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Poem by Eliza Cook

God Speed the Plough

“GOD speed the plough!” be this a prayer
To find its echo everywhere;
But curses on the iron hand
That grasps one rood of “common” land.
Sure there’s enough of earth beside,
Held by the sons of Wealth and Pride;
Their glebe is wide enough without
Our “commons” being fenced about!

We guard the spot where steeples rise
In stately grandeur to the skies;
We mark the place where altars shine,
As hallowed, sainted, and divine;	
And just as sacred should we hold
The turf, where peasants blithe and bold,
Can plant their footsteps day or night,
In free, unquestioned, native right.

The common range—the common range—
Oh! guard it from invading change;
Though rough, ’tis rich—though poor, ’tis blest,
And will be while the skylark’s nest
And early violets are there,	
Filling with sweetness earth and air.

It glads the eye—it warms the soul,
To gaze upon the rugged knoll;
Where tangled brushwood twines across
The straggling brake and sedgy moss.
Oh! who would give the blackthorn leaves
For harvest’s full and rustling sheaves?
Oh! who would have the grain spring up
Where now we find the daisy’s cup;
Where clumps of dark red heather gleam,
With beauty in the summer beam—
And yellow furze-bloom laughs to scorn
Your ripened hops and bursting corn?
“God speed the plough!” but let us trace
Something of Nature’s infant face;
Let us behold some spot where man
Has not yet set his “bar and ban”;
Leave us the green wastes, fresh and wild,
For poor man’s beast and poor man’s child!

’Tis well to turn our trusty steeds
In chosen stalls and clover meads;
We like to see our “gallant grey”
Snuff daintily his fragrant hay;
But the poor sandman’s “Blind old Ball”
Lacks grooms and clover, oats and stall.

With tired limbs and bleeding back
He takes his steady, homeward track;
The hovel gained, he neighs with glee,
From burthen, whip, and bridle free:
Turned forth he flings his bony length;
And rolls with all his waning strength;
Up on his trembling legs again,
He shakes himself from tail to mane,
And, nibbling with a grateful zest,
Finds on “the common” food and rest.

Hark to the shouts of peasant boys,
With ill-carved bats, and unchecked noise!
While “cricket,” with its light-heeled mirth,
Leaves scars upon the grassy earth
Too deeply lined by Summer’s play,
For Winter’s storms to wear away.
Spent by the game, they rove apart,
With lounging form and careless heart;
One by the rushy pond will float
Old “Dilworth” in a paper boat;
Another wades, with legs all bare,
To pluck the water-lily fair;
Others will sit and chatter o’er
The village fund of cricket lore—
Quote this rare “catch,” and that bold “run,”
Till, having gossiped down the sun,
They promise, with a loud “Good night!”
That, if to-morrow’s sky be bright,
They’ll be again where they have been
For years—upon the “common green.”

The chicken tribe—the duckling brood,
Go there to scratch their daily food;
The woodman’s colt—the widow’s cows,
Unwatched—untethered—there may browse;
And though the pasturage be scant,
It saves from keen and starving want.

“God speed the plough!” let fields be tilled,
Let ricks be heaped and garners filled;
’Tis good to count the Autumn gold,
And try how much our barns can hold:
But every English heart will tell
It loves an “English common” well;
And curse the hard and griping hand
That wrests away such “hallowed” land:
That shuts the green waste, fresh and wild:
From poor man’s beast and poor man’s child.

Eliza Cook

Eliza Cook's other poems:
  1. The Thames
  2. Galla Brae
  3. Loch Leven’s Gentle Stream
  4. Song of the Worm
  5. Grey-Eyed Mabel

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