Joy in harvest was keener in olden times, when many hands by personal effort brought in the fruits of the earth, as witness “The Hook Cart’”’ or “Harvest Home”, by Robert Herrick, a seventeenth century Devonshire clergyman. It is worth remembering that in those days of glebe lands a country parson was often also a considerable farmer:
THE HOCK CART
Come, sons of Summer, by whose toil,
We are the lords of wine and oil;
By whose tough labours and rough hands,
We rip up first then reap our lands;
Crowned with the ears of corn, now come,
And, to the pipe, sing harvest home!
Come forth my lord, and see the cart
Dressed up with all the country art.
See, here a maukin, there a sheet,
As spotless pure as it is sweet;
The horses mares, and frisking fillies
Clad all in linen white as lilies.
The harvest swains and wenches bound
For joy, to see the hock-cart crowned.
About the cart hear how the rout
of rural youngling raise the shout,
Pressing before, some coming after,
Those with a shout, and these with laughter.
Some bless the cart, some kiss the sheaves,
Some prank them up with oaken leaves;
Some cross the fill-horse, some with great
Devotion stroke the home-borne wheat,
While other rustics, less attent
To prayers than to merriment,
Run after with their breaches rent.
Well, on, brave boys, to your lord’s hearth
Glittering with fire, where, for your mirth,
Ye shall see first the large and chief
Foundation of your feast, fat beef;
With upper stories, mutton, veal,
And bacon, which makes full the meal,
With several dishes standing by,
As, here a custard, there a pie,
And here all tempting frumenty.
And for to make the merry cheer,
If smirking wine be wanting here,
There’s that which drowns all care, stout beer,
Which freely drink to your lord’s health,
Then to the plough, the commonwealth,
Next to your flails, your fans, your vats;
Then to the maids with wheaten hats;
To the rough sickle, and crooked scythe,
Drink, frolic, boys, till all be blythe.
Feed and grow fat, and as ye eat,
Be mindful that the labouring neat,
As you may have their full of meat;
And know, besides, ye must revoke
The patient ox unto the yoke,
And all go back unto the plough
And harrow, though they’re hanged up now.
And, you must know your lord‘s word’s true,
Feed him ye must whose food fills you.
And that this pleasure is like rain,
Not sent ye for to drown your pain,
But for to make it spring again.
The decorated hock-cart reminds us of a modern village carnival float, with its maukin, or scarecrow figure; frumenty was porridge, sweetened with dried fruit, and sometimes laced with spirits, as Henchard found in the opening chapter of Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge” – he called it ‘furmity’ ; while the “labouring neat” were working cattle, such as oxen.
Next Poem: Bat by D H Lawrence