Monday 9th January – Plough Monday

Shepherd’s Calendar, The – January

by John Clare

Withering and keen the Winter comes, 
While Comfort flies to close-shut rooms, 
And sees the snow in feathers pass 
Winnowing by the window-glass; 
Whilst unfelt tempests howl and beat 
Above his head in chimney-seat. 
Now, musing o’er the changing scene, 
Farmers behind the tavern-screen 
Collect; — with elbow idly press’d 
On hob, reclines the corner’s guest, 
Reading the news, to mark again 
The bankrupt lists, or price of grain; 
Or old Moore’s annual prophecies 
Of flooded fields and clouded skies; 
Whose Almanac’s thumb’d pages swarm 
With frost and snow, and many a storm, 
And wisdom, gossip’d from the stars, 
Of politics and bloody wars. 
He shakes his head, and still proceeds, 
Nor doubts the truth of what he reads: 
All wonders are with faith supplied, — 
Bible, at once, or weather-guide. 
Puffing the while his red-tipt pipe, 
He dreams o’er troubles nearly ripe; 
Yet, not quite lost in profit’s way, 
He’ll turn to next year’s harvest-day, 
And, Winter’s leisure to regale, 
Hope better times, and — sip his ale. 

The schoolboy still, with dithering joys, 
In pastime leisure hours employs, 
And, be the weather as it may, 
Is never at a loss for play: 

Making rude forms of various names, 
Snow-men, or aught his fancy frames; 
Till, numb’d and shivering, he resorts 
To brisker games and warmer sports — 
Kicking, with many a flying bound, 
The football o’er the frozen ground; 
Or seeking bright glib ice, to play 
And slide the wintry hours away, 
As quick and smooth as shadows run, 
When clouds in autumn pass the sun. 
Some, hurrying rambles eager take 
To skait upon the meadow lake, 
Scaring the snipe from her retreat, 
From shelving banks in frozen seat; 
Or running brook, where icy spars, 
Which the pale sun-light specks with stars, 
Shoot crizzling o’er the restless tide, 
To many a likeness petrified. 

The moor-hen, too, with fear opprest, 
Starts from her reedy shelter’d rest, 

As skaiting by, with curving springs, 
And arms outspread like heron’s wings, 
They race away, for pleasure’s sake, 
With hunter’s speed along the lake. 

Blackening through the evening sky, 
In clouds the starlings daily fly 
To Whittlesea’s reed-wooded mere, 
And osier holts by rivers near; 
Whilst many a mingled swarthy crowd, — 
Rook, crow, and jackdaw, — noising loud, 
Fly to and fro to dreary fen, 
Dull Winter’s weary flight again; 
They flop on heavy wings away 
As soon as morning wakens grey, 
And, when the sun sets round and red, 
Return to naked woods to bed. 

The sun is creeping out of sight 
Behind the woods — whilst running Night 
Hastens to shut the Day’s dull eye, 
And grizzle o’er the chilly sky. 

Now maidens, fresh as summer roses, 
Journeying from the distant closes, 
Haste home with yokes and swinging pail: 
The thresher, too, sets by his flail, 
And leaves the mice at peace again 
To fill their holes with stolen grain; 
Whilst owlets, glad his toils are o’er, 
Swoop by him as he shuts the door. 
Bearing his hook beneath his arm, 
The shepherd seeks the cottage warm; 
And, weary in the cold to roam, 
Scenting the track that leads him home, 
His dog goes swifter o’er the mead, 
Barking to urge his master’s speed; 
Then turns, and looks him in the face, 
And trots before with mending pace, 
Till, out of whistle from the swain, 
He sits him down and barks again, 
Anxious to greet the open’d door, 
And meet the cottage-fire once more. 

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