Norman Rowland Gale

(1862-1942 / England)

An Orchard Dance


All work is over at the farm
And men and maids are ripe for glee;
Love slips among them sly and warm
Or calls them to the chestnut-tree.
As Colin looks askance at Jane
He draws his hand across his mouth;
She understands the rustic pain,
And something of the tender south
About her milkmaid beauty flits.
Her dress of lilac print for guide
Draws shepherd Colin where she sits,
Who, faring to her lovely side
To snatch his evening pension tries,
But skimming like a bird from clutch
The maid escapes his Cupid touch,
And speeding down a passage flies
Not fast enough to cheat his eyes.
Ah, sweet-lip ways and sweet-lip days,
And sweetheart captures of the waist,
How swiftly still the virgin runs
She's sure at last to be embraced!
Now Colin fires at kiss delayed,
And faster flits the red stone floor
Till Fortune yields the tricky maid
A captive at the pantry door!

The farmer with his fifty years
Is not too old to join the fun;
He pulls the milkmaids' pinky ears
And bids a likely stripling run
To find the fiddlers for a dance:
And in the cherry orchard there
A tune shall mingle with romance,
And love be brave in open air.

The village wakens to the bliss,
The crones and gaffers crawl to see
The country game of step and kiss
Beneath the laden cherry-tree.
The chairs and benches now are set,
Old John is wheedled from his pet,
The cider cup with beady eyes
Responds to winkings of the skies.
The farmer, burly in his chair,
Now claps for ev'ry fond and fair
To foot it on the grassy patch
While rustic violinists snatch
From out those varnished birds of wood
A tune to jink it in the blood.
Now Jane and Colin in a trice
Float sweetly round not less than thrice
Before their motion draws a pair
To revel with the dancing air.
The thrush, that on his velvet wipes
His juicy bill, protesting pipes,
And, somewhat as a piccolo,
Doth race the concord of the bow.
A virgin yonder by the tree
Rejects a mate who saucily
Would press, if she might only start,
Her modest homespun to his heart.
Ah, sweet-lip ways and sweet-lip days,
And sweetheart captures of the waist,
Though like a finch the maiden flies
She's sure at last to be embraced.

The orchard now is in full bloom
With rosy cheek and snowdrop throat;
The stars invade the growing gloom,
And rarelier sounds the blackbird's note.
But in this dewy little park
Love burns the brighter for the dark,
And till he use a stricter rule
Dear Cicely's cheek shall never cool!
The fiddlers storm a tomboy tune,
The shepherds closer clasp the girls
While skirts the more desert the shoon,
And rebel leap the loely curls.
The farmer glows within his chair
And muses on the dancing time
When he and she--a matchless pair--
Were warm and nimble in their prime.
God bless the man who, duller grown,
Can feel the younger heaven anew
By granting to his maids and men
A romp by starlight in the dew!
Ah, greenwood ways and greenwood days,
And soft pursuings of the waist,
The cheek must yellow out of praise,
And bent be those who once embraced!

And now they pant against the trees,
And, using darkness for their plan,
Girls loose the garters at their knees
And mend the clumsiness of man.
One virgin, thankful for the dance,
About the music shyly trips--
Her Love's a fiddler, and her love
Pops fruit in Paganini's lips;
Or finding on the starlit tree
The wife and husband cherry there,
She hangs the couple at his cheek
And hides the stalk with tufts of hair.
The girls are at the cider-cup,
And shepherds tilt the yellow base
Until a giddy amber flood
Runs, kissing, over Cicely's face,
And Dora's upper lip doth shine
With winking beads of apple-wine.
The fiddlers scrape a farewell tune,
The dancers dwindle in the dusk
While summer puffs of easy wind
Bring hints of cottage garden musk.

And thus the revel dearly ends
With milkmaid's palm in shepherd's hand,
And lovers grow from only friends
Where plum and pear and apple stand.
Ah, sweet-lip ways and sweet-lip days,
And sweetheart captures of the waist,
How fast so-e'er the virgin flies
She's sure at last to be embraced!

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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