Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE BARN, by EDMUND CHARLES BLUNDEN



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THE BARN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Rain-sunken roof, grown green and thin
Last Line: And strikes its kindness cold.
Alternate Author Name(s): Blunden, Edmund
Subject(s): Barns


I

RAIN-SUNKEN roof, grown green and thin
For sparrows' nests and starlings' nests;
Dishevelled eaves; unwieldy doors,
Cracked rusty pump, and oaken floors,
And idly-pencilled names and jests
Upon the posts within.

The light pales at the spider's lust,
The wind tangs through the shattered pane:
An empty hop-poke spreads across
The gaping frame to mend the loss
And keeps out sun as well as rain,
Mildewed with clammy dust.

The smell of apples stored in hay
And homely cattle-cake is there.
Use and disuse have come to terms,
The walls are hollowed out by worms,
But men's feet keep the mid-floor bare
And free from worse decay.

II

A man was lying in the straw
That hid him wholly but his head.
The face was not an English face,
But hinted of some Southern race.
The eyes seemed strained, the eyes seemed dead.
A farm boy came and saw.

He thought it was some gipsy man
Had crawled in there to sleep the night:
He cried to him to send him out,
The form lay still despite his shout:
He went, and saw his face dead white.
Fear touched him, and he ran.

He found the farmer in the yard,
Breathlessly he told the tale;
The farmer looked him scornfully,
But yet he went himself to see.
He saw and turned a little pale,
And drew his breath in hard,

And trudged away without a word
Into the infield, where he told
The aged ditcher what had come:
The old man paused a moment, dumb,
Then muttered, "Was he very cold?"
"Cold as a frost-clammed bird."

"Then did you touch his face and feel?"
The farmer scanned the shrewd gray eyes
But read small meaning there, and said.
"I did, to see if he was dead."
The answer struck him with surprise,
"It will not work you weal."

"That is no man that's lying chill
And huddled dead-like in the straw;
But I maun see the thing myself,
For I am feared it is an elf
That bodes no good for fold and shaw
And hops upon your hill."

The two men turned, and back they tramped,
Back to the barn, and both went in;
The dusty sunlight flickered on
A face all sallow under wan,
Evilly puckered and pinched and thin.
A curse from the stark eyes lamped.

The old bowed ditcher stretched a hand
And clutched the farmer's shoulder, "See,
Its eyes are worse than any ghost's,
They mean to curse your ricks and oasts.
Yon is a devil -- let it be,
But it will harm your land."

And even while he spoke, the face
Had vanished, and the straw sank down.
The odd ducks clacked beside the pond,
The cocks crowed sleepily from beyond
The staddles of the hayrick brown.
The thing had left no trace.

III

The hoptime came with sun and shower
That made the hops hang hale and good;
The village swarmed with motley folk,
Far through the morning calm awoke
Noise of the toiling multitude
Who stripped the tall bines' bower.

Slatternly folk from sombre streets
And crowded courts like narrow wells
Are picking in that fragrant air;
Gipsies with jewelled fingers there
Gaze dark, speak low; their manner tells
Of thievings and deceits.

And country dames with mittened wrists,
Grandams and girls and mothers stand
And stretch the bine-head on the bin,
And deftly jerk the loosed hops in.
Black stains the never-resting hand
So white for springtide trysts.

And by and by the little boys,
Tired with the work and women's talk,
Make slyly off, and run at large
Down to the river, board the barge
Roped in to shore, and stand to baulk
The bargee's angry noise:

While through the avenues of hops
The measurers and the poke-boys go.
The measurers scoop the heaped hops out,
While gaitered binmen move about
With sharpened hopdog, at whose blow
The stubborn cluster drops.

Such was the scene that autumn morn,
But when the dryer in his oast
Had loaded up his lattice-floors,
He called a binman at the doors,
"We want no more; the kilns are closed.
Bid measurer blow the horn."

The binman found the measurer pleased,
For hops were clean and work was through;
He told him what the dryer said,
The measurer nodded his gray head,
Lifted the battered horn and blew.
And so the day's work ceased.

It was but noon; the pickers went.
The farmer and the measurer met.
Both praised the hops that morning got,
The farmer said, "So this is what
The barn ghost brings, no trouble yet,
And this is all it meant."

The measurer answered, "Maybe so,
But you can speak before the crash.
The sky is getting ugly looks."
In thunder-yellow lights the rooks
Flew crowding into elm and ash
And gloom began to grow.

The air was loud with bleating droves,
And hot and tense; the southern hills
Were crushed in cerecloths, white like steam;
The dust whirled round the homeward team,
Rain splashed the whited windowsills,
And rustled in the groves.

Thunder and thunder came to war.
In startling suddenness vast cloud
Dropped shreds of blackness, drooped in rain
And deluged garths and hops and grain,
And lightnings plunged and madly ploughed
Through cloudy steep and scaur.

The rainstorm harried all the vale
In steady flood, no separate drops,
Big bubbles oozed from sodden ground,
The shower-butts flowed, the dykes were drowned;
But down the valley all the hops
Were hardly touched by hail.

The hail beset the hill alone,
And seemed to prove the farmer curst;
Jagged cruel hailstones struck the hops,
And gashed the bines from the hop-pole tops,
And eddying screaming winds outburst
And flung the hop-poles prone.

The hops were ruined in an hour
That took the toil of many a day;
The farmer and the measurer saw
The wasting of their work with awe,
Till bright blue glittered through the gray,
And hailstones lost their power.

This was the first of much distress
That came upon the farm; the oast
Was struck with lightning, and took fire
As if good fortune's funeral pyre.
Men whispered of the grimly ghost
That caused the lucklessness.

Only the farmer never feared,
Though footrot ravaged all his sheep.
Redwater came and rotted most;
The shepherd muttered of the ghost,
But he with patience stern and deep
Held on though all men jeered.

Three years of evil circumstance
And ceaseless labour left him poor;
He barely won his daily bread,
And all one autumn lay in bed
For illness taken by mischance.
The people shunned his door.

And stray folk plundered all his fruit,
And broke his hedges into gaps:
They scoured his copses and his crofts,
And robbed his barns and apple-lofts,
While he lay in a pale collapse,
And could not stop the loot.

Yet without care of devil or man,
And thinking straight, and fearing God,
Once more the farmer came to health,
And went to work to win back wealth,
And dared to plough and dared to plod
The farm that all would ban.

Luck veered towards him once again;
His cobnuts in a scanty year
Were household words for many miles,
Men's faces changed from sneers to smiles,
For good and wicked wishes veer
With pleasure and with pain.

And clearing out a lumber-room
He found a pot of golden coins,
Tarnished, yet heavy yellow gold;
There is a prize for being bold,
And scorning what the world enjoins
With words and looks of doom.

IV

So patient courage won the day.
And when forebodings seemed fulfilled,
The hardy sceptic shook his head,
And took no note of what was said
But boldly gathered, garnered, tilled,
And scorned to go away.

The hamlet round the striving farm
Made many gloomy prophesies.
Some feared to work upon the place,
Some told the farmer to his face
That while that house and land were his,
They must be bound with harm.

Yet to this day the barn remains
Not brooding over fortune strange;
The drowsy sunlight creeps and crawls
In through the century-crannied walls,
And every breeze that roves the grange
Sings in the splintered panes.

All merry noise of hens astir
Or sparrows squabbling on the roof
Comes to the barn's broad open door;
You hear upon the stable floor
Old hungry Dapple strike his hoof,
And the blue fan-tail's whirr.

The barn is old, and very old,
But not a place of spectral fear.
Cobwebs and dust and speckling sun
Come to old buildings every one.
Long since they made their dwelling here,
And here you may behold

Nothing but simple wane and change;
Your tread will wake no ghost, your voice
Will fall on silence undeterred.
No phantom wailing will be heard,
Only the farm's blithe cheerful noise;
The barn is old, not strange.

The superstition dies away,
And through the minds of country men
A callous thought of life has passed,
And myth and legend-lore are cast
Far from the modern yeoman's ken,
Fears of a bygone day.

Something is lost, perhaps: the old
Simplicity of rustic wit
Is banished by the rude disdain
And pride that speaks a boorish brain,
The pride that kills the fear of it,
And strikes its kindness cold.





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