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The THRESHER's LABOUR.

To the Revd. Mr. STANLEY.

1 THE grateful Tribute of these rural Lays,
2 Which to her Patron's Hand the Muse conveys,
3 Deign to accept: 'Tis just she Tribute bring
4 To him, whose Bounty gives her Life to sing;
5 To him, whose gen'rous Favours tune her Voice;
6 And bid her, 'midst her Poverty, rejoice.
7 Inspir'd by these, she dares herself prepare,
8 To sing the Toils of each revolving Year;
9 Those endless Toils, which always grow anew,
10 And the poor Thresher's destin'd to pursue:
11 Ev'n these, with Pleasure, can the Muse rehearse,
12 When you and Gratitude demand her Verse.
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13 SOON as the golden Harvest quits the Plain,
14 And CERES' Gifts reward the Farmer's Pain;
15 What Corn each Sheaf will yield, intent to hear,
16 And guess from thence the Profits of the Year,
17 He calls his Reapers forth: Around we stand,
18 With deep Attention, waiting his Command.
19 To each our Task he readily divides,
20 And pointing, to our diff'rent Stations guides.
21 As he directs, to distant Barns we go;
22 Here two for Wheat, and there for Barley two.
23 But first, to shew what he expects to find,
24 These Words, or Words like these, disclose his Mind:
25 "So dry the Corn was carry'd from the Field,
26 " So easily 'twill thresh, so well 'twill yield;
27 "Sure large Days-works I well may hope for now:
28 " Come, strip and try; let's see what you can do. "
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29 DIVESTED of our Cloathes, with Flail in Hand,
30 At proper Distance, Front to Front we stand:
31 And first the Threshal's gently swung, to prove
32 Whether with just Exactness it will move:
33 That once secure, we swiftly whirl them round;
34 From the strong Planks our Crab-tree Staves rebound,
35 And echoing Barns return the rattling Sound.
36 Now in the Air our knotty Weapons fly,
37 And now with equal Force descend from high;
38 Down one, one up, so well they keep the Time,
39 The CYCLOPS' Hammers could not truer chime;
40 Nor with more heavy Strokes could Aetna groan,
41 When VULCAN forg'd the Arms for THETIS' Son.
42 In briny Streams our Sweat descends apace,
43 Drops from our Locks, or trickles down our Face.
44 No Intermission in our Work we know;
45 The noisy Threshal must for ever go.
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46 Their Master absent, others safely play;
47 The sleeping Threshal does itself betray.
48 Nor yet, the tedious Labour to beguile,
49 And make the passing Minutes sweetly smile,
50 Can we, like Shepherds, tell a merry Tale;
51 The Voice is lost, drown'd by the louder Flail.
52 But we may think Alas! what pleasing thing,
53 Here, to the Mind, can the dull Fancy bring?
54 Our Eye beholds no pleasing Object here,
55 No chearful Sound diverts our list'ning Ear.
56 The Shepherd well may tune his Voice to sing,
57 Inspir'd with all the Beauties of the Spring.
58 No Fountains murmur here, no Lambkins play,
59 No Linnets warble, and no Fields look gay;
60 'Tis all a gloomy, melancholy Scene,
61 Fit only to provoke the Muse's Spleen.
62 When sooty Pease we thresh, you scarce can know
63 Our native Colour, as from Work we go.
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64 The Sweat, the Dust, and suffocating Smoak,
65 Make us so much like Ethiopians look,
66 We scare our Wives, when Ev'ning brings us home;
67 And frighted Infants think the Bugbear come.
68 Week after Week, we this dull Task pursue,
69 Unless when winn'wing Days produce a new:
70 A new, indeed, but frequently a worse!
71 The Threshal yields but to the Master's Curse.
72 He counts the Bushels, counts how much a Day;
73 Then swears we've idled half our Time away:
74 "Why, look ye, Rogues, d'ye think that this will do?
75 " Your Neighbours thresh as much again as you. "
76 Now in our Hands we wish our noisy Tools,
77 To drown the hated Names of Rogues and Fools.
78 But wanting these, we just like School-boys look,
79 When angry Masters view the blotted Book:
80 They cry," their Ink was faulty, and their Pen; "
81 We," the Corn threshes bad, 'twas cut too green. "
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82 BUT soon as Winter hides his hoary Head,
83 And Nature's Face is with new Beauty spread;
84 The lovely Spring appears, refreshing Show'rs
85 New cloath the Field with Grass, and blooming Flow'rs.
86 Next her, the rip'ning Summer presses on,
87 And SOL begins his longest Race to run.
88 Before the Door our welcome Master stands;
89 Tells us, the ripen'd Grass requires our Hands.
90 The grateful Tidings presently imparts
91 Life to our Looks, and Spirits to our Hearts.
92 We wish the happy Season may be fair;
93 And, joyful, long to breathe in op'ner Air.
94 This Change of Labour seems to give such Ease,
95 With Thoughts of Happiness ourselves we please.
96 But, ah! how rarely's Happiness complete!
97 There's always Bitter mingled with the Sweet.
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98 When first the Lark sings Prologue to the Day,
99 We rise, admonish'd by his early Lay;
100 This new Employ with eager Haste to prove,
101 This new Employ, become so much our Love.
102 Alas! that human Joys should change so soon!
103 Our Morning Pleasure turns to Pain at Noon.
104 The Birds salute us, as to Work we go,
105 And with new Life our Bosoms seem to glow.
106 On our right Shoulder hangs the crooked Blade,
107 The Weapon destin'd to uncloath the Mead:
108 Our left supports the Whetstone, Scrip, and Beer;
109 This for our Scythes, and these ourselves to chear.
110 And now the Field, design'd to try our Might,
111 At length appears, and meets our longing Sight.
112 The Grass and Ground we view with careful Eyes,
113 To see which way the best Advantage lies;
114 And, Hero-like, each claims the foremost Place.
115 At first our Labour seems a sportive Race:
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116 With rapid Force our sharpen'd Blades we drive,
117 Strain ev'ry Nerve, and Blow for Blow we give.
118 All strive to vanquish, tho' the Victor gains
119 No other Glory, but the greatest Pains.
120 BUT when the scorching Sun is mounted high,
121 And no kind Barns with friendly Shade are nigh;
122 Our weary Scythes entangle in the Grass,
123 While Streams of Sweat run trickling down apace.
124 Our sportive Labour we too late lament;
125 And wish that Strength again, we vainly spent.
126 THUS, in the Morn, a Courser have I seen
127 With headlong Fury scour the level Green;
128 Or mount the Hills, if Hills are in his Way,
129 As if no Labour could his Fire allay;
130 Till PHOEBUS, shining with meridian Heat,
131 Has bath'd his panting Sides in briny Sweat:
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132 The lengthen'd Chace scarce able to sustain,
133 He measures back the Hills and Dales with Pain.
134 WITH Heat and Labour tir'd, our Scythes we quit,
135 Search out a shady Tree, and down we sit:
136 From Scrip and Bottle hope new Strength to gain;
137 But Scrip and Bottle too are try'd in vain.
138 Down our parch'd Throats we scarce the Bread can get;
139 And, quite o'erspent with Toil, but faintly eat.
140 Nor can the Bottle only answer all;
141 The Bottle and the Beer are both too small.
142 Time flows: Again we rise from off the Grass;
143 Again each Mower takes his proper Place;
144 Not eager now, as late, our Strength to prove;
145 But all contented regular to move.
146 We often whet, and often view the Sun;
147 As often wish, his tedious Race was run.
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148 At length he veils his purple Face from Sight,
149 And bids the weary Labourer Good-night.
150 Homewards we move, but spent so much with Toil,
151 We slowly walk, and rest at ev'ry Stile.
152 Our good expecting Wives, who think we stay,
153 Got to the Door, soon eye us in the Way.
154 Then from the Pot the Dumplin's catch'd in haste,
155 And homely by its Side the Bacon plac'd.
156 Supper and Sleep by Morn new Strength supply;
157 And out we set again, our Work to try;
158 But not so early quite, nor quite so fast,
159 As, to our Cost, we did the Morning past.
160 SOON as the rising Sun has drank the Dew,
161 Another Scene is open to our View:
162 Our Master comes, and at his Heels a Throng
163 Of prattling Females, arm'd with Rake and Prong;
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164 Prepar'd, whilst he is here, to make his Hay;
165 Or, if he turns his Back, prepar'd to play:
166 But here, or gone, sure of this Comfort still;
167 Here's Company, so they may chat their Fill.
168 Ah! were their Hands so active as their Tongues,
169 How nimbly then would move the Rakes and Prongs?
170 THE Grass again is spread upon the Ground,
171 Till not a vacant Place is to be found;
172 And while the parching Sun-beams on it shine,
173 The Hay-makers have Time allow'd to dine.
174 That soon dispatch'd, they still sit on the Ground;
175 And the brisk Chat, renew'd, afresh goes round.
176 All talk at once; but seeming all to fear,
177 That what they speak, the rest will hardly hear;
178 Till by degrees so high their Notes they strain,
179 A Stander by can nought distinguish plain.
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180 So loud's their Speech, and so confus'd their Noise,
181 Scarce puzzled ECHO can return the Voice.
182 Yet, spite of this, they bravely all go on;
183 Each scorns to be, or seem to be, outdone.
184 Meanwhile the changing Sky begins to lour,
185 And hollow Winds proclaim a sudden Show'r:
186 The tattling Crowd can scarce their Garments gain,
187 Before descends the thick impetuous Rain;
188 Their noisy Prattle all at once is done,
189 And to the Hedge they soon for Shelter run.
190 THUS have I seen, on a bright Summer's Day,
191 On some green Brake, a Flock of Sparrows play;
192 From Twig to Twig, from Bush to Bush they fly;
193 And with continu'd Chirping fill the Sky:
194 But, on a sudden, if a Storm appears,
195 Their chirping Noise no longer dins your Ears:
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196 They fly for Shelter to the thickest Bush;
197 There silent sit, and All at once is hush.
198 BUT better Fate succeeds this rainy Day,
199 And little Labour serves to make the Hay.
200 Fast as 'tis cut, so kindly shines the Sun,
201 Turn'd once or twice, the pleasing Work is done.
202 Next Day the Cocks appear in equal Rows,
203 Which the glad Master in safe Ricks bestows.
204 THE spacious Fields we now no longer range;
205 And yet, hard Fate! still Work for Work we change.
206 Back to the Barns we hastily are sent,
207 Where lately so much Time we pensive spent:
208 Not pensive now, we bless the friendly Shade;
209 And to avoid the parching Sun are glad.
210 Yet little Time we in the Shade remain,
211 Before our Master calls us forth again;
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212 And says, "For Harvest now yourselves prepare;
213 " The ripen'd Harvést now demands your Care.
214 "Get all things ready, and be quickly drest;
215 " Early next Morn I shall disturb your Rest. "
216 Strict to his Word! for scarce the Dawn appears,
217 Before his hasty Summons fills our Ears.
218 His hasty Summons we obey; and rise,
219 While yet the Stars are glimm'ring in the Skies.
220 With him our Guide we to the Wheat-field go,
221 He to appoint, and we the Work to do.
222 YE Reapers, cast your Eyes around the Field;
223 And view the various Scenes its Beauties yield:
224 Then look again, with a more tender Eye,
225 To think how soon it must in Ruin lie!
226 For, once set in, where-e'er our Blows we deal,
227 There's no resisting of the well-whet Steel:
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228 But here or there, where-e'er our Course we bend,
229 Sure Desolation does our Steps attend.
230 THUS, when Arabia's Sons, in Hopes of Prey,
231 To some more fertile Country take their Way,
232 How beauteous all Things in the Morn appear!
233 There rural Cots, and pleasant Villa's here!
234 So many grateful Objects meet the Sight,
235 The ravish'd Eye could willing gaze till Night.
236 But long ere then, where-e'er their Troops have past,
237 These pleasing Prospects lie a gloomy Waste.
238 THE Morning past, we sweat beneath the Sun;
239 And but uneasily our Work goes on.
240 Before us we perplexing Thistles find,
241 And Corn blown adverse with the ruffling Wind.
242 Behind our Master waits; and if he spies
243 One charitable Ear, he grudging cries,
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244 "Ye scatter half your Wages o'er the Land."
245 Then scrapes the Stubble with his greedy Hand.
246 LET those who feast at Ease on dainty Fare,
247 Pity the Reapers, who their Feasts prepare:
248 For Toils scarce ever ceasing press us now;
249 Rest never does, but on the Sabbath, show;
250 And barely that our Masters will allow.
251 Think what a painful Life we daily lead;
252 Each Morning early rise, go late to Bed:
253 Nor, when asleep, are we secure from Pain;
254 We then perform our Labours o'er again:
255 Our mimic Fancy ever restless seems;
256 And what we act awake, she acts in Dreams.
257 Hard Fate! Our Labours ev'n in Sleep don't cease;
258 Scarce HERCULES e'er felt such Toils as these!
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259 BUT soon we rise the bearded Crop again,
260 Soon PHOEBUS' Rays well dry the golden Grain.
261 Pleas'd with the Scene, our Master glows with Joy;
262 Bids us for Carrying all our Force employ;
263 When strait Confusion o'er the Field appears,
264 And stunning Clamours fill the Workmens Ears;
265 The Bells and clashing Whips alternate sound,
266 And rattling Waggons thunder o'er the Ground.
267 The Wheat, when carry'd, Pease, and other Grain,
268 We soon secure, and leave a fruitless Plain;
269 In noisy Triumph the last Load moves on,
270 And loud Huzza's proclaim the Harvest done.
271 OUR Master, joyful at the pleasing Sight,
272 Invites us all to feast with him at Night.
273 A Table plentifully spread we find,
274 And Jugs of humming Ale, to chear the Mind;
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275 Which he, too gen'rous, pushes round so fast,
276 We think no Toils to come, nor mind the past.
277 But the next Morning soon reveals the Cheat,
278 When the same Toils we must again repeat;
279 To the same Barns must back again return,
280 To labour there for Room for next Year's Corn.
281 THUS, as the Year's revolving Course goes round,
282 No Respite from our Labour can be found:
283 Like SISYPHUS, our Work is never done;
284 Continually rolls back the restless Stone.
285 New-growing Labours still succeed the past;
286 And growing always new, must always last.

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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): The THRESHER's LABOUR. To the Revd. Mr. STANLEY.
Author: Stephen Duck
Themes: rural life; labour
Genres: heroic couplet; essay

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Source edition

Poems on several occasions: By Stephen Duck. London: printed for the author, 1736, pp. 10-27. xl,334,[2]p. ; 4⁰. (ESTC T90234; OTA K073280.000)

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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

Secondary literature

  • Goodridge, John. Stephen Duck, The Thresher's Labour, and Mary Collier, The Woman's Labour. Gerrard, Christine, ed. A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006. 209-222. Print.
  • Keegan, Bridget. Georgic Transformations and Stephen Duck's 'The Thresher's Labour'. Studies in English Literature 41 (2001): 545-562. Print.
  • Mulholland, James. 'To sing the toils of each revolving year': song and poetic authority in Stephen Duck's The Thresher's Labour. Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 33 (2004): 153-174. Print.

Other works by Stephen Duck