The Farmer’s Boy



Acorns. Hogs in the wood. Wheat-sowing. The Church. Village girls. The mad girl. the bird-boy’s hut. Disappointments; reflections, &c. Euston-hall. Fox-hunting. Old Trouncer, Long nights. A welcome to Winter.



Again, the year’s decline, midst storms and floods,
The thund’ring chase, the yellow fading woods,
Invite my song; that fain would boldly tell
Of upland coverts, and the echoing dell,
By turns resounding loud, at eve and morn5
The swineherd’s halloo, or the huntsman’s horn.
No more the fields with scatter’d grain supply
The restless wand’ring tenants of the Sty;
From oak to oak they run with eager haste,
And wrangling share the first delicious taste10
Of fallen Acorns; yet but thinly found
Till the strong gale have [1]  shook them to the ground.
It comes; and roaring woods obedient wave:
Their home well pleas’d the joint adventurers leave:
The trudging sow leads forth her numerous young,15
Playful, and white, and clean, the briars among,
Till briars and thorns increasing, fence them round,
Where last year’s mould’ring leaves bestrew the ground,
And o’er their heads, loud lash’d by furious squalls,
Bright from their cups the rattling treasure falls;20
Hot thirsty food; whence doubly sweet and cool
The welcome margin of some rush-grown pool,
The wild duck’s lonely haunt, whose jealous eye
Guards every point; who sits prepar’d to fly,
On the calm bosom of her little lake,25
Too closely screen’d for ruffian winds to shake;
And as the bold intruders press around,
At once she starts, and rises with a bound:
With bristles rais’d the sudden noise they hear,
And ludicrously wild, and wing’d with fear,30
The herd decamp [2]  with more than swinish speed,
And snorting dash through sedge, and rush, and reed:
Through tangling thickets headlong on they go,
Then stop, and listen for their fancied foe;
The hindmost still the growing panic spreads,35
Repeated fright [3]  the first alarm succeeds,
Till Folly’s wages, wounds and thorns, they reap:
Yet glorying in their fortunate escape,
Their groundless terrors by degrees soon cease,
And Night’s dark reign restores their wonted peace.40
For now the gale subsides, and from each bough
The roosting pheasant’s short but frequent crow
Invites to rest; and huddling side by side,
The herd in closest ambush seek [4]  to hide;
Seek [5]  some warm slope with shagged moss o’erspread,45
Dry’d leaves their copious covering and their bed.
In vain may Giles, through gath’ring glooms that fall,
And solemn silence, urge his piercing call:
Whole days and nights they tarry midst their store,
Nor quit the woods till oaks can yield no more.50
Beyond bleak Winter’s rage, beyond the Spring
That rolling Earth’s unvarying course will bring,
Who tills the ground looks on with mental eye,
And sees next Summer’s sheaves and cloudless sky;
And even now, whilst Nature’s beauty dies,55
Deposits Seed, and bids new harvests rise;
Seed well prepar’d and warm’d with glowing lime,
’Gainst earth-bred grubs, and cold, and lapse of time:
For searching frosts and various ills invade,
Whilst wint’ry months depress the springing blade.60
The plough moves heavily, and strong the soil,
And clogging harrows with augmented toil
Dive deep: and clinging, mixes with the mould
A fat’ning treasure from the nightly fold,
And all the cow-yard’s highly valu’d store,65
That late bestrew’d the blacken’d surface o’er.
No idling hours are here, when Fancy trims
Her dancing taper over outstretch’d limbs,
And in her thousand thousand colours drest,
Plays round the grassy couch of noontide rest:70
Here GILES for hours of indolence atones
With strong exertion, and with weary bones,
And knows no leisure; till the distant chime
Of Sabbath bells he hears at sermon time,
That down the brook sound sweetly in the gale,75
Or strike the rising hill, or skim the dale.
Nor his alone the sweets of ease to taste: [6] 
Kind rest extends to all;…save one poor beast,
That true to time and pace, is doom’d to plod,
To bring the Pastor to the House of God:80
Mean structure; where no bones [7]  of heroes lie!
The rude inelegance of poverty
Reigns here alone: else why that roof of straw?
Those narrow windows with the frequent flaw?
O’er whose low cells the dock and mallow spreads, [8] 85
And rampant nettles lift their spiry heads, [9] 
Whilst from the hollows of the tower on high
The grey-cap’d daws in saucy legions fly.
Round these lone walls assembling neighbours meet,
And tread departed friends beneath their feet;90
And new-brier’d graves, that prompt the secret sigh,
Shew [10]  each the spot where he himself must lie.
Midst [11]  timely greetings village news goes round,
Of crops late shorn, or crops that deck the ground;
Experienc’d ploughmen in the circle join;95
While sturdy boys, in feats of strength to shine,
With pride elate their young associates brave
To jump from hollow-sounding grave to grave;
Then close consulting, each his talent lends
To plan fresh sports when tedious service ends.100
Hither [12]  at times, with cheerfulness of soul,
Sweet village Maids from neighbouring hamlets stroll,
That like the light-heel’d does [13]  o’er lawns that rove,
Look shyly curious; rip’ning into love;
For love’s their errand: hence [14]  the tints that glow [15] 105
On either cheek, an [16]  heighten’d lustre know: [17] 
When, conscious of their charms, e’en Age looks sly,
And rapture beams from Youth’s observant eye. [18] 
The pride of such a party, Nature’s pride,
Was lovely Poll; [19]  who innocently try’d110
With hat of airy shape and ribbons gay,
Love to inspire, and stand in Hymen’s way:
But, ere her twentieth Summer could expand,
Or youth was render’d happy with her hand,
Her mind’s serenity was lost and [20]  gone,115
Her eye grew languid, and she wept alone;
Yet causeless seem’d her grief; for quick restrain’d,
Mirth follow’d loud, or indignation reign’d:
Whims wild and simple led her from her home,
The heath, the common, or the fields to roam:120
Terror and joy alternate rul’d her hours;
Now blithe she sung, and gather’d useless flow’rs;
Now pluck’d a tender twig from every bough,
To whip the hov’ring demons from her brow.
Ill-fated Maid! thy guiding spark is fled,125
And lasting wretchedness waits round thy bed…
Thy bed of straw! for mark, where even now
O’er their lost child afflicted parents bow;
Their woe she knows not, but perversely coy,
Inverted customs yield her [21]  sullen joy;130
Her midnight meals in secresy she takes,
Low mutt’ring to the moon, that rising breaks
Through night’s dark gloom: [22] …oh how much more forlorn
Her night, that knows of no returning dawn! [23] 
Slow from the threshold, once her infant seat,135
O’er the cold earth she crawls to her retreat;
Quitting the cot’s warm walls in filth [24]  to lie,
Where the swine grunting yields up half his sty; [25] 
The damp night air her shiv’ring limbs assails;
In dreams she moans, and fancied wrongs bewails.140
When morning wakes, none earlier rous’d than she,
When pendent drops fall glitt’ring from the tree;
But nought her rayless melancholy cheers,
Or sooths her breast, or stops her streaming tears.
Her matted locks unornamented flow;145
Clasping her knees, and waving to and fro;…
Her [26]  head bow’d down, her faded cheek to hide;…
A piteous mourner by the pathway side.
Some tufted molehill through the livelong day
She calls her throne; there weeps her life away:150
And oft the gaily passing stranger stays
His well-tim’d step, and takes a silent gaze,
Till sympathetic drops unbidden start,
And pangs quick springing muster round his heart;
And soft he treads with other gazers round,155
And fain would catch her sorrows plaintive sound:
One word alone is all that strikes the ear,
One short, pathetic, simple word,…‘Oh dear! [27] 
A thousand times repeated to the wind,
That wafts the sigh, but leaves the pang behind!160
For ever of the proffer’d parley shy,
She hears the unwelcome foot advancing nigh;
Nor quite unconscious of her wretched plight,
Gives one sad look, and hurries out of sight.…
Fair promis’d sunbeams of terrestrial bliss,165
Health’s gallant hopes,…and are ye sunk to this?
For in life’s road though thorns abundant grow,
There still are joys poor Poll [28]  can never know;
Joys which the gay companions of her prime
Sip, as they drift along the stream of time;170
At eve to hear beside their tranquil home
The lifted latch, that speaks the lover come:
That love matur’d, next [29]  playful on the knee
To press the velvet lip of infancy;
To stay the tottering step, the features trace;…175
Inestimable sweets of social peace!
O Thou, who bidst the vernal juices rise!
Thou, on whose blasts autumnal foliage flies!
Let Peace ne’er leave me, nor my heart grow cold,
Whilst life and sanity are mine to hold.180
Shorn of their flow’rs that shed th’ untreasur’d seed,
The withering pasture, and the fading mead,
Less tempting grown, diminish more and more,
The dairy’s pride; sweet Summer’s flowing store.
New cares succeed, and gentle duties press,185
Where the fire-side, a school of tenderness,
Revives the languid chirp, and warms the blood
Of cold-nipt weaklings of the latter brood,
That from the shell just bursting into day,
Through yard or pond pursue their vent’rous way.190
Far [30]  weightier cares and wider scenes expand;
What devastation marks the new-sown land!
‘From hungry woodland foes go, Giles, and guard
The rising wheat; ensure its great reward:
A future sustenance, a Summer’s pride,195
Demand thy vigilance: then be it try’d:
Exert thy voice, and wield thy shotless gun:
Go, tarry there from morn till setting sun.’
Keen blows the blast, or ceaseless rain descends;
The half-stript hedge a sorry shelter lends.200
O for a Hovel, e’er so small or low,
Whose roof, repelling winds and early snow,
Might bring home’s comforts fresh before his eyes!
No sooner thought, than see [31]  the structure rise,
In some sequester’d nook, embank’d around,205
Sods for its walls, and straw in burdens bound:
Dried fuel hoarded is his richest store,
And circling smoke obscures his little door;
Whence creeping forth, to duty’s call he yields,
And strolls the Crusoe of the lonely fields.210
On whitethorns tow’ring, and the leafless rose,
A frost-nipt feast in bright vermilion glows:
Where clust’ring sloes in glossy order rise,
He crops the loaded branch; a cumb’rous prize;
And o’er the flame the sputt’ring fruit he rests,215
Placing [32]  green sods to seat his coming guests;
His guests by promise; playmates young and gay:…
But ah! fresh pastimes lure their steps away!
He sweeps his hearth, and homeward looks in vain,
Till feeling Disappointment’s cruel pain,220
His fairy revels are exchang’d for rage,
His banquet marr’d, grown dull his hermitage.
The field becomes his prison, till on high
Benighted birds to shades and coverts fly.
Midst air, health, daylight, can he prisoner be?225
If fields are prisons, where is Liberty?
Here still she dwells, and here her votaries stroll;
But disappointed hope untunes the soul:
Restraints unfelt whilst hours of rapture flow,
When troubles press, to chains and barriers grow.230
Look then from trivial up to greater woes;
From the poor bird-boy with his roasted sloes,
To where the dungeon’d mourner heaves the sigh;
Where not one cheering sun-beam meets his eye.
Though ineffectual pity thine may be,235
No wealth, no pow’r, to set the captive free;
Though only to thy ravish’d sight is given
The golden path that Howard [33]  trod to heaven;
Thy slights can make the wretched more forlorn,
And deeper drive affliction’s barbed thorn.240
Say not, ‘I’ll come and cheer thy gloomy cell
With news of dearest friends; how good, how well:
I’ll be a joyful herald to thine heart:’
Then fail, and play the worthless trifler’s part,
To sip flat pleasures from thy glass’s brim,245
And waste the precious hour that’s due to him.
In mercy spare the base unmanly blow:
Where can he turn, to whom complain of you?
Back to past joys in vain his thoughts may stray,
Trace and retrace the beaten worn-out way,250
The rankling injury will pierce his breast,
And curses on thee break his midnight rest.
Bereft of song, and ever cheering green,
The soft endearments of the Summer scene,
New harmony pervades the solemn wood,255
Dear to the soul, and healthful to the blood:
For bold exertion follows on the sound
Of distant sportsmen, and the chiding hound;
First heard from kennel bursting, mad with joy,
Where smiling Euston boasts her good Fitzroy,260
Lord of pure alms, and gifts that wide extend;
The farmer’s patron, and the poor man’s friend:
Whose mansion glitt’ring [34]  with the eastern ray,
Whose elevated temple, points the way,
O’er slopes and lawns, the park’s extensive pride,265
To where the victims of the chace reside,
Ingulf’d in earth, in conscious safety warm,
Till lo! a plot portends their coming harm.
In earliest hours of dark unhooded [35]  morn, [36] 
Ere yet one rosy cloud bespeaks the dawn,270
Whilst far abroad the Fox pursues his prey,
He’s doom’d to risk the perils of the day,
From his strong hold block’d out; perhaps to bleed,
Or owe his life to fortune or to speed.
For now the pack, impatient rushing on,275
Range through the darkest coverts one by one;
Trace every spot; whilst down each noble glade
That guides the eye beneath a changeful shade,
The loit’ring sportsman feels th’ instinctive flame,
And checks his steed to mark the springing game.280
Midst intersecting cuts and winding ways
The huntsman cheers his dogs, and anxious strays [37] 
Where every narrow riding, even shorn,
Gives back the echo of his mellow horn:
Till fresh and lightsome, every power untried,285
The starting fugitive leaps by his side,
His lifted finger to his ear he plies,
And the view halloo bids a chorus rise
Of dogs quick-mouth’d, and shouts that mingle loud,
As bursting thunder rolls from cloud to cloud.290
With ears cropt short, [38]  and chest of vig’rous mould,
O’er ditch, o’er fence, unconquerably bold,
The shining courser lengthens every bound,
And his strong foot-locks suck the moisten’d ground,
As from the confines of the wood they pour,295
And joyous villages partake the roar.
O’er heath far stretch’d, or down, or valley low,
The stiff-limb’d peasant, glorying in the show,
Pursues in vain; where youth itself soon tires, [39] 
Spite of the transports that the chace inspires; [40] 300
For who unmounted long can charm the eye,
Or hear the music of the leading cry?
Poor faithful Trouncer! thou canst lead no more;
All thy fatigues and all thy triumphs o’er!
Triumphs of worth, whose honorary [41]  fame305
Was still to follow true the hunted game;
Beneath enormous oaks, Britannia’s boast,
In thick impenetrable coverts lost,
When the warm pack in fault’ring silence stood,
Thine was the note that rous’d the list’ning wood,310
Rekindling every joy with tenfold force,
Through all the mazes of the tainted course.
Still foremost thou the dashing stream to cross,
And tempt along the animated horse;
Foremost o’er fen or level mead to pass,315
And sweep the show’ring dew-drops from the grass;
Then bright emerging from the mist below
To climb the woodland hill’s exulting brow.
Pride of thy race! with worth far less than thine,
Full many human leaders [42]  daily shine!320
Less faith, less constancy, less gen’rous zeal!…
Then no disgrace mine [43]  humble verse shall feel,
Where not one lying line to riches bows, [44] 
Or poison’d sentiment [45]  from rancour flows; [46] 
Nor flowers are strewn [47]  around Ambition’s car:…325
An honest dog’s a nobler theme by far.
Each sportsman heard the tidings with a sigh,
When Death’s cold touch had stopt his tuneful cry;
And though high deeds, and fair exalted praise,
In memory liv’d, and flow’d in rustic lays,330
Short was the strain of monumental woe:
Foxes, rejoice! here buried lies your foe. [48] 
In safety hous’d, throughout Night’s length’ning reign.
The Cock sends forth a loud and piercing strain;
More frequent, as the glooms of midnight flee,335
And hours roll round, that brought him liberty,
When Summer’s early dawn, mild, clear, and bright,
Chased quick away the transitory night:…
Hours now in darkness veil’d; yet loud the scream
Of Geese impatient for the playful stream;340
And all the feather’d tribe imprison’d raise
Their morning notes of inharmonious praise;
And many a clamorous Hen and cockrel [49]  gay,
When daylight slowly through the fog breaks way,
Fly wantonly abroad: but ah, how soon345
The shades of twilight follow hazy noon,
Short’ning the busy day!…day that slides by
Amidst th’ unfinish’d toils of Husbandry;
Toils still each morn resum’d with double care,
To meet the icy terrors of the year;350
To meet the threats of Boreas undismay’d,
And Winter’s gathering frowns and hoary head.
Then welcome, old; welcome, ye snowy nights!
Heaven midst your rage shall mingle pure delights,
And confidence of hope the soul sustain,355
While devastation sweeps along the plain:
Nor shall the child of poverty despair,
But bless the Power that rules the changing year;
Assur’d,…though horrors round his cottage reign,…
That Spring will come, and Nature smile again. [50] 360


[1] Have] has 8th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[2] decamp] decamps fMS eng 776; fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[3] fright] frights fMS eng 776; fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[4] seek] seeks fMS eng 776; fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[5] Seek] Seeks fMS eng 776; fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[6] Nor . . . taste] Nor Giles {his} alone the sweets of leisure {ease to} taste fMS eng 776; Nor Giles alone the sweets of leisure taste fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[7] bones] dust {bones} fMS eng 776; dust fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[8] spreads] spread fMS Eng 776.1; 3rd and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[9] their spiry heads,] the spiry head fMS Eng 776.1; 3rd and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[10] Shew] Shows fMS eng 776; Show 8th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[11] Midst] 5th and later edns begin a new paragraph with this word; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[12] Hither] 8th and later edns begin a new paragraph with this word; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[13] does] Doe fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[14] hence] and {hence} fMS eng 776 BACK

[15] tints that glow] rose {tints} that blow {glow} fMS eng 776; rose that blow fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[16] an] a 8th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[17] an heightened lustre know] with {an} heightened lustre glow {know} fMS eng 776; with heightened lustre glow fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[18] fMS Eng 776.1 adds a note:] ‘It was about this spot that I made my longest rest in writing the Original MS. I had done it at various opportunities thus far, but wrote no more untill I had composed the remainder of Autumn, and gone through the Winter. Much has been said to me in consequence of its being publickly known by means of Mr Swan’s letter. But I must think that Memory is not task’d so hard in retaining what itself is giving birth to, as in taking up and retaining the Ideas or writings of another. The chain of connection so long ponder’d on, and so long rivetted in the mind, is the grand reservoir of Memory, and persued, brings the words, the musick, and all extraneous ornaments readily into the compass of the tongue. Memory, (if that is the wonder) certainly went much further; for the whole of the poem was, while it was printing, very perfectly at my tongue’s end. I remember repeating it during a walk to Rotherhithe, through Tooly Street and round by the Kent Road. At this present time I could by no means repeat the whole poem, though I can feel and remember where it was alter’d.’ BACK

[19] Poll] Ann Poems [Stereotype] and all post-1809 edns [fMS Eng 776, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th edns add note:] ‘Mary Rayner, of Ixworth Thorp’] in 9th and later edns the note is emended to: ‘The Author has since conversed with this unfortunate woman, and finds that her name is not Mary, but Ann Rayner, of Ixworth Thorp: she is very much recovered, and appears to have a true sense of her past calamity.’ BACK

[20] was lost and] her peace was 9th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[21] her] a {her} fMS Eng 776; a fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[22] gloom:] glooms; fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[23] dawn!] morn! 8th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[24] in filth] unhous’d 3rd and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[25] Where the swine grunting yields up half his sty] Or share the swine’s impure and narrow sty 3rd and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[26] Her] With {Her} fMS Eng 776 BACK

[27] fMS Eng 776.1 adds a note:] ‘I forget what critic it was who told me that Poll’s “one short word” is two!’ BACK

[28] Poll] Ann Poems [Stereotype] and all post 1809 edns BACK

[29] next] and {next} fMS Eng 776; and fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[30] Far] in 3rd and later edns, a new paragraph begins at this word; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[31] see] lo! fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[32] Placing] And place {Placing} fMS Eng 776; And place fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[33] [John Howard (1726?–1790), philanthropist and prison reformer.] BACK

[34] glitt’ring] glitters 5th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[35] unhooded] and hooded 5th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[36] fMS Eng 776.1 adds a note:] ‘The poem had gone through one or two Editions before it was observ’d, that, an unhooded morning was not dark, but light! The observation was made by the Revd Mr Fellows, now of Fakenham, July 1805.’ BACK

[37] strays] st{r}ays fMS Eng 776; stays fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[38] cropt short] erect 3rd and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] [fMS Eng 776.1 adds note:] ‘Sir Charles Bunbury justly observed to me, that to crop the ears of a Horse was as cruel as the practice of Docking, which I had condemned, and advised to alter it, which is done in the 2d Edition’ [actually done in 3rd edn]. BACK

[39] tires,] tire{s} fMS Eng 776; tire fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[40] inspires;] inspire{s} fMS Eng 776; inspire; fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[41] honorary] long excelling 5th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[42] human leaders] a human leader{s} fMS Eng 776; a human leader fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[43] mine] my fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[44] bows,] bow{s} fMS Eng 776; bow fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[45] sentiment] sentiments 9th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[46] flows;] flow{s} fMS Eng 776; flow fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[47] Nor flowers are strewn] Nor flowers bestrewing {are strewn} fMS Eng 776; No flowers bestrewed fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[48] [fMS Eng 776, fMS Eng 776.1 and all edns add note:] ‘Inscribed on a stone in Euston Park wall.’ [fMS Eng 776.1 adds:] ‘I had no doubts with respect to these being the words on the Stone; but I was not quite sure that the Dog’s name was “Trouncer”’. BACK

[49] cockrel] Capon {cockrel} fMS Eng 776; Capon fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[50] fMS Eng 776.1 adds a note:] ‘Composed between May and Nov 1797’. BACK