Country People

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.

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