Foxdale Camp: Canto 1: Saturday


1. Can mortal man taste of diviner joy
Than that which fills the heart of one who drives
A rattling ear along peace to destroy
With many a wheezing snort and cough? Who strives
To hold the brute in leash and stay its dives
Over the mocking dips? Nay, none can feel
The wild abandon, none have in their lives
Felt perfect bliss who have not held the wheel
As I held it to-day when on the road to Peel!

2. She is alive, this swaying, creaking mas
Of rusted bolts and sooted sparking plugs;
She laughs when powerful humming saloons pass
And merrily beside the green hedge chugs;
The brambles brush and scratch her sides; she hugs
The corners; but her source of most delight
Is running in the ditches where low glugs
A streamlet, and ‘tis hard to stay her flight
When there ensconced, for she puts up a worthy fight.

3. Behind me loll a group of jostling youths,
Squatting and lying on rude seats and sacks
And tent-equipment, and they fling home-truths
And caustic comments at my earnest back;
Anon a song trills forth, and then a slack
Misuse of language floats in manner strong
When songster’s head has met with virile smack
The ceiling of the covered wain, his song
Rudely brought to a close by Lizzie as she romps along.

4. The sun is beating strongly from a dome
Of fairest clue, and fragrant perfumes rare
Would kiss my nostrils were I out to roam,
But here behind the wheel th’enclosed air
Is heavy with the smell of oil; out there
Grasshoppers chirp and bird-songs run amok,
The countryside is one great living prayer,
The stream chants canticles unto the rock –
But here is wheezing and at times a fug’tive knock.

5. The village creeps upon the view above
A little rise with all its clustering cots;
Stage a thousand dramas, burning love,
Full of mysterious pools and emerald grots,
And roofless cottages where flooring rots;
Of maidens hair and homely pleasant folk
Who live in freedom from the world; this blots
The lovely phase, this thing with mournful croak
That all spasmodic rolls upon a rusted spoke.

6. At last, at last! Hear now the frenzied shout
Of the imprisoned captives, “Here we are!”
And from the van in sweat come tumbling out
Upon the dusty lance, its face to mar
With tent accoutrements reeking of tar
And od’rous lamps and blankets bundled all
Together in a growing pile. Afar
The Lizzie fades and last goodbyes we call,
Then hurriedly prepare for the first night to fall.

7. Did we not pass a lone maid on the road
Three times, and stop to start again? Was she
Not toiling up the lane with a great load
In all the heat of summer sun? Did we
Not leave her far behind unthinkingly
With but a few poor words of greeting that
Might cheer her and cause her less wearily
To walk, but lessened not the load? Oh, what
A lover strange am I to leave such beauty flat!

8. But more of that anon. Now to the tent
Which springeth like a mushroom from the ground,
So quickly do we work lest day be spent.
And corners for the baggage soon are found.
Stay, do ye not see? The cigarettes around
Are flying. Take one swiftly and apply
The lighted match. Do ye not hear the sound
Of the warm Primus where the blue flames fly?
Sweet freedom this! Let worldly troubles pass us by!

9. I love the scent of loamy soil, the smell
Of the cool earth when turned beneath the spade;
Its fragrance is a richness, few can tell
What thoughts are borne by that which doth pervade
The grassy turf! Not of white bones deep laid,
Nor mould’ring forms; no graveyard smell is this,
No putrid matter, not of flesh decayed;
But rather, let me think, yes, of a kiss
From one flown hour that savoured more than tears of bliss.

10. So I to cut the trench with Marshall stout,
And side by side we toil with not a word,
But ever and anon music bursts out,
Or rapturous whistling like to forest bird
In cool dep glades where nothing more is heard
‘Bove leafed arms rustling. Now, ‘tis finished,
And Marshall turns to go, his soul is stirred
When he looks round the place he leaves. His head
At length dips hill, and we turn in, but not to bed.

11. Nay! There are visits we must pay to-night
To old-time friends and places. Ah, my heart,
Could I but taste for aye of this delight
And never leave it! Thus we start
Out for the village. With consummate art,
Careless of safety, we climb down the face
Of crumbling Quarry Wee, a testing part
In our short journey. Then on path we race,
O’er rustling bridge spanning where mountain waters race.

12. Through meadows green and fields of waving corn,
By the deep gorge where was our bathing pool
In times now past and where we in the morn
Were wont to bathe and keep our bodies cool;
O’er the rail track and past the Sunday School
And soon unto the village stores to meet
The hearty mistress sitting on her stool,
And better still meet Kath, her daughter sweet,
Who with a modest blush doth our bright glances greet.

13. On, on! We can’t delay, e’en though to do
So would, I think, in no way disagree
With our desire. There will be time, ‘tis true,
To call again ere the long week doth flee.
On, on! The Captain waits impatiently,
His dwelling is but further on the way.
Mayhap our lingering he well can see
And thinks it is not seemly thus to stay
When he is waiting for us, so away, away!

14. The Captain is as hale as ever yet,
With boist’rous yell he greets our entering.
His wife, the same sweet lady, quick to get
The home-brewed liquor with the salt-sea sting.
Then silver-headed Ma wants us to sing.
And so upon the organ stool I sit,
Converting into anthem many a thing
Intentioned for a dance-band. Not a whit
Care we, but sing them all, not stop, nor rest a bit.

15. We leave at length, to come another day;
And up the darkened road stride arm in arm.
Sure-footed cross the stream, find the dark way
And not the twinkling light of many a farm
Shine out from round a tree. None come to harm
In climbing up the quarry, though loose bricks
Slither like shingle. Soon the tent is warm
With hissing Primus, reeking pipes, and wicks
Of hurricane lamps aglow – and not one of us speaks

16. But smokes in silence in his blankets lain,
With cups and mugs and a great cocoa-pot
Set in a row. On canvas drums the rain,
But here ‘tis dry and so we heed it not.
Soon out the cocoa pours, all steaming hot.
We rise to drink, then sing again at ease,
Smoking and murmuring, the world forgot,
Till Charles comes wet, doffs clothes, drinks brew, gives sneeze,
Nestles in bed, out lights, at last comes sleep and peace.