The Fox’s Prophecy

The first guest post from Marian Escafeld, a poem sent to me that has some verses that resonate with the EU Referendum looming….

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The Fox’s Prophecy, 1871
By
D. W. Nash

Tom Hill was in the saddle

One bright November morn,

The echoing glades of Guiting Wood

Where ringing with his horn.

The diamonds of the hoar-frost

 

Were sparkling in the sun,

Upon the falling leaves the drops

Were shining one by one.

The hare lay on the fallow,

The robin caroled free;

The linnet and the yellow finch

Twittered from tree to tree.

In stately march the sable rook

Followed the clanking plough;

Apart their watchful sentinel

Cawed from the topmost bough.

Peeped from her hole the field-mouse

Amid the fallen leaves;

From twig to twig the spider

Her filmy cable weaves.

The wavings of the pine boughs

The squirrel’s from disclosure;

And through the purple beech-tops

The whirring pheasant rose.

The startled rabbit scuttered

Across the grassy ride;

High in mid-air the hovering hawk

Wheeled round in circles wide.

The freshest wind was blowing

O’er groves of beech and oak,

And through the boughs of larch and pine

The struggling sunbeam broke.

The varied tints of autumn

Still lingered on the wood,

And on the leaves the morning sun

Poured out a golden flood.

Soft, fleecy clouds were sailing

Across the vault of blue;

A fairer hunting morning

No huntsman ever knew.

All nature seemed rejoicing

That glorious morn to see;

All seemed to breathe a fresher life –

Beast, insect, bird, and tree.

But sounds and sight of beauty

Fell dull on eye and ear;

The huntsman’s heart was heavy

His brow oppresses with care.

High in his stirrups raised he stood,

And long he gazed around;

And breathlessly and anxiously

He listened for a sound.

But nought he heard save song of bird,

Or jay’s discordant cry;

Or when among the tree-tops

The wind went murmuring by.

No voice of hound, no sound of horn;

The woods around were mute,

As though the earth had swallowed up

His comrades-man and brute.

The thought, ‘I must essay to find

My hounds at any cost;

A huntsman who has lost his hounds

Is but a huntsman lost.’

The round he turned his horse’s head,

And shook his bridle free,

When he was struck by an aged fox

That sat beneath a tree.

He raised his eyes in glad surprise,

That huntsman keen and bold;

But there was in that fox’s look

That made his blood run cold.

He raised his hand to touch his horn,

And shout a ‘Tally-ho!’

But, mastered by that fox’s eye,

His lips refused to blow,

For he was grim and gaunt of limb,

With age all silvered o’er;

He might have been an Artic fox

Escaped from Greenland’s shore.

But age his vigor had not tamed,

Not dimm’d his sparkling eye,

Which shone with an unearthly fire –

A fire could never die.

And thus the huntsman he addressed,

In tones distinct and clear,

Who heard as they who in a dream

The fairies’ music hear.

‘Huntsman,’ he said­a sudden thrill

Through all the listener ran,

To hear a creature of the wood

Speak like a Christian man ­

‘Last of my race, to me ‘tis given

The future to unfold,

To speak the words which never yet

Spake fox of mortal mould.

‘Then print my words upon your heart,

And stamp them on your brain,

That you to others may impart

My prophecy again.

‘Strong life is yours in manhood’s prime,

Your cheek with heat is red;

Time has not laid his finger yet

In earnest on your head.

‘But ere your limbs are bent with age,

And ere your locks are grey,

The sport that you have loved so well

Shall long have passed away.

In vain shall generous Colmore

Your hunt consent to keep;

In vain the Rendcombe baronet

With gold your stores shall heap.

In vain Sir Alexander,

And Watson Keen in vain,

O’er the pleasant Cotswold hills

The joyous sport maintain.

‘Vain all their efforts: spite of all,

Draws nigh the fatal morn,

When the last Cotswold fox shall hear

The latest huntsman’s horn.

‘Yet think not, huntsman, I rejoice

To see the end so near;

Nor think the sound of horn and hound

To me a sound of fear.

‘In my strong youth, which numbers now

Full many a winter back,

How scornfully I shook my brush

Before the Berkeley pack.

‘How oft from Painswick Hill I’ve seen

The morning mist uncurl,

When Harry Airis blew the horn

Before the wrathful Earl.

‘How oft I’ve heard the Cotswolds’ cry

As Turner cheered the pack,

And laughed to see his baffled hounds

Hang vainly on my track.

‘Then think not that I speak in fear,

Or prophesy in hate;

Too well I know the doom reserved

For all my tribe by fate.

‘Too well I know, by wisdom taught

The existence of my race

O’er all wide England’s green domain

Is bound up with Chase.

‘Better in early youth and strength

The race for life to run,

Than poisoned like the noxious rat,

Or slain by felon gun.

‘Better by wily sleight and turn

The eager hound to foil,

Thank slaughtered by each baser churl

Who yet shall till the soil.

‘For not upon these hills alone

The doom of sport shall fall;

O’er the broad face of England creeps

The shadow on the wall.

‘The years roll on: old manors change,

Old customs lose their sway;

New fashions rule; the grandsire’s garb

Moves ridicule to-day.

‘The woodlands where my race has bred

Unto the axe shall yield;

Hedgerow and copse shall cease to shade

The ever-widening field.

‘The manly sports of England

Shall vanish on by one;

The manly blood of England

In weaker veins shall run.

‘The furzy down, the moorland heath,

The steam plough shall invade;

Nor park nor manor shall escape ­

Common, nor forest glade.

‘Degenerate sons of manlier sires

To lower joys shall fall;

The faithless lore of Germany,

The guilded vice of Gaul.

‘The sports of their forefathers

To baser tastes shall yield;

The vices of the town displace

The pleasures of the field.

‘For swiftly o’er the level shore

The waves of progress ride;

The ancient landmarks one by one

Shall sink beneath the tide.

‘Time ­ honoured creeds and ancient faith,

The Altar and the Crown,

Lordship’s hereditary right,

Before that tide go down.

‘Base churls shall mock the mighty names

Writ on the roll of time;

Religion shall be held a jest,

And loyalty a crime.

‘No word of prayer, no hymn of praise

Sound in the village school;

The people’s education

Utilitarians rule.

‘In England’s ancient pulpits

Lay orators shall preach

New creeds, and free religions

Self ­ made apostles teach.

‘The peasants to their daily tasks

In surly silence fall;

No kindly hospitalities

In farmhouse or in hall.

‘Nor harvest feast nor Christmas tide

Shall farm or manor hold;

Science alone can plenty give,

The only god is Gold.

“The homes where love and peace should dwell.

Fierce politics shall vex.

And unsexed woman strive to prove

Herself the coarser sex.

‘Mechanics in their workshop

Affairs of State decide;

Honour and truth ­ old fashioned words ­

The noisy mobs deride.

‘The statesmen that should rule the realm

Coarse demagogues displace;

The glory of a thousand years

Shall end in foul disgrace.

The honour of old England,

Cotton shall buy and sell,

And hardware manufacturers

Cry “Peace! ­ lo! All is well.”

Trade shall be held the only good,

And gain the sole device;

The statesman’s maxim shall be peace,

And peace at any price.

“Her army and her navy

Britain shall cast aside;

Soldiers and ships are costly things,

Defence an empty pride.

The German and the Muscovite

Shall rule the narrow seas;

Old England’s flag shall cease to float

In triumph on the breeze

The footstep of the invader

Then England’s shore shall know,

While home­bred traitors give the hand

To England’s every foe.

‘Disarmed, before the foreigner,

The knee shall humbly bend,

And yield the treasures that she lacked

The wisdom to defend.

‘But not for aye-­yet once again,

When purged by fire and sword,

The land her freedom shall regain,

To manlier thoughts restored.

“Taught wisdom by disaster,

England shall learn to know

That trade is not the only gain

Heaven gives to man below.

‘The greed for gold departed,

The golden calf cast down,

Old England’s sons again shall raise

The Altar and the Crown.

“Rejoicing seas shall welcome

Their mistress once again;

Again the banner of St. George

Shall rule upon the main.

“The blood of the invader

Her pastures shall manure;

His bones unburied on her fields

For monuments endure.

‘Again in hall and homestead

Shall joy and peace be seen,

And smiling children raise again

The maypole on the green.

‘Again the hospitable board

Shall groan with Christmas cheer,

And mutual service bind again

The peasant and the peer.

“Again the smiling hedgerow

Shall field from field divide;

Again among the woodlands

The scarlet troop shall ride.’

Again it seemed that aged fox

More prophecies would say,

When sudden came upon a wind,

‘Hark forrard! Gone away!’

The listener started from his trance ­

He sat there all alone;

That well-known cry had burst the spell,

The aged fox was gone.

The huntsman turned. He spurred his steed,

And to the cry he sped;

And, when he thought upon that fox,

Said naught, but shook his head.

Cheltenham, 1871

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