tis all a gloomy, melancholy Scene,
Fit only to provoke the Muse's Spleen.
When sooty Pease we thresh, you scarce can know
Our native Colour, as from Work we go.
Page  14 The Sweat, the Dust, and suffocating Smoak,
Make us so much like Ethiopians look,
We scare our Wives, when Ev'ning brings us home;
And frighted Infants think the Bugbear come.
Week after Week, we this dull Task pursue,
Unless when winn'wing Days produce a new:
A new, indeed, but frequently a worse!
The Threshal yields but to the Master's Curse.
He counts the Bushels, counts how much a Day;
Then swears we've idled half our Time away:
" Why, look ye, Rogues, d'ye think that this will do?
" Your Neighbours thresh as much again as you."
Now in our Hands we wish our noisy Tools,
To drown the hated Names of Rogues and Fools.
But wanting these, we just like School-boys look,
When angry Masters view the blotted Book:
They cry, "their Ink was faulty, and their Pen;"
We, "the Corn threshes bad, 'twas cut too green."
Page  15
BUT soon as Winter hides his hoary Head,
And Nature's Face is with new Beauty spread;
The lovely Spring appears, refreshing Show'rs
New cloath the Field with Grass, and blooming Flow'rs.
Next her, the rip'ning Summer presses on,
And SOL begins his longest Race to run.
Before the Door our welcome Master stands;
Tells us, the ripen'd Grass requires our Hands.
The grateful Tidings presently imparts
Life to our Looks, and Spirits to our Hearts.
We wish the happy Season may be fair;
And, joyful, long to breathe in op'ner Air.
This Change of Labour seems to give such Ease,
With Thoughts of Happiness ourselves we please.
But, ah! how rarely's Happiness complete!
There's always Bitter mingled with the Sweet.
Page  16 When first the Lark sings Prologue to the Day,
We rise, admonish'd by his early Lay;
This new Employ with eager Haste to prove,
This new Employ, become so much our Love.
Alas! that human Joys should change so soon!
Our Morning Pleasure turns to Pain at Noon.
The Birds salute us, as to Work we go,
And with new Life our Bosoms seem to glow.
On our right Shoulder hangs the crooked Blade,
The Weapon destin'd to uncloath the Mead:
Our left supports the Whetstone, Scrip, and Beer;
This for our Scythes, and these ourselves to chear.
And now the Field, design'd to try our Might,
At length appears, and meets our longing Sight.
The Grass and Ground we view with careful Eyes,
To see which way the best Advantage lies;
And, Hero-like, each claims the foremost Place.
At first our Labour seems a sportive Race:
Page  17 With rapid Force our sharpen'd Blades we drive,
Strain ev'ry Nerve, and Blow for Blow we give.
All strive to vanquish, tho' the Victor gains
No other Glory, but the greatest Pains.
BUT when the scorching Sun is mounted high,
And no kind Barns with friendly Shade are nigh;
Our weary Scythes entangle in the Grass,
While Streams of Sweat run trickling down apace.
Our sportive Labour we too late lament;
And wish that Strength again, we vainly spent.
THUS, in the Morn, a Courser have I seen
With headlong Fury scour the level Green;
Or mount the Hills, if Hills are in his Way,
As if no Labour could his Fire allay;
Till PHOEBUS, shining with meridian Heat,
Has bath'd his panting Sides in briny Sweat:
Page  18 The lengthen'd Chace scarce able to sustain,
He measures back the Hills and Dales with Pain.
WITH Heat and Labour tir'd, our Scythes we quit,
Search out a shady Tree, and down we sit:
From Scrip and Bottle hope new Strength to gain;
But Scrip and Bottle too are try'd in vain.
Down our parch'd Throats we scarce the Bread can get;
And, quite o'erspent with Toil, but faintly eat.
Nor can the Bottle only answer all;
The Bottle and the Beer are both too small.
Time flows: Again we rise from off the Grass;
Again each Mower takes his proper Place;
Not eager now, as late, our Strength to prove;
But all contented regular to move.
We often whet, and often view the Sun;
As often wish, his tedious Race was run.
Page  19 At length he veils his purple Face from Sight,
And bids the weary Labourer Good-night.
Homewards we move, but spent so much with Toil,
We slowly walk, and rest at ev'ry Stile.
Our good expecting Wives, who think we stay,
Got to the Door, soon eye us in the Way.
Then from the Pot the Dumplin's catch'd in haste,
And homely by its Side the Bacon plac'd.
Supper and Sleep by Morn new Strength supply;
And out we set again, our Work to try;
But not so early quite, nor quite so fast,
As, to our Cost, we did the Morning past.
SOON as the rising Sun has drank the Dew,
Another Scene is open to our View:
Our Master comes, and at his Heels a Throng
Of prattling Females, arm'd with Rake and Prong;
Page  20 Prepar'd, whilst he is here, to make his Hay;
Or, if he turns his Back, prepar'd to play:
But here, or gone, sure of this Comfort still;
Here's Company, so they may chat their Fill.
Ah! were their Hands so active as their Tongues,
How nimbly then would move the Rakes and Prongs?
THE Grass again is spread upon the Ground,
Till not a vacant Place is to be found;
And while the parching Sun-beams on it shine,
The Hay-makers have Time allow'd to dine.
That soon dispatch'd, they still sit on the Ground;
And the brisk Chat, renew'd, afresh goes round.
All talk at once; but seeming all to fear,
That what they speak, the rest will hardly hear;
Till by degrees so high their Notes they strain,
A Stander by can nought distinguish plain.
Page  21 So loud's their Speech, and so confus'd their Noise,
Scarce puzzled ECHO can return the Voice.
Yet, spite of this, they bravely all go on;
Each scorns to be, or seem to be, outdone.
Meanwhile the changing Sky begins to lour,
And hollow Winds proclaim a sudden Show'r:
The tattling Crowd can scarce their Garments gain,
Before descends the thick impetuous Rain;
Their noisy Prattle all at once is done,
And to the Hedge they soon for Shelter run.
THUS have I seen, on a bright Summer's Day,
On some green Brake, a Flock of Sparrows play;
From Twig to Twig, from Bush to Bush they fly;
And with continu'd Chirping fill the Sky:
But, on a sudden, if a Storm appears,
Their chirping Noise no longer dins your Ears:
Page  22 They fly for Shelter to the thickest Bush;
There silent sit, and All at once is hush.
BUT better Fate succeeds this rainy Day,
And little Labour serves to make the Hay.
Fast as 'tis cut, so kindly shines the Sun,
Turn'd once or twice, the pleasing Work is done.
Next Day the Cocks appear in equal Rows,
Which the glad Master in safe Ricks bestows.
THE spacious Fields we now no longer range;
And yet, hard Fate! still Work for Work we change.
Back to the Barns we hastily are sent,
Where lately so much Time we pensive spent:
Not pensive now, we bless the friendly Shade;
And to avoid the parching Sun are glad.
Yet little Time we in the Shade remain,
Before our Master calls us forth again;
Page  23 And says, "For Harvest now yourselves prepare;
" The ripen'd Harvést now demands your Care.
" Get all things ready, and be quickly drest;
" Early next Morn I shall disturb your Rest."
Strict to his Word! for scarce the Dawn appears,
Before his hasty Summons fills our Ears.
His hasty Summons we obey; and rise,
While yet the Stars are glimm'ring in the Skies.
With him our Guide we to the Wheat-field go,
He to appoint, and we the Work to do.
YE Reapers, cast your Eyes around the Field;
And view the various Scenes its Beauties yield:
Then look again, with a more tender Eye,
To think how soon it must in Ruin lie!
For, once set in, where-e'er our Blows we deal,
There's no resisting of the well-whet Steel:
Page  24 But here or there, where-e'er our Course we bend,
Sure Desolation does our Steps attend.
THUS, when Arabia's Sons, in Hopes of Prey,
To some more fertile Country take their Way,
How beauteous all Things in the Morn appear!
There rural Cots, and pleasant Villa's here!
So many grateful Objects meet the Sight,
The ravish'd Eye could willing gaze till Night.
But long ere then, where-e'er their Troops have past,
These pleasing Prospects lie a gloomy Waste.
THE Morning past, we sweat beneath the Sun;
And but uneasily our Work goes on.
Before us we perplexing Thistles find,
And Corn blown adverse with the ruffling Wind.
Behind our Master waits; and if he spies
One charitable Ear, he grudging cries,
Page  25 " Ye scatter half your Wages o'er the Land."
Then scrapes the Stubble with his greedy Hand.
LET those who feast at Ease on dainty Fare,
Pity the Reapers, who their Feasts prepare:
For Toils scarce ever ceasing press us now;
Rest never does, but on the Sabbath, show;
And barely that our Masters will allow.
Think what a painful Life we daily lead;
Each Morning early rise, go late to Bed:
Nor, when asleep, are we secure from Pain;
We then perform our Labours o'er again:
Our mimic Fancy ever restless seems;
And what we act awake, she acts in Dreams.
Hard Fate! Our Labours ev'n in Sleep don't cease;
Scarce HERCULES e'er felt such Toils as these!
Page  26
BUT soon we rise the bearded Crop again,
Soon PHOEBUS' Rays well dry the golden Grain.
Pleas'd with the Scene, our Master glows with Joy;
Bids us for Carrying all our Force employ;
When strait Confusion o'er the Field appears,
And stunning Clamours fill the Workmens Ears;
The Bells and clashing Whips alternate sound,
And rattling Waggons thunder o'er the Ground.
The Wheat, when carry'd, Pease, and other Grain,
We soon secure, and leave a fruitless Plain;
In noisy Triumph the last Load moves on,
And loud Huzza's proclaim the Harvest done.
OUR Master, joyful at the pleasing Sight,
Invites us all to feast with him at Night.
A Table plentifully spread we find,
And Jugs of humming Ale, to chear the Mind;
Page  27 Which he, too gen'rous, pushes round so fast,
We think no Toils to come, nor mind the past.
But the next Morning soon reveals the Cheat,
When the same Toils we must again repeat;
To the same Barns must back again return,
To labour there for Room for next Year's Corn.
THUS, as the Year's revolving Course goes round,
No Respite from our Labour can be found:
Like SISYPHUS, our Work is never done;
Continually rolls back the restless Stone.
New-growing Labours still succeed the past;
And growing always new, must always last.