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(30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732 / Barnstaple, England)

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Rural Sports: A Georgic - Canto II.

Now, sporting muse, draw in the flowing reins,
Leave the clear streams a while for sunny plains.
Should you the various arms and toils rehearse,
And all the fisherman adorn thy verse;
Should you the wide-encircling net display,
And in its spacious arch enclose the sea,
Then haul the plunging load upon the land,
And with the soale and turbot hide the sand;
It would extend the growing theme too long,
And tire the reader with the watery song.

Let the keen hunter from the chase refrain,
Nor render all the ploughman's labour vain,
When Ceres pours out plenty from her horn,
And clothes the fields with golden ears of corn.
New, now, ye reapers to your task repair,
Haste, save the product of the bounteous year.
To the wide-gathering hook long furrows yield,
And rising sheaves extend through all the field.

Yet if for silvan sport thy bosom glow,
Let thy feet greyhound urge his dying foe.
With what delight the rapid course I view!
How does my eye the circling race pursue!
He snaps deceitful air with empty jaws,
The subtle hare darts swift beneath his paws;
She flies, he stretches, now with nimble bound.
Eager he presses on, but overshoots his ground;
She turns, he winds, and soon regains the way,
Then tears with goary mouth the screaming prey.
What various sport does rural life afford!
What unbought dainties heap the wholesome board!

Nor less the spaniel, skilful to betray,
Rewards the fowler with the feather'd prey.
Soon as the lab'ring horse with swelling veins,
Hath safely hous'd the farmer's doubtful gains,
To sweet repast the unwary partridge flies,
With joy amid the scatter'd harvest lies;
Wandering in plenty, danger he forgets,
Nor dreads the slavery of entangling nets.
The subtile dog scowrs with sagacious nose
Along the field, and snuffs each breeze that blows,
Against the wind he takes his prudent way,
While the strong gale directs him to the prey;
Now the warm scent assures the covey near,
He treads with caution, and he points with fear
Then (lest some centry fowl the fraud descry,
And bid his fellows from the danger fly)
Close to the ground in expectation lies,
Till in the snare the fluttering covey rise.
Soon as the blushing light begins to spread
And glancing Phoebus gilds the mountain's head,
His early flight the ill-fated partridge takes,
And quits the friendly shelter of the brakes:
Or when the sun casts a declining ray,
And drives his chariot down the western way,
Let your obsequious ranger search around,
Where yellow stubble withers on the ground:
Nor will the roving spy direct in vain,
But numerous coveys gratify thy pain.
When the meridian sun contracts the shade,
And frisking heifers seek the cooling shade;
Or when the country floats with sudden rains,
Or driving mists deface the moist'ned plains;
In vain his toils the unskilful fowler tries,
While in thick woods the feeding partridge lies.
Nor must the sporting verse the gun forbear,
But what's the fowler's be the muse's care.
See how the well-taught pointer leads the way:
The scent grows warm; he stops; he springs the prey;
The fluttering coveys from the stubble rise,
And on swift wing divide the sounding skies;
The scattering lead pursues the certain sight,
And death in thunder overtakes their flight.
Cool breathes the morning air, and winter's hand
Spreads wide her hoary mantle o'er the land;
Now to the copse thy lesser spaniel take,
Teach him to range the ditch and force the brake;
Now closest coverts can protect the game:
Hark! the dog opens; take thy certain aim;
The woodcock flutters; how he wavering flies!
The wood resounds: he wheels, he drops, he dies.

The towering hawk let future poets sing,
Who terror bears upon his soaring wing:
Let them on high the frighted hern survey,
And lofty numbers paint their airy fray,
Nor shall the mounting lark the muse detain,
That greets the morning with his early strain;
When, 'midst his song, the twinkling glass betrays;
While from each angle flash the glancing rays,
And in the sun the transient colours blaze,
Bride lures the little warbler from the skies:
The light-enamour'd bird deluded dies.

But still the chase, a pleasing task, remains;
The hound must open in these rural strains.
Soon as Aurora drives away the night,
And edges eastern clouds with rosy light,
The healthy huntsman, with the cheerful horn,
Summons the dogs, and greets the dappled morn;
The jocund thunder wakes the enliven'd hounds,
They rouse from sleep, and answer sounds for sounds.
Wide through the furzy field their rout they take,
Their bleeding bosoms force the thorny brake:
The dying game their smoking nostrils trace,
No bounding hedge obstructs their eager pace;
The distant mountains echo from afar,
And hanging woods resound the flying war:
The tuneful noise the sprightly courser hears,
Paws the green turf, and pricks his trembling ears
The slacken'd rein now gives him all his speed,
Back flies the rapid ground beneath the steed:
Hills, dales, and forests far behind remain,
While the warm scent draws on the deep mouth'd train.
Where shall the trembling hare a shelter find?
Hark! death advances in each gust of wind!
New stratagems and doubling wiles she tries,
Now circling turns, and now at large she flies;
Till spent at last, she pants, and heaves for breath
Then lays her down, and waits devouring death.

But stay, advent'rous muse, hast thou the force
To wind the twisted horn, to guide the horse?
To keep thy seat unmov'd hast thou the skill
O'er the high gate, and down the headlong hill
Canst thou the stag's laborious chase direct,
Or the strong fox through all his arts detect,
The theme demands a more experienc'd lay;
Ye mighty hunters, spare this weak essay.

Oh happy plains, remote from war's alarms,
And all the ravages of hostile arms!
And happy shepherds, who, secure from fear,
On open downs preserve your fleecy care!
Whose spacious barns groan with increasing store,
And whirling flails disjoint the cracking floor:
No barbarous soldier, bent on cruel spoil,
Spreads desolation o'er your fertile soil;
No trampling steed lays waste the ripen'd grain,
Nor crackling fires devour the promis'd gain:
No flaming beacons cast their blaze afar,
The dreadful signal of invasive war;
No trumpet's clangor wounds the mother's ear,
And calls the lover from his swooning fair.

What happiness the rural maid attends,
In cheerful labour while each day she spends!
She gratefully receives what heaven has sent,
And, rich in poverty, enjoys content:
(Such happiness, and such unblemish'd fame
Ne'er glad the bosom of the courtly dame)
She never feels the spleen's imagin'd pains,
Nor melancholy stagnates in her veins;
She never loses life in thoughtless ease,
Nor on the velvet couch invites disease;
Her home-spun dress in simple neatness lies
And for no glaring equipage she sighs:
Her reputation, which is all her boast,
In a malicious visit ne'er was lost:
No midnight masquerade her beauty wears,
And health, not paint, the fading bloom repairs.
If love's soft passion warms her happy swain;
An equal passion in her bosom reign,
No home-bred jars her quiet state control,
Nor watchful jealousy torments her soul;
With secret joy she sees her little race
Hang on her breast, and her small cottage grace
The fleecy ball their little fingers cull,
Or from the spindle draw the length'ning wool:
Thus flow her hours with constant peace of mind,
Till age the latest thread of life unwind.

Ye happy fields, unknown to noise and strife,
The kind rewarders of industrious life,
Ye shady woods, where once I used to rove;
Alike indulgent to the muse and love;
Ye murmuring streams that in meanders roll,
The sweet composers of the pensive soul,
Farewell - The city calls me from your bowers;
Farewell amusing thoughts and peaceful hours.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010


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