The old go, one by one, like guttered flames.
This past winter
Tammag the bee-man has taken his cold blank mask
To the honeycomb under the hill,
Corston who ploughed out the moor
Unyoked and gone; and I ask,
Is Heddle lame, that in youth could dance and saunter
A way to the chastest bed?
The kirkyard is full of their names
Chiselled in stone. Only myself and Yule
In the ale-house now, speak of the great whale year.
This one and that provoked the taurine waves
With an arrogant pass,
Or probing deep through the snow-burdened hill
Resurrected his flock,
Or passed from fiddles to ditch
By way of the quart and the gill,
All night lay tranced with corn, but stirred to face
The brutal stations of bread;
While those who tended their lives
Like sacred lamps, chary of oil and wick,
Died in the fury of one careless match.
Off Scabra Head the lookout sighted a school
At the first light.
A meagre year it was, limpets and crows
And brief mottled grain.
Everything that could float
Circled the school. Ploughs
Wounded those wallowing lumps of thunder and night.
The women crouched and prayed.
Then whale by whale by whale
Blundering on the rock with its red stain
Crammed our winter cupboards with oil and meat.