1794
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Reapers. A Pastoral.

Poems, Lyric and Pastoral. In Two Volumes. By Edward Williams

Edward Williams


A pastoral eclogue in nine stanzas of anapestic couplets "Inscribed to the Glamorgan Agricultural Society." The Reapers appears to be an early response to Burns's Cotter's Saturday Night, translated into Williams's own "British" idiom — like Burns, Edward Williams, a mason by trade, was an autodidact, and like Burns he was a sturdy supporter of the Rights of Man. As the reapers take to the field, Corydon entertains them with a song extolling the virtues of humble life: "I sing of your honours, I sing of your wealth, | Your days of contentment, your blessings of health; | The virtues, the joys, of those peaceable swains, | Who, pupils of Nature, inhabit the plains" 1:59. The song has much in common with rural retirement odes, though the distinction it draws is as much between labor and leisure as between country and city. In place of Burns's Wallace, Williams's conclusion hails a British hero: "Thus Corydon sang to glad hearers around, | Loud shouts of applause bade the welkin resound; | We now the ripe corn widely falling behold, | So fell before ARTHUR the Saxons of old." 1:65. The use of stanzas also parallels the Cotter's Saturday Night, though Williams substitutes the anapestic meter for Burns's Spenserian stanzas as more appropriate to pastoral song.

Author's note: "Golden curls.] Now the Author dares venture his life that there is not a Pastoral writer in all Grub-street that knows any thing of the 'wheat's golden curls.' — Poor devils!" 1:60n.



All up with the Sun, the brisk reapers were seen,
Prepar'd with their sickles, and walking the green;
The lads whistle jocund, their lasses attend
At Love's tender call, sweet assistance to lend;
As gamesome along, through the morning's fresh air,
The gay village-throng to the wheat-field repair,
Blithe Corydon, tuning his musical tongue,
Thus the preface of rural felicity sung.

CORYDON.
The carol of gladness is due to this day,
Ye lads and ye lasses attend to my lay.
Ye that from high Pride's bloating passions are free,
And join in the labours of harvest with me,
I sing of your honours, I sing of your wealth,
Your days of contentment, your blessings of health;
The virtues, the joys, of those peaceable swains,
Who, pupils of Nature, inhabit the plains.

Let those that abide in the filth of a town
Deride, if they please, the meek life of a clown;
We laugh at their tinsel, our taste is too nice
To be pleas'd with their toils, or to relish their vice;
In worthless pursuits let them squander their time,
Their luxuries love, and fall off in their prime;
Whilst we, rural swains, in low villages find
Rich plenty, sweet health, and a peaceable mind.

How happy the life of an innocent swain,
That dwells with his herds and his flocks on the plain;
Who labours abroad on his farm all the day,
Now turning his fallows, now tedding his hay;
Here cattle in fields of rich clover we view;
Here lambkins in meads of a beautiful hue;
And here the rich fruits of his labours we find,
Where the wheat's golden curls gently wave in the wind.

He slights the pretensions of Grandeur and Wealth,
And thinks them surpass'd by Contentment and Health;
His well-founded hopes are by Providence bless'd,
And on it's protection with confidence rest:
He whistles and sings as he rambles his farm,
Loves innocent mirth, and he thinks it no harm;
By blissful experience, he feelingly knows
The solid content that from industry flows.

'Tis Industry's toil ev'ry comfort secures,
The sweetest enjoyments of Nature insures;
Warm raiment, sweet food, from its hand we derive;
It fosters, and keeps all the virtues alive;
It planted the rose that yon garden adorns,
Where grew the rank hemlock with venomous thorns;
It gives ev'ry feeling a polish refin'd,
And calms the rude passions, and brightens the mind.

When cold surly storms of bleak Winter appear,
The swain that's industrious has nothing to fear;
Though round him proud hills are all cover'd with snow,
Through streams are congeal'd in the vallies below,
With plenty well-suiting his humble desire,
He cheerfully sits by the side of his fire;
His moments of peace leading jocund along,
With stories of old, or a merry new song.

The skies are now bright, we repair to the field,
Nor lags one behind that a sickle can wield;
The hills and the vales shall resound with our din;
We'll joyfully bustle till harvest is in;
Or if for a moment to rest we sit down,
We'll merrily jeer the fine folk of the town,
Who trifle their lives in dull follies away,
And see the Sun shine, but neglect to make hay.

Thus Corydon sang to glad hearers around,
Loud shouts of applause bade the welkin resound;
We now the ripe corn widely falling behold,
So fell before ARTHUR the Saxons of old;
Anon the good farmer's neat maidens appear,
They toil under loads of old British good cheer;
The lasses are kiss'd, then the reapers regale,
And the song comes again o'er a cup of good ale.

[1:58-65]