Sunday, April 29, 2007

Who all the day themselves do please

Here is another poem from Parnassus, the anthology compiled by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1874 (pdf).

by Robert Herrick

SWEET country life, to such unknown
Whose lives are others', not their own !
But serving courts and cities, be
Less happy, less enjoying thee.
Thou never plough'st the ocean's foam
To seek and bring rough pepper home ;
Nor to the Eastern Ind dost rove
To bring from thence the scorched clove ;
Nor, with the loss of thy lov'd rest,
Bring'st home the ingot from the West.
No, thy ambition's masterpiece
Flies no thought higher than a fleece ;
Or how to pay thy hinds, and clear
All scores, and so to end the year :
But walk'st about thine own dear bounds,
Not envying others larger grounds :
For well thou know'st 'tis not th' extent
Of land makes life, but sweet content.
When now the cock (the ploughman's horn)
Calls forth the lily-wristed morn,
Then to thy corn-fields thou dost go,
Which though well soyl'd, yet thou dost know
That the best compost for the lands
Is the wise master's feet and hands.
There at the plough thou find'st thy team
With a hind whistling there to them ;
And cheer'st them up, by singing how
The kingdom's portion is the plough.
This done, then to th' enamelled meads
Thou go'st, and as thy foot there treads,
Thou see'st a present God-like power
Imprinted in each herb and flower ;
And smell'st the breath of great-ey'd kine,
Sweet as the blossoms of the vine.
Here thou behold'st thy large sleek neat
Unto the dew-laps up in meat ;
And, as thou look'st, the wanton steer,
The heifer, cow, and ox draw near
To make a pleasing pastime there.
These seen, thou go'st to view thy flocks
Of sheep, safe from the wolf and fox,
And find'st their bellies there as full
Of short sweet grass as backs with wool,
And leav'st them, as they feed and fill,
A shepherd piping on a hill.
For sports, for pageantry and plays
Thou hast thy eves, and holidays ;
On which the young men and maids meet
To exercise their dancing feet ;
Tripping the comely country round,
With daffodils and daisies crown'd.
Thy wakes, thy quintels here thou hast,
Thy May-poles, too, with garlands grac'd ;
Thy morris dance, thy Whitsun ale,
Thy shearing feast which never fail ;
Thy harvest-home, thy wassail bowl,
That's toss'd up after fox i' th' hole ;
Thy mummeries, thy twelfth-tide kings
And queens, thy Christmas revellings,
Thy nut-brown mirth, thy russet wit,
And no man pays too dear for it.
To these thou hast thy times to go
And trace the hare i' th' treacherous snow ;
Thy witty wiles to draw, and get
The lark into the trammel net ;
Thou hast thy cockrood and thy glade
To take the precious pheasant made ;
Thy lime-twigs, snares and pit-falls then
To catch the pilfering birds, not men.
O happy life ! if that their good
The husbandmen but understood !
Who all the day themselves do please,
And younglings, with such sports as these,
And lying down have nought t' affright
Sweet sleep, that makes more short the night.
Unfinished — Cætera desunt — The rest is wanting

Notes on the poem
You can read about Endymion Porter here.
Notes on unfamiliar words in the poem (from
Soyl'd, manured.
Compost, preparation.
Fox i' th' hole, a hopping game in which boys beat
each other with gloves.
Cockrood, a run for snaring woodcocks.
Glade, an opening in the wood across which nets were
hung to catch game. (Willoughby, Ornithologie, i. 3.)

Click image to enlarge. Source. "This letter, one of just a few documents to survive in Herrick's own hand, was carefully composed by him while a student at St. John's College, Cambridge. Herrick employs all his rhetorical powers in an effort to persuade his uncle William to give him money to buy books for his studies:
my studie craves but your assistance to furnish hir with bookes wherein She is most desirous to laboure, blame not her modest boldness, but suffer the aspertions of your love to distill upon hir, and next to Heaven, she will consecrate hir laboures unto you ...

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