O country people, you of the hill farms,
Huddled so in darkness I cannot tell
Whether the light across the glen is a star ..
Or the bright lamp spilling over the sill,
I would be neighbourly, would come to terms
With your existence, but you are so far;
There is a wide bog between us, a high wall.
I’ve tried to learn the smaller parts of speech
In your slow language, but my thoughts need more
Flexible shapes to move in, if I am to reach
Into the hearth’s red heart across the half-door.
You are coarse to my senses, to my washed skin;
I shall maybe learn to wear dung on my heel,
But the slow assurance, the unconscious discipline
Informing your vocabulary of skill,
Is beyond my mastery, who have followed a trade
Three generations now, at counter and desk;
Hand me a rake, and I at once, betrayed,
Will shed more sweat than is needed for the task.
If I could gear my mind to the year’s round,
Take season into season without a break,
Instead of feeling my heart bound and rebound
Because of the full moon or the first snowflake,
I should have gained something. Your secret is pace.
Already in your company I can keep step,
But alone, involved in a headlong race,
I never know the moment when to stop.
I know the level you accept me on,
Like a strange bird observed about the house,
Or sometimes seen out flying on the moss
That may tomorrow, or next week, be gone,
Liable to return without warning
On a May afternoon and away in the morning.
But we are no part of your world, your way,
As a field or tree is, or a spring well.
We are not held to you by the mesh of kin;
We must always take a step back to begin,
And there are many things you never tell
Because we would not know the things you say.
I recognize the limits I can stretch
Even a lifetime among you should leave me strange
For I could not change enough, and you will not change;
There’d still be levels neither’d ever reach.
And so I cannot ever hope to become
For all my goodwill toward you, yours to me,
Even a phrase or a story which will come
Pat to the tongue, part of the tapestry
Of apt response, at the appropriate time,
Like a wise saw, a joke, an ancient rime
Used when the last stack’s topped at the day’s end,
Or when the last lint’s carted round the bend.