The Farmer’s Boy



Tenderness to cattle. Frozen turnips. The cow-yard. Night. The farm-house. Fire-side. Farmer’s advice and instruction. Nightly cares of the stable. Dobbin. The post-horse. Sheep-stealing dogs. Walks occasioned thereby. The ghost. Lamb time. Returning Spring. Conclusion.



With kindred pleasures mov’d, and cares opprest;
Sharing alike our weariness and rest;
Who lives the daily partner of our hours,
Through every change of heat, and frost, and show’rs;
Partakes our cheerful meals, partaking first5
In mutual labour and in mutual [1]  thirst; [2] 
The kindly intercourse will ever prove
A bond of amity and social love.
To more than man this generous warmth extends,
And oft the team and shiv’ring herd befriends;10
Tender solicitude the bosom fills,
And Pity executes what Reason wills:
Youth learns compassion’s tale from every tongue,
And flies to aid the helpless and the young;
When [3]  now, unsparing as the scourge of war,15
Blasts follow blasts, and groves dismantled roar.
Around their home the storm-pinch’d [4]  Cattle lows, [5] 
No nourishment in frozen pastures grows;
Yet frozen pastures every morn resound
With fair abundance thund’ring to the ground.20
For though on hoary twigs no buds peep out,
And e’en the hardy bramble [6]  cease to sprout,
Beneath dread Winter’s level sheets of snow
The sweet nutritious Turnip deigns to grow.
Till now imperious want and wide-spread dearth25
Bid Labour claim her treasures from the earth.
On Giles, and such as Giles, the labour falls,
To strew the frequent load where hunger calls.
On driving gales sharp hail indignant flies,
And [7]  sleet, more irksome still, assails his eyes;30
Snow clogs his feet; or if no snow is seen,
The field with all its juicy store to screen,
Deep goes the frost, till every root is found
A rolling mass of ice upon the ground.
No tender ewe can break her nightly fast,35
Nor heifer strong begin the cold repast,
Till Giles with pond’rous beetle [8]  foremost go,
And scatt’ring splinters fly at every blow;
When pressing round him, eager for the prize,
From their mixt breath warm exhalations rise.40
If now in beaded rows drops [9]  deck the spray,
While Phoebus [10]  grants a momentary ray,
Let but a cloud’s broad shadow intervene,
And stiffen’d into gems the drops are seen;
And down the furrow’d oak’s broad southern side45
Streams of dissolving rime no longer glide.
Though Night approaching bids for rest [11]  prepare,
Still the flail echoes through the frosty air,
Nor stops till deepest shades of darkness come,
Sending at length the weary laborer home.50
From him, with bed and nightly food supplied,
Throughout the yard, hous’d round on every side,
Deep-plunging Cows their rustling feast enjoy,
And snatch sweet mouthfuls from the passing boy,
Who moves unseen beneath his trailing load,55
Fills the tall racks, and leaves a scatter’d road;
Where oft the swine from ambush warm and dry
Bolt out, and scamper headlong to their [12]  sty,
When Giles with well-known voice, already there,
Deigns them a portion of his evening care.60
Him, though the cold may pierce, and storms molest,
Succeeding hours shall cheer with warmth and rest:
Gladness to spread, and raise the grateful smile,
He hurls the faggot bursting from the pile,
And many a log and rifted trunk conveys,65
To heap the fire, and to [13]  extend the blaze [14] 
That quiv’ring strong through every opening [15]  flies,
Whilst smoaky [16]  columns unobstructed rise.
For the rude architect, unknown to fame,
(Nor symmetry nor elegance his aim)70
Who spread his floors of solid oak on high,
On beams rough-hewn, from age to age that lie,
Bade his wide Fabric unimpair’d sustain
Pomona’s [17]  store, and cheese, and golden grain;
Bade from its central base, capacious laid,75
The well-wrought chimney rear its lofty head;
Where since hath many a savoury ham been stor’d,
And tempests howl’d, and Christmas gambols roar’d.
Flat on the hearth the glowing embers lie,
And flames reflected dance in every eye:80
There the long billet, forc’d at last to bend,
While frothing sap gushes [18]  at either end,
Throws round its welcome heat:…the ploughman smiles,
And oft the joke runs hard on sheepish Giles,
Who sits joint tenant of the corner-stool,85
The converse sharing, though in duty’s school;
For now attentively ’tis his to hear
Interrogations from the Master’s chair.
Left ye your bleating charge, when daylight fled,
Near where the hay-stack lifts its snowy head?90
Whose fence of bushy furze, so close and warm,
May stop the slanting bullets of the storm.
For, hark! it blows; a dark and dismal night:
Heaven guide the trav’eller’s fearful steps aright!
Now from the woods, mistrustful and sharp-ey’d,95
The Fox in silent darkness seems to glide,
Stealing around us, list’ning as he goes,
If chance the Cock or stamm’ring capon [19]  crows,
Or Goose, or nodding Duck, should darkling cry,
As if appriz’d of lurking danger nigh:100
Destruction waits them, Giles, if e’er you fail
To bolt their doors against the driving gale.
Strew’d you (still mindful of the unshelter’d head)
Burdens of straw, the cattle’s welcome bed?
Thine heart should feel, what thou may’st hourly see,105
That duty’s basis is humanity.
Of pain’s unsavoury cup though thou may’st taste,
(The wrath of Winter from the bleak north-east,)
Thine utmost suff’rings in the coldest day
A period terminates, and joys repay.110
Perhaps e’en now, whilst here those joys we boast,
Full many a bark rides down the neighb’ring coast,
Where the high northern waves tremendous roar,
Drove down by blasts from Norway’s icy shore.
The Sea-boy there, less fortunate than thou,115
Feels all thy pains in all the gusts [20]  that blow;
His freezing hands now drench’d, now dry, by turns;
Now lost, now seen, the distant light that burns,
On some tall cliff uprais’d, a flaming guide,
That throws its friendly radiance o’er the tide.120
His labours cease not with declining day,
But toils and perils mark his watry way;
And whilst in peaceful dreams secure we lie,
The ruthless whirlwinds rage along the sky,
Round his head whistling;…and shalt thou repine,125
Whilst this protecting roof still shelters thine?’
Mild, as the vernal show’r, his words prevail,
And aid the moral precept of his tale:
His wond’ring hearers learn, and ever keep
These first ideas of the restless deep;130
And, as the opening mind a circuit tries,
Present felicities [21]  in value rise.
Increasing pleasures every hour they find,
The warmth more precious, and the shelter kind;
Warmth that long reigning bids the eyelids close,135
As through the blood its balmy influence goes,
When the cheer’d heart forgets fatigues and cares,
And drowsiness alone dominion bears.
Sweet then the ploughman’s slumbers, hale and young,
When the last topic dies upon his tongue;140
Sweet then the bliss his transient dreams inspire,
Till chilblains wake him, or the snapping fire:
He starts, and ever thoughtful of his team,
Along the glitt’ring snow a feeble gleam
Shoots from his lantern, as he yawning goes145
To add fresh comforts to their night’s repose;
Diffusing fragrance as their food he moves,
And pats the jolly sides of those he loves.
Thus full replenish’d, perfect ease possest,
From night till morn alternate food and rest,150
No rightful cheer withheld, no sleep debar’d,
Their [22]  each day’s labour brings its sure reward.
Yet when from plough or lumb’ring cart set free,
They taste awhile the sweets of liberty:
E’en sober Dobbin lifts his clumsy heels [23] 155
And kicks, disdainful of the dirty wheels; [24] 
But soon, his frolic ended, yields again
To trudge the road, and wear the clinking chain.
Short-sighted Dobbin!…thou canst only see
The trivial hardships that encompass thee:160
Thy chains were freedom, and thy toils repose,
Could the poor post-horse tell thee all his woes;
Shew thee his bleeding shoulders, and unfold
The dreadful anguish he endures for gold:
Hir’d at each call of business, lust, or rage,165
That prompt the trav’eller on from stage to stage.
Still on his strength depends their boasted speed;
For them his limbs grow weak, his bare ribs bleed;
And though he groaning quickens at command,
Their extra shilling in the rider’s hand170
Becomes his bitter scourge:…’tis he must feel
The double efforts of the lash and steel;
Till when, up-hill, the destin’d inn he gains,
And trembling under complicated pains,
Prone from his nostrils, darting on the ground,175
His breath emitted floats in clouds around:
Drops chase each other down his chest and sides,
And spatter’d mud his native colour hides:
Through his swoln veins the boiling torrent flows,
And every nerve a separate torture knows.180
His harness loos’d, he welcomes eager-eyed
The pail’s full draught that quivers by his side;
And joys to see the well-known stable door,
As the starv’d mariner the friendly shore.
Ah, well for him if here his suff’rings ceas’d,185
And ample hours of rest his pains appeas’d!
But rous’d again, and sternly bade to rise,
And shake refreshing slumber from his eyes,
Ere his exhausted spirits can return,
Or through his frame reviving ardour burn,190
Come forth he must, though limping, maim’d, and sore;
He hears the whip; the chaise is at the door:…
The collar tightens, and again he feels
His half-heal’d wounds inflam’d; again the wheels
With tiresome sameness in his ears resound,195
O’er blinding dust, or miles of flinty ground.
Thus nightly robb’d, and injur’d day by day,
His piece-meal murd’rers wear his life away.
What say’st thou, Dobbin? what though hounds await
With open jaws the moment of thy fate200
No better fate attends his public race;
His life is misery, and his end disgrace.
Then freely bear thy burden to the mill,
Obey but one short law,…thy driver’s will.
Affection, to thy memory ever true,205
Shall boast of mighty loads that Dobbin drew;
And back to childhood shall the mind with pride
Recount thy gentleness in many a ride
To pond, or field, or village fair, when thou
Held’st [25]  high thy braided mane and comely brow;210
And oft the Tale shall rise to homely fame
Upon thy gen’rous spirit and thy name.
Though faithful to a proverb, we regard
The midnight chieftain of the farmer’s yard,
Beneath whose guardianship all hearts rejoice,215
Woke by the echo of his hollow voice;
Yet as the Hound may fault’ring quit the pack,
Snuff the foul scent, and hasten yelping back;
And e’en the docile Pointer know disgrace,
Thwarting the gen’ral instinct of his race;220
E’en so the Mastiff, or the meaner Cur,
At times [26]  will from the path of duty err,
(A pattern of fidelity by day;
By night a murderer, lurking for his prey;)
And round the pastures or the fold will creep,225
And, coward-like, attack the peaceful sheep:
Alone the wanton mischief he pursues,
Alone in reeking blood his jaws embrues;
Chasing amain his fright’ned victims round,
Till death in wild confusion strews the ground;230
Then wearied out, to kennel sneaks away,
And licks his guilty paws till break of day.
The deed discover’d, and the news once spread,
Vengeance hangs o’er the unknown culprit’s head,
And careful Shepherds extra hours bestow235
In patient watchings for the common foe;
A foe most dreaded now, when rest and peace
Should wait the season of the flock’s increase.
In part these nightly terrors to dispel,
Giles, ere he sleeps, his little Flock must tell.240
From the fire-side with many a [27]  shrug he hies,
Glad if the full-orb’d Moon salute [28]  his eyes,
And through the unbroken [29]  stillness of the night
Shed on his path her beams of cheering light.
With saunt’ring step he climbs the distant stile,245
Whilst all around him wears a placid smile;
There views the white-rob’d clouds in clusters driv’n,
And all the glorious pageantry of heav’n.
Low, on the utmost bound’ry of the sight,
The rising vapours catch the silver light;250
Thence Fancy measures, as they parting fly,
Which first will throw its shadow on the eye,
Passing the source of light; and thence away,
Succeeded quick by brighter still than they.
For [30]  yet above these wafted clouds are seen255
(In a remoter sky, still more serene,)
Others, detach’d in ranges through the air,
Spotless as snow, and countless as they’re fair;
Scatter’d immensely wide from east to west,
The beauteous semblance of a Flock at rest.260
These, to the raptur’d mind, aloud proclaim
Their Mighty Shepherd’s everlasting Name.
Whilst [31]  thus the loit’rer’s utmost stretch of soul
Climbs the still clouds, or passes [32]  those that roll,
And loos’d Imagination soaring goes265
High o’er his home, and all his little woes,
Time [33]  glides away; neglected Duty calls:
At once from plains of light to earth he falls,
And down a narrow lane, well known by day,
With all his speed pursues his sounding way,270
In thought still half absorb’d, and chill’d with cold;
When, lo! an object frightful to behold;
A grisly Spectre, cloth’d in silver-grey,
Around whose feet the waving shadows play,
Stands in his path!…He stops, and not a breath275
Heaves from his heart, that sinks almost to death.
Loud the owl halloos o’er his head unseen;
All else is silent, dismally serene:
Some prompt ejaculation, whisper’d low,
Yet bears him up against the threat’ning foe;280
And thus poor Giles, though half inclin’d to fly,
Mutters his doubts, and strains his stedfast eye.
‘’Tis not my crimes thou com’st here to reprove;
No murders stain my soul, no perjur’d love:
If thou’rt indeed what here thou seem’st to be,285
Thy dreadful mission cannot reach to me.
By parents taught still to mistrust mine eyes,
Still to approach each object of surprise,
Lest Fancy’s formful visions should deceive
In moon-light paths, or glooms of falling eve,290
This then’s the moment when my heart [34]  should try
To scan thy motionless deformity;
But oh, the fearful task! yet well I know
An aged ash, with many a spreading bough,
(Beneath whose leaves I’ve found a Summer’s bow’r,295
Beneath whose trunk I’ve weather’d many a show’r,)
Stands singly down this solitary way,
But far beyond where now my footsteps stay.
’Tis true, thus far I’ve come with heedless haste;
No reck’ning kept, no passing objects trac’d:…300
And can I then have reach’d that very tree?
Or is its reverend form assum’d by thee?’
The happy thought alleviates his pain:
He creeps another step; then stops again;
Till slowly, as his noiseless feet draw near,305
Its perfect lineaments at once appear;
Its crown of shiv’ring ivy whispering peace,
And its white bark that fronts the moon’s pale face.
Now, whilst his blood mounts upward, now he knows
The solid gain that from conviction flows;310
And strengthen’d Confidence shall hence fulfill
(With conscious Innocence more valued still)
The dreariest task that winter nights can bring,
By church-yard dark, or grove, or fairy ring;
Still buoying up the timid mind of youth,315
Till loit’ring Reason hoists the scale of Truth.
With these blest guardians Giles his course pursues,
Till numbering his heavy-sided ewes,
Surrounding stillness tranquilize his breast,
And shape the dreams that wait his hours of rest.320
As when retreating tempests we behold,
Whose skirts at length the azure sky unfold,
And full of murmurings and mingled wrath,
Slowly unshroud the smiling face of earth,
Bringing the bosom joy: so Winter flies!…325
And see [35]  the Source of Life and Light uprise!
A height’ning arch o’er southern hills he bends;
Warm on the cheek the slanting beam descends,
And gives the reeking mead a brighter hue,
And draws the modest primrose bud to view.330
Yet frosts succeed, and winds impetuous rush,
And hail-storms rattle through the budding bush;
And night-fall’n Lambs require the shepherd’s care,
And teeming Ewes, [36]  that still their burdens bear;
Beneath whose sides tomorrow’s dawn may see335
The milk-white strangers [37]  bow the trembling knee;
At whose first birth [38]  the pow’rful instinct’s seen
That fills with champions the daisied green:
For ewes that stood aloof with fearful eye,
With stamping foot now men and dogs defy,340
And obstinately faithful to their young,
Guard their first steps to join the bleating throng.
But casualties and death from damps and cold
Will still attend the well-conducted fold:
Her tender offspring dead, the dam aloud345
Calls, and runs wild amidst the unconscious crowd:
And orphan’d sucklings raise the piteous cry;
No wool to warm them, no defenders nigh.
And must her streaming milk then flow in vain?
Must unregarded innocence [39]  complain?350
No;…ere this strong solicitude subside,
Maternal [40]  fondness may be fresh apply’d,
And the adopted stripling still may find
A parent most assiduously kind.
For this he’s doom’d awhile disguis’d to range,355
(For fraud or force must work the wish’d-for change;)
For this his predecessor’s skin he wears,
Till cheated into tenderness and cares,
The unsuspecting dam, contented grown,
Cherish and guard the fondling as her own.360
Thus all by turns to fair perfection rise;
Thus twins are parted to increase their size:
Thus instinct yields as interest points the way,
Till the bright flock, augmenting every day,
On sunny hills and vales of springing flow’rs365
With ceaseless clamour greet the vernal hours.
The humbler Shepherd here with joy beholds
The approv’d economy of crowded folds,
And, in his small contracted round of cares,
Adjusts the practice of each hint he hears:370
For Boys with emulation learn to glow,
And boast their pastures, and their healthful show
Of well-grown Lambs, the glory of the Spring;
And field to field in competition bring.
E’en Giles, for all his cares and watchings past,375
And all his contests with the wintry blast,
Claims a [41]  full share of that sweet praise bestow’d
By gazing neighbours, when along the road,
Or village green, his curly-coated throng
Suspends the chorus of the spinner’s song;380
When Admiration’s unaffected grace
Lisps from the tongue, and beams in every face:
Delightful moments!… Sunshine, Health, and Joy,
Play round, and cheer the elevated Boy!
Another Spring!’ his heart exulting cries;385
Another Year! with promis’d blessings rise!…
Eternal Power! from whom those blessings flow,
Teach me still more to wonder, more to know:
Seed-time and Harvest let me see again;
Wander the leaf-strewn wood, the frozen plain:390
Let the first Flower, corn-waving Field, Plain, Tree, [42] 
Here round my home, still lift my soul to Thee;
And let me ever, midst thy bounties, raise
An humble note of thankfulness and praise!’— [43] 

April 22, 1798.


[1] in mutual] fatigue and 5th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[2] partaking . . . thirst;] or burns with thirst {partaking first} / In mutual labour, and in mutual trust {thirst} fMS Eng 776; or burns with thirst / In mutual labour, and in mutual trust, fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[3] When] 3rd and later edns begin a new paragraph at this word; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[4] storm-pinch’d] dependant {storm-pinch’d} fMS Eng 776; dependant fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[5] lows,] low fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[6] bramble] brambles 8th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[7] And] Or fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[8] ]A large, usually wooden-headed, hammer or mallet.] BACK

[9] If now in beaded rows drops] In beaded rows if drops now 5th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[10] Phoebus] the sun 8th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[11] for rest] the world {for rest} fMS Eng 776; the world fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[12] their] his fMS Eng 776; fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[13] To] {to} fMS Eng 776 BACK

[14] fMS Eng 776.1 adds a note:] ‘This line was deficient in quantity untill Mr L added the word “to”, unless we had sounded the word fire like two syllables, — fi–er, which is too often done.’ BACK

[15] Every opening] each aperture {every opening} fMS Eng 776; every opening fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[16] smoaky] smoak{y} in fMS Eng 776; smoke in fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[17] Pomona’s] The orchard’s 8th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[18] frothing sap gushes] gush{es} out fMS Eng 776; gush out fMS Eng 776.1; gushing sap froths out 8th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] [fMS Eng 776.1 adds a note:] ‘though I now see the impropriety of “gush out” yet the amendment of Mr Ls is not so hapy as some others of his’. BACK

[19] capon] cockerel 3rd and later edns [fMS Eng 776.1 adds a note:] ‘“Cockrel” is used in Suffolk, but I should have been afraid to use it here, neither do I much like the sound of it in poetry’. BACK

[20] All the gusts] every {all the} gust{s} fMS Eng 776; every gust fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[21] felicities] felicity { felicities } fMS Eng 776; felicity fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[22] Their] But {His} {Their} fMS Eng 776; But fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[23] heels] heel 5th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[24] wheels] wheel 5th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[25] Held’st] Held fMS Eng 776; fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[26] times] time 9th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[27] a] {a} fMS Eng 776 BACK

[28] salute] salutes fMS Eng 776; salutes fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[29] the unbroken] th’ unbroken 8th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[30] For] Far fMS Eng 776; fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[31] Whilst] 3rd and later edns begin a new paragraph at this work; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[32] passes] traverse {passes} fMS Eng 776; traverse fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[33] Time] 3rd and later edns do not begin a new paragraph at this word; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[34] heart] mind 9th and later edns; Poems [Stereotype] BACK

[35] see] as {see} fMS Eng 776; as fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[36] [Pregnant sheep; one of several phrases borrowed from John Dyer, The Fleece (1757), I, l. 489, the principal literary source for shepherding description in the poem.] BACK

[37] strangers] stranger fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[38] At whose first birth] First at whose birth {At whose first birth} fMS Eng 776; First at whose birth fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[39] innocence] innocents fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[40] Maternal] Paternal {Maternal} fMS Eng 776; Paternal fMS Eng 776.1, which adds a note: ‘I had written paternal by mistake rather than ignorance’. BACK

[41] a] his fMS Eng 776.1 BACK

[42] Wander . . . Tree;] Pierce the dark wood, and brave the sultry plain; / Let Field, and dimpled Brook, and flow’r, and Tree, {Wander the leaf-strewn Wood, the xxxx frozen plain / Let the first Flower, corn-waving Field, Plain, Tree} fMS Eng 776; Pierce the dark wood, and brave the sultry plain; / Let Field, and dimpled Brook, and flow’r, and Tree, fMS Eng 776.1, which adds a note: ‘This alteration in one circumstance differs from all the foregoing. With all the preceeding Mr Lofft dealt according to his own good judgment without consulting me, but in this case he proposed the above lines in one of his earliest letters to me, as forming a kind of “Recapitaluation of the subject and Seasons,” and thereby forming a more appropriate close than mine; I agreed to it. –’ BACK

[43] fMS Eng 776.1 adds a note:] ‘Finishd Aprill 22. 1798. / Rob Bloomfield’. BACK