Proudly the youth, by manhood sudden crowned,
Went walking by his horses to the plough,
For the first time that morn. No soldier gay
Feels at his side the throb of the gold hilt
(Knowing the blue blade hides within its sheath,
As lightning in the cloud) with more delight,
When first he belts it on, than he that day
Heard still the clank of the plough-chains against
The horses’ harnessed sides, as to the field
They went to make it fruitful. O’er the hill
The sun looked down, baptizing him for toil.
A farmer’s son he was, and grandson too;
Yea, his great-grandsire had possessed these fields.
Tradition said they had been tilled by men
Who bore the name long centuries ago,
And married wives, and reared a stalwart race,
And died, and went where all had followed them,
Save one old man, his daughter, and the youth
Who ploughs in pride, nor ever doubts his toil;
And death is far from him this sunny morn.
Why should we think of death when life is high?
The earth laughs all the day, and sleeps all night.
Earth, give us food, and, after that, a grave;
For both are good, each better in its time.
The youth knew little; but he read old tales
Of Scotland’s warriors, till his blood ran swift
As charging knights upon their death career.
And then he chanted old tunes, till the blood
Was charmed back into its fountain-well,
And tears arose instead. And Robert’s songs,
Which ever flow in noises like his name,
Rose from him in the fields beside the kine,
And met the sky-lark’s rain from out the clouds.
As yet he sang only as sing the birds,
From gladness simply, or, he knew not why.
The earth was fair–he knew not it was fair;
And he so glad–he knew not he was glad:
He walked as in a twilight of the sense,
Which this one day shall turn to tender light.
For, ere the sun had cleared the feathery tops
Of the fir-thicket on the eastward hill,
His horses leaned and laboured. His great hands
Held both the reins and plough-stilts: he was proud;
Proud with a ploughman’s pride; nobler, may be,
Than statesman’s, ay, or poet’s pride sometimes,
For little praise would come that he ploughed well,
And yet he did it well; proud of his work,
And not of what would follow. With sure eye,
He saw the horses keep the arrow-track;
He saw the swift share cut the measured sod;
He saw the furrow folding to the right,
Ready with nimble foot to aid at need.
And there the slain sod lay, patient for grain,
Turning its secrets upward to the sun,
And hiding in a grave green sun-born grass,
And daisies clipped in carmine: all must die,
That others live, and they arise again.
Then when the sun had clomb to his decline,
And seemed to rest, before his slow descent,
Upon the keystone of his airy bridge,
They rested likewise, half-tired man and horse,
And homeward went for food and courage new;
Whereby refreshed, they turned again to toil,
And lived in labour all the afternoon.
Till, in the gloaming, once again the plough
Lay like a stranded bark upon the lea;
And home with hanging neck the horses went,
Walking beside their master, force by will.
Then through the deepening shades a vision came.
It was a lady mounted on a horse,
A slender girl upon a mighty steed,
That bore her with the pride horses must feel
When they submit to women. Home she went,
Alone, or else the groom lagged far behind.
But, as she passed, some faithless belt gave way;
The saddle slipped, the horse stopped, and the girl
Stood on her feet, still holding fast the reins.