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Edmund Blunden

(1 November 1896 – 20 January 1974 / London / England)

April Byeway

Friend whom I never saw, yet dearest friend,
Be with me travelling on the byeway now
In April's month and mood: our steps shall bend
By the shut smithy with its penthouse brow
Armed round with many a felly and crackt plough:
And we will mark in his white smock the mill
Standing aloof, long numbed to any wind,
That in his crannies mourns, and craves him still;
But now there is not any grain to grind,
And even the master lies too deep for winds to find.

Grieve not at these: for there are mills amain
With lusty sails that leap and drop away
On further knolls, and lads to fetch the grain.
The ash-spit wickets on the green betray
New games begun and old ones put away.
Let us fare on, dead friend, O deathless friend,
Where under his old hat as green as moss
The hedger chops and finds new gaps to mend,
And on his bonfires burns the thorns and dross,
And hums a hymn, the best, thinks he, that ever was.

There the grey guinea-fowl stands in the way,
The young black heifer and the raw-ribbed mare,
And scorn to move for tumbril or for dray,
And feel themselves as good as farmers there.
From the young corn the prick-eared leverets stare
At strangers come to spy the land — small sirs,
We bring less danger than the very breeze
Who in great zig-zag blows the bee, and whirs
In bluebell shadow down the bright green leas;
From whom in frolic fit the chopt straw darts and flees.

The cornel steepling up in white shall know
The two friends passing by, and poplar smile
All gold within; the church-top fowl shall glow
To lure us on, and we shall rest awhile
Where the wild apple blooms above the stile;
The yellow frog beneath blinks up half bold,
Then scares himself into the deeper green.
And thus spring was for you in days of old,
And thus will be when I too walk unseen
By one that thinks me friend, the best that there has been.

All our lone journey laughs for joy, the hours
Like honey-bees go home in new-found light
Past the cow pond amazed with twinkling flowers
And antique chalk-pit newly delved to white,
Or idle snow-plough nearly hid from sight.
The blackbird sings us home, on a sudden peers
The round tower hung with ivy's blackened chains,
Then past the little green the byeway veers,
The mill-sweeps torn, the forge with cobwebbed panes
That have so many years looked out across the plains.

But the old forge and mill are shut and done,
The tower is crumbling down, stone by stone falls;
An ague doubt comes creeping in the sun,
The sun himself shudders, the day appals,
The concourse of a thousand tempests sprawls
Over the blue-lipped lakes and maddening groves,
Like agonies of gods the clouds are whirled,
The stormwind like the demon huntsman roves —
Still stands my friend, though all's to chaos hurled,
The unseen friend, the one last friend in all the world.

Submitted: Saturday, April 03, 2010

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