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Poem by Joanna Baillie

A Summer Day

The dark-blue clouds of night in dusky lines,
Drawn wide and streaky o'er the purer sky,
Wear faint the morning purple on their skirts.
The stars that full and bright shone in the west,
But dimly twinkle to the stedfast eye;
And seen, and vanishing, and seen again,
Like dying tapers smoth'ring in their sockets,
Appear at last shut from the face of heav'n;
Whilst every lesser flame which shone by night,
The flashy meteor from the op'ning cloud,
That shoots full oft' across the dusky sky;
Or wand'ring fire which looks across the marsh,
Beaming like candle in a lonely cot,
To cheer the hopes of the benighted trav'ller,
Till swifter than the very change of thought,
It shifts from place to place, escapes his glance,
And makes him wond'ring rub his doubtful eyes;
Or humble glow-worm, or the silver moth,
Which cast a feeble glimm'ring o'er the green,
All die away.--
For now the sun, slow moving in his grandeur,
Above the eastern mountains lifts his head.
The webs of dew spread o'er the hoary lawn,
The smooth clear bosom of the settled pool,
The polish'd ploughshare on the distant field,
Catch fire from him, and dart their new got beams
Upon die dazzled eye.

The new-wak'd birds upon the branches hop,
Peck their loft down, and bristle out their feathers;
Then stretch their throats and tune their morning song;
Whilst stately crows, high swinging o'er their heads.
Upon the topmost boughs, in lordly pride,
Mix their hoarse croaking with the linnet's note;
Till gather'd closer in a sable band,
They take their flight to leek their daily food.
The village labourer, with careful mind,
As soon as doth the morning light appear,
Opens his eyes with the first darting ray
That pierces thro' the window of his cot,
And quits his easy bed; then o'er the field,
With lengthen'd swinging strides, betakes his way,
Bearing his spade and hoe across his moulder,
Seen from afar clear glancing in the sun,
And with good will begins his daily work.
The sturdy sun-burnt boy drives forth the cattle,
And vain of power, bawls to the lagging kine,
Who fain would stay to crop the tender shoots
Of the green tempting hedges as they pass;
Or beats the glist'ning bushes with his club,
To please his fancy with a shower of dew,
And frighten the poor birds who lurk within.
At ev'ry open door, thro' all the village,
Half naked children, half awake, are seen
Scratching their heads, and blinking to the light;
Till roused by degrees, they run about,
Or rolling in the sun, amongst the sand
Build many a little house, with heedful art.
The housewife tends within, her morning care;
And stooping 'midst her tubs of curdled milk,
With busy patience, draws the clear green whey
From the press'd sides of the pure snowy curd;
Whilst her brown dimpled maid, with tuck'd-up sleeve,
And swelling arm, assists her in her toil.
Pots smoke, pails rattle, and the warm confusion
Still thickens on them, till within its mould,
With careful hands, they press the well-wrought curd.

So goes the morning, till the pow'rful sun
High in the heav'ns sends forth his strengthen'd beams,
And all the freshness of the morn is fled.
The sweating trav'ller throws his burden down,
And leans his weary shoulder 'gainst a tree.
The idle horse upon the grassy field
Rolls on his back, nor heeds the tempting clover.
The swain leaves off his labour, and returns
Slow to his house with heavy sober steps,
Where on the board his ready breakfast plac'd,
Invites the eye, and his right cheerful wife
Doth kindly serve him with unfeign'd good will.
No sparkling dew-drops hang upon the grass;
Forth steps the mower with his glitt'ring scythe,
In snowy shirt, and doublet all unbrac'd,
White moves he o'er the ridge, with sideling bend,
And lays the waving grass in many a heap.
In ev'ry field, in ev'ry swampy mead,
The cheerful voice of industry is heard;
The hay-cock rises, and the frequent rake
Sweeps on the yellow hay, in heavy wreaths,
Leaving the smooth green meadow bare behind.
The old and young, the weak and strong are there,
And, as they can, help on the cheerful work.
The father jeers his awkward half-grown lad,
Who trails his tawdry armful o'er the field,
Nor does he fear the jeering to repay.
The village oracle, and simple maid,
Jest in their turns, and raise the ready laugh;
For there authority, hard favour'd, frowns not;
All are companions in the gen'ral glee,
And cheerful complaisance still thro' their roughness,
With placid look enlightens ev'ery face.
Some more advanced raise the tow'ring rick,
Whilst on its top doth stand the parish toast
In loose attire, and swelling ruddy cheek;
With taunts and harmless mock'ry she receives
The toss'd-up heaps from the brown gaping youth,
Who flaring at her, takes his aim awry,
Whilst half the load comes tumbling on himself.
Loud is her laugh, her voice is heard afar;
Each mower, busied in the distant field,
The carter, trudging on his distant way,
The shrill found know, cad up their hats in air,
And roar across the fields to catch her notice:
She waves her arm, and shakes her head at them,
And then renews her work with double spirit.
Thus do they jest, and laugh away their toil,
Till the bright sun, full in his middle course,
Shoots down his fiercest beams, which none may brave.
The stoutest arm hangs listless by its side,
And the broad shoulder'd youth begins to fail.
But to the weary, lo! there comes relief!
A troop of welcome children, o'er the lawn,
With slow and wary steps, their burthens bring.
Some bear upon their heads large baskets, heap'd
With piles of barley bread, and gusty cheese,
And some full pots of milk and cooling whey.
Beneath the branches of a spreading tree,
Or by the shad'wy side of the tall rick,
They spread their homely fare, and seated round,
Taste all the pleasure that a feast can give.

A drowzy indolence now hangs on all,
And ev'ry creature seeks some place of rest,
Screen'd from the violence of the oppressive heat.
No scatter'd flocks are seen upon the lawn,
Nor chirping birds among the bushes heard.
Within the narrow shadow of the cot
The sleepy dog lies stretched on his side,
Nor heeds the heavy-footed passenger;
At noise of feet but half his eye-lid lifts,
Then gives a feeble growl, and sleeps again:
Whilst puss, less nice, e'en in the scorching window,
On t'other side, sits winking to the sun.
No sound is heard but humming of the bee,
For she alone retires not from her labour,
Nor leaves a meadow flower unsought for gain.

Heavy and slow so pass the mid-day hours,
Till gently bending on the ridge's top,
The heavy seeded grass begins to wave,
And the high branches of the slender poplar
Shiver aloft in air their rustling leaves.
Cool breaths the rising breeze, and with it wakes
The worn out spirit from its state of stupor.
The lazy boy springs from his mossy bed,
To chace the gaudy tempting butterfly,
Who spreading on the grass its mealy wings,
Oft lights within his reach, e'en at his seer,
Yet still eludes his grasp, and o'er his head
Light hov'ring round, or mounted high in air
Temps his young eye, and wearies out his limbs.
The drouzy dog, who feels the kindly breeze
That passing o'er him, lifts his shaggy ear,
Begins to stretch him, on his legs half-rais'd,
Till fully wak'd, with bristling cock'd-up tail,
He makes the village echo to his bark.

But let us not forget the busy maid
Who, by the side of the clear pebly stream,
Spreads out her snowy linens to the sun,
And sheds with lib'ral hand the chrystal show'r
O'er many a fav'rite piece of fair attire,
Revolving in her mind her gay appearance
In all this dress, at some approaching fair.
The dimpling half-check'd smile, and mutt'ring lip
Betray the secret workings of her fancy,
And flattering thoughts of the complacent mind.
There little vagrant bands of truant boys
Amongst the bushes try their harmless tricks;
Whilst some a sporting in the shallow stream
Toss up the lashing water round their heads,
Or strive with wily art to catch the trout,
Or 'twixt their fingers grasp the slipp'ry eel.
The shepherd-boy sits singing on the bank,
To pass away the weary lonely hours,
Weaving with art his little crown of rushes,
A guiltless easy crown that brings no care,
Which having made he places on his head,
And leaps and skips about, and bawls full loud
To some companion, lonely as himself,
Far in the distant field; or else delighted
To hear the echo'd sound of his own voice
Returning answer from the neighboring rock,
Holds no unpleasing converse with himself.

Now weary labourers perceive, well-pleas'd,
The shadows lengthen, and th' oppressive day
With all its toil fast wearing to an end.
The sun, far in the west, with side-long beam
Plays on the yellow head of the round hay-cock,
And fields are checker'd with fantastic shapes
Or tree, or shrub, or gate, or rugged stone,
All lengthen'd out, in antic disproportion,
Upon the darken'd grass.--
They finish out their long and toilsome talk.
Then, gathering up their rakes and scatter'd coats,
With the less cumb'rous fragments of their feast,
Return right gladly to their peaceful homes.

The village, lone and silent thro' the day,
Receiving from the fields its merry bands,
Sends forth its ev'ning sound, confus'd but cheerful;
Whilst dogs and children, eager housewives' tongues,
And true love ditties, in no plaintive strain,
By shrill voic'd maid, at open window sung;
The lowing of the home-returning kine,
The herd's low droning trump, and tinkling bell
Tied to the collar of his fav'rite sheep,
Make no contemptible variety
To ears not over nice.--
With careless lounging gait, the saunt'ring youth
Upon his sweetheart's open window leans,
And as she turns about her buzzing wheel
Diverts her with his jokes and harmless taunts.
Close by the cottage door, with placid mien,
The old man sits upon his seat of turf,
His staff with crooked head laid by his side,
Which oft the younger race in wanton sport,
Gambolling round him, slyly steal away,
And straddling o'er it, shew their horsemanship
By raising round the clouds of summer sand,
While still he smiles, yet chides them for the trick.
His silver locks upon his shoulders spread,
And not ungraceful is his stoop of age.
No stranger passes him without regard;
And ev'ry neighbour stops to wish him well,
And ask him his opinion of the weather.
They fret not at the length of his discourse,
But listen with respect to his remarks
Upon the various seasons he remembers;
For well he knows the many divers signs
Which do fortell high winds, or rain, or drought,
Or ought that may affect the rising crop.
The silken clad, who courtly breeding boast,
Their own discourse still sweetest to their ears,
May grumble at the old man's lengthened story,
But here it is not so.--

From ev'ry chimney mounts the curling smoke,
Muddy and gray, of the new ev'ning fire;
On ev'ry window smokes the fam'ly supper,
Set out to cool by the attentive housewife,
While cheerful groups at every door conven'd
Bawl cross the narrow lane the parish news,
And oft the bursting laugh disturbs the air.
But see who comes to set them all agag!
The weary-footed pedlar with his pack.
How stiff he bends beneath his bulky load!
Cover'd with dust, slip-shod, and out at elbows;
His greasy hat sits backward on his head;
His thin straight hair divided on his brow
Hangs lank on either side his glist'ning cheeks,
And woe-begone, yet vacant is his face.
His box he opens and displays his ware.
Full many a varied row of precious stones
Cast forth their dazzling lustre to the light.
To the desiring maiden's wishful eye
The ruby necklace shews its tempting blaze:
The china buttons, stamp'd with love device,
Attract the notice of the gaping youth;
Whilst streaming garters, fasten'd to a pole,
Aloft in air their gaudy stripes display,
And from afar the distant stragglers lure.
The children leave their play and round him flock;
E'en sober aged grand-dame quits her seat,
Where by the door she twines her lengthen'd threads,
Her spindle stops, and lays her distaff by,
Then joins with step sedate the curious throng.
She praises much the fashions of her youth,
And scorns each gaudy nonsense of the day;
Yet not ill-pleas'd the glossy ribband views,
Uproll'd, and changing hues with ev'ry fold,
New measur'd out to deck her daughter's head.

Now red, but languid, the last weakly beams
Of the departing sun, across the lawn
Deep gild the top of the long sweepy ridge,
And shed a scatter'd brightness, bright but cheerless,
Between the op'nings of the rifted hills;
Which like the farewell looks of some dear friend,
That speaks him kind, yet sadden as they smile,
But only serve to deepen the low vale,
And make the shadows of the night more gloomy.
The varied noises of the cheerful village
By slow degrees now faintly die away,
And more distinct each feeble sound is heard
That gently steals ad own the river's bed,
Or thro' the wood comes with the ruffling breeze.
The white mist rises from the swampy glens,
And from the dappled flatting of the heav'ns
Looks out the ev'ning star.--
The lover skulking in the neighb'ring copse,
(Whose half-seen form shewn thro' the thicken'd air,
Large and majestic, makes the tray'ller start,
And spreads the story of the haunted grove,)
Curses the owl, whose loud ill-omen'd scream,
With ceaseless spite, robes from his watchful ear
The well known footsteps of his darling maid;
And fretful, chaces from his face the night-fly,
Who buzzing round his head doth often skim,
With flutt'ring wing, across his glowing cheek:
For all but him in deep and balmy sleep
Forget the toils of the oppressive day;
Shut is the door of ev'ry scatter'd cot,
And silence dwells within. 

Joanna Baillie

Poem Theme: Summer

Joanna Baillie's other poems:
  1. The Maid of Llanwellyn
  2. Lines to a Parrot
  3. Female Picture of a Country Life
  4. Verses Written in February, 1827
  5. Fee him, Father

Poems of the other poets with the same name:

  • Letitia Landon A Summer Day ("Sweet valley, whose streams flow as sparkling and bright")
  • Lucy Montgomery A Summer Day ("The dawn laughs out on orient hills")

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