Padraic Colum

(8 December 1881 – 11 January 1972 / County Longford)

Blades - Poem by Padraic Colum

SOJOURNER, set down
Your skimming wheel;
Nothing is sharp
That we have of steel:
Nothing has edge:
Oh, whirl around
Your wheel of stone
Till our blades be ground!

Harshly, quickly, under blades
Hafted with horn and wood and bone
Went the wheel:
Narrow long knives that should be one edge,
House-knives that sliced the loaf to the heel,
And scraped scales off mackerel,
And weighty knives that were shaped like a wedge-
Stone wakened keenness m their steel:
Knives with which besom-makers pare
Their heather-stalks, and hawkers' blades
Used by men of a dozen trades;
Broad-bladed knives that cut bacon-sides,
And stumpy knives for cobblers' hides,
With hunters' knives that were thinned with wear:-
All were brought to,
All were laid on,
All were ground by
The Sojourner's wheel.

And those who filled the market-square
Saw hand and eye upon their ware
That were well schooled and scrupulous
To spend upon that task their use.
But sparks came from the eyes and met
The sparks that were from the edges whet
As eagerly and wittingly
The dullness of each blade scoured he,
And the brow he bent was like a stone.

Over the grinding-stone he sang,
'The dalesman's sword shall make you fear,
And the dirk in the grasp of the mountaineer,
likewise the pirate's blue cutlass
have left your blades long edgeless!'
the men were thinking of games of cards,
the looks of the boys were turned towards
corner where they played pitch and toss,
the women thought of the herring across
tongs to roast where pot-hooks hang,
ready and unforward men have no right to any lien
the gifts of Tubal Cain,
The gifts of our father, Tubal Cain!'

But no one drew meaning from the song
As he made an equal edge along
One side of the blade and the other one,
And polished the surface till it shone.

'Now leave a blessing on what you have done.'

'For what I have done I take my fee,
But no blessing I leave on it,' said he,
'Everybody knows,
Everybody knows

That the knife-grinder
No blessing bestows.'

Then the market-place, with wheel a-pack,
He left, and the men to their cards went back
And talked of a bird in the cocker's loft;
And of liming linnets beside the croft
The boys told between pitch and toss;
And the women laid the herring across
The tongs to roast for a sloven's meal.

And he went out beside the Peel
Tower, and through Saint Selskar's Gate,
Heading at a hearty rate
Towards the hilltops and the shades.

And three who brought back sharpened blades
To their fathers' stalls by the Tan-yard Side,
And then stayed while a blackbird cried
Quietly by their groundsills
The butcher's daughter,
The cobbler's daughter,
The hawker's daughter,
Were lost on the hills!


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010



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