Gilbert White introduced the Natural History of Selborne (1789) with a selection of his verses, including this description of one family’s harvest time. Their field would have been much smaller than this expanse of barley, ready for the combine harvester, but barley it might well have been, grown for the breweries of London and nearby Alton. Every year, White would have seen the harvest gathered in by hand as he records here. By the sweat of their brow this couple took their part in God’s creation.
Waked by the gentle gleamings of the morn,
Soon clad, the reaper, provident of want,
Hies cheerful-hearted to the ripen’d field:
Nor hastes alone: attendant by his side
His faithful wife, sole partner of his cares,
Bears on her breast the sleeping babe; behind,
With steps unequal, trips her infant train;
Thrice happy pair, in love and labour join’d !
All day they ply their task; with mutual chat,
Beguiling each the sultry, tedious hours.
Around them falls in rows the sever’d corn,
Or the shocks rise in regular array.
But when high noon invites to short repast,
Beneath the shade of sheltering thorn they sit,
Divide the simple meal, and drain the cask:
The swinging cradle lulls the whimpering babe
Meantime; while growling round, if at the tread
Of hasty passenger alarm’d, as of their store
Protective, stalks the cur with bristling back,
To guard the scanty scrip and russet frock.