Cecil Lees

Hop picking 1941

In fruitful reds and floral gold the church is decked from wall to wall,
Sheaves of wheat adorn the aisle and grateful offerings mass the floor.
Pungent hops draped round the font once more, for harvest festival, revive the past, recalling days when we were children of a war.

No turning back to sleep again, those mornings in September, It seemed we'd been awake for hours just waiting for the dawn.
The shrouding, drifting mists half hid the path we took, remember? It seemed the world was ours alone as each day was born.

Before the sun had dried the dew, or insects tore frail threads. Of cobwebs sparkling in the hedge, like lace with diamond set; Damsons rained ripe 'wasp spoil' fruit on unsuspecting heads and legs were bathed by clinging fronds of green cow parsley, wet.

The winding path through dripping woods descended to the valley. Where pregnant bins, like lovers, held each pole in tight embrace. And blinkered shires prepared to toil as pickers stripped each alley- and oasts reached for a dawn-lit sky, with staid cathedral grace.

With flying fingers Grandma picked, a queen on canvas throne, surrounded by we children, who would her labours share.
Her sacking robes were stained with hops, her shoes all torn by stone, a straw hat on her head the only crown she'd ever wear!

Underfoot small infants crawled, like beetles in the dirt, and ragged toddlers roamed the bins in search of a friendly face.
No time, it seemed, to wash their hands, to hug, or kiss a hurt, no rest from picking hops, for her who laboured in this place.

And we who strive at Grandma's side, to fill that bin so deep, looked for no thanks nor pennies earn't, just glad to share each day.
Homewards dragged at eventide, too tired to eat or sleep, till drying hops on twilight breeze brought rest to where we lay.

And should the siren's warning call reverberate around, and toy-size planes their death games play among the clouds so high, we'd spare a thought for he so young, who played that game and lost.
That fateful day a year ago, from out a cloudless sky.

Today those hops have gone, and where they grow the wheat is gold, stench of rape invades the air and loud tractors roar.
Suburbia reigns where damsons dropped, all is changed... and I grow old, until those hops around the font bring back the child I was, once more.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 10, 2013

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

This poem was written by Yvonne Lane (Lees) about her childhood in Hempstead. She is the daughter of Cecil Lees.

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