Robert Kirkland Kernighan

(25 April 1854 – 3 November 1926 / Ontario)

Wilson Keeper's Thrashing - Poem by Robert Kirkland Kernighan

' I 'm out uv breath, Matildy Nunn ;

I Ve come some spoons and plates to borry,
Fer women's work is never done

You see we 're goin to thrash tomorry.
The big masheen is braced an sot :

They Ve got the biler full uv water ;
We 've twenty pies, an I 've furgot,

As sure 's I 'm Wilson Keefer's daughter,
How many tarts ! We cooked a sheep.
We Ve got a peck uv apples, canned ;

The weather 's hot I hope they'll keep
An Paw, he says he wants a hand.'
' An here he is ! ' says Silas Nunn ;
' I heerd ye talk as I went pas ;

I 'll eat a piece uv lamb fer fun '-
' Now, Silas Nunn, you go to grass !

Quit ! there now, yer mother 's looking :
Just see ! you 've rumpled up my hair :

I ain 't half dressed fer I Ve bin cookin ;
I 'm out uv temper, too, so there !
' We 'll send the hierd man,' cool says he
Then pretty Susie changed her plan :
' Oh, Silas, come yoreself,' says she,
Fer Paw don't like the hierd man !'

Her shining eyes are laughing through
Her tumbled mop of tawny hair :
' Paw says they hardly ever do
A gee-up job, cep you are there.'

She blushes ; full of vague alarms
And maiden fears, her heart-strings tug ;

But Silas takes her in his arms,
And gives the girl he loves, a hug.

The whistle screams at five o'clock ;

Its echoes whoop around the farms ;
The hands are wakened by the shock,

And nimbly leap from ' Morphy's ' arms.
Again th' impatient engine roars :

The echoes once again entreat :
The farmers nimbly do their chores,

And then swarm out to thrash the wheat.
Big Bill and Fleming's hired man,

Young Skeesicks Kent and Tom Maguire,,
The Awful Swede and Hairy Dan,

And Andy Krouse, as tough as wire ;
Along the sideroads, on they come,

All full of fight, fatigue and fun ;
All strong of thew and thigh and thumb,

Their pitchforks shining in the sun.
They gather joking in the yard ;

They work for love and not for pay-
None half so tender none so hard-
No barn so full of chaff as they.
'Hillo! Skeesicks, how air you? '

' Great Caesar's ghost ! there 's Hairy Dan ! '
' I say there, Tom, kin it be true

That Skeesick's gone on Mary Ann?'
' I did heer tell,' says Thrasher Jack,

As he the concave bar is ' fittiii,'
' Thet Skeesicks got the inside track,

An Andy Krouse he 's got the mitten.'

Then Andy gives a furnace sniff,

And Skeesicks gapes like any pot hole :
Look here, don't Skeesicks look as if

Somebody 'd pulled him thro' a knot hole ?
He sot up all uv Sunday night

With Mary Ann ; now ain't he fresh ?
He 's lookin scart, an pale an white ;

He 's kinder fallin off in flesh.'
' He 's knee sprung, too,' says Levi Hutch

Three fingered ; but a handy chap
u She weighs three hundurd, that 's too much
To hold all night upon yore lap!'


' Hillo ! you grannies, git a movin,

Lift off that door ye strong mow hands,
To build a table. Yer, be hoovin,
Whoever 's goin to cut ther bands.'

Then Wilson Keef er gives a shout :

' Look here ! I 'm layin down the law :
One man will kerry bushels out,

An three will take away the straw.
You, Skeesicks, you will cut ther bands ;

If yore in love, then that is play
Them worthless scamps, the other hands,

Will use their pitchforks in the bay ! '
The plug of ' chewin ' goes the round ;

Each takes his place with high resolves ;
The gearing makes a moaning sound ;

The mighty fly-wheel now revolves.
The driver, standing on the wheel,

Speaks softly to his matchless team ;
The barn and all its inmates feel


The trampling stallion's steam and steel.
The flooring trembles 'neath their feet ;

The beams, the girts, the braces quake ;
The strain is felt on clamp and cleat

The purlines ring, the rafters shake.
The big machine begins to throb ;

The sheaves her fierce embraces meet
With half a cry and half a sob ;

She starts her song, ' I thresh the wheat ;'
Her voice is mellow, rich and strong,

Deep toned, and round her phrases surge :
A medley 'tis a comic song

A hymn a slogan and a dirge.
She tells the story of the wheat,

The windy fields, the torrid skies,
The wholesome frost, the rain and sleet,

The rust, the smut, the hessian flies ;
Unto the hands you hear her cry :

' You hav n't time to parley, O,'
She sings : ' I 'm coming thro' the rye,'

Or ' The wind that shakes the barley, O.'
She laughs, and then her breath regaineth :

She sinks her tones in love and peace,
That while the wond'rous earth remaineth,
' Seed time and harvest shall not cease.'
She talks of thorny fields and stones,

Of barren spots where thistles grow ;
And then, with hell-like tongue, intones :

' Behold a sow'r went forth to sow.'
She drops it there, and tries a ruse

To start the workers all forlorn,
And shrieks out ' Susie, Susie, Suse !

Susie ! the cows are in the corn ! '

An angry song is on her tongue ;

A wet sheaf strikes the cylinder
Zip-biff! zip-bong! zip-bang! zip-bung!

Zip-boom ! zip-bing ! zip-boom ! zip-birr !
That tried her strength she coughs and rasps

A belt flies off the thrashers run ;
The mow-men pause, the engine gasps ;

She waits until repairs are done,
Then, with a rising roar of wrath,

A leaping web of straw she weaves ;
She hurls the dust along her path

And thunders out, ' More sheaves ! more sheaves !'
The hands out on the straw-stack stamp,

The hurried mow-men strive and sweat ;
The bushel-bearer's shirt is damp,

And every brow is dripping wet ;
Till, far above the rumbling rhyme,

Long Skeesicks yells the lazy loon :
' I say there ! hey there ! what 's the time ?

Becuz me stumach says it 's noon ! '

The loon was right ; for as he spoke,

And while the thrashers winked and grinned,
Sweet Susie from the cook-house broke,

And waved a white cloth in the wind.
A table cloth ! it worked a spell :

The grinning driver kissed his hand,
The engine gave a frantic yell,

And ' Noon hour ! ' rang o'er all the land.
The sound the workers' ears refreshed :

They tumbled down with faces swart ;
Big Bill reported that they 'd thrashed

Four hundred bushels since the start.

They went at Skeesicks with a noise :
' Does Skeesicks want some bread and pork ?
Jist watch him at his dinner, boys,

And see him swing a table fork.'
With many jokes, and many rubs,

They wend them to the kitchen door ;
They plunge their faces in the tubs,

And rub them till they 're almost sore.
Sweet Susie comes out with a broom,

And sweeps the dust from Silas Nunn ;
Poor Silas knows 't will be his doom

To be the butt of barn-yard fun.
But Susie sweeps her father, too ;

Her cousin Bob and Uncle John,
While Mary Ann McGinnis, true,

Like tiger on a hapless fawn,
Leaps down on Skeesicks with a rush,

As any loving maiden would,
And soon transforms him, with a brush,

Into a rather likely dude.
Again the table cloth unfurls :

All rush inside, with one accord,
Where all the pretty neighbor girls

Are pinafored around the board ;
And such a board ! 't is groaning, quite,

Beneath a rich and varied feast,
To take the edge off appetite

From man or insect, bird or beast.
There 's mutton roast and mutton stew,

Cabbage, taters, and turnip mash ;
Cold slaw and biting peppers, too,

And beets as red as Nellie's sash ;
And butter worth its weight in gold

No epicure would dare to pass
And bowls as full as they can hold

Of toothsome cider apple-sass ;
There 's pickles sweet and pickles sour,

Tomatter ketchup by the quart ;
There 's buttered squash and cauliflower,

And onions dressed with wondrous art ;
There 's apple, peach and punkin pie,

Big doughnuts richly fried in lard,
A handsome sponge cake, brown and high,

And ginger bread both soft and hard.
But best of all were Susie's pride :

Great stacks of wholesome, home-made bread ;
And on the slices, thick and wide,

The weary workers freely fed.
But while their jaws were hard at work

Those merry jaws so hard to bridle
They boldly bandied quip and quirk,

And not a tongue was ever idle :
' Ain't Mary Ann as sweet as peaches ?'

' Now Tom, you shet, er jes especk
Thet I '11 tell Kate,' she o'er him reaches,

And spills some gravy down his neck.
When Kitty squeezes past Big Bill,

He pinches her and makes her squeak ;
Enough of tea to turn a mill

Makes Bill's backbone warm for a week.
To girls, no sight is half so grand

'Tis world-wide true ; I know indeed
A maiden dearly loves to stand

And watch a hearty lover feed.
The buckskinned maiden of the woods,

The beggar girl upon the street,

The choice of princes or of dudes

Each loves to see her lover eat.
For be it lizard, crow or hog ;

Seal blubber, cocoanut or whale ;
Sharks' fins, birds' nests or roasted dog ;

A piece of snake or cakes an ale
So, see him with his breech clout on,

Or in high collar, scourge himself ;
For be his dinner bread or braun,

She loves to see him gorge himself.
And so the girls stood round about,

Each gladly filling plate on plate ;
They loved to hear the fellows shout,

And relish everything they ate.
At last the boys uprise to go :

Each gives the girls a parting joke,
And then with sluggish motions, slow,

Sprawled in the shade to grunt and smoke.
So when the men had all retired,

The panting girls gazed on the scene :
The tables they erstwhile admired

Were different from they once had been.
A garden, where a herd of steers

Has trod the roses all to pieces ;
The sheep, when hungry wolf appears,

And tears and rends the pretty fleeces
So looked the table framed with bones,

A waste, a slashing and a wreck ;
With polka dots of cherry stones

And broken pie to fill a peck.
A board where Christians late have dined !

If you will careful mark the ravage
Then you '11 conclude, unless you 're blind,

We 're only once removed from savage.
Now, whether you be fed on beef,

Or live a loyal vegetarian ;
Or be your title ' reeve ' or ' chief,'

Your blood 's essentially barbarian.
So thought the girls. They swiftly piled

The dirty dishes on the shelves,
Then 'mid the ruins, meek and mild,

They all sat down to feed themselves,
And while they nibbled this and that

The best in pantry, cask or cellar
Each maiden, in their reckless chat,

Discussed her dusty shirted ' feller.'

Meanwhile a loud increasing drone

A deep and smutty-throated roar,
Was telling with a snarl and moan

The men were all at work once more.
All afternoon the music ran :

All day in dust the scene was cloaked ;


But all throughout the noisy plan

The sweating workers joyous joked.
The mow went downward inch by inch,

The graceful stack was upward pushed,
And not a man would dare to flinch

Or have it said that he was ' bushed.'
The news would all the county shock

'T would be discussed at every table,
And after church 't would be the talk

In every grocery store and stable.
And he who got the awful name

Of being ' bushed ' at Keefer's thrashing,
Would have to hang his head in shame,

And never try his hand at mashing.
Each girl, however poor and plain

By soulless Time however pushed,
Would still look down with deep disdain

Upon a man who had been ' bushed.'
So every one works with a will,

Till all at once the joking ceases ;
A pitchfork thunders thro' the mill

And tears the concave all to pieces !
The farmers from the building stream,

And Keefer stares around in sorrow ;
The driver closes off the steam

The jig is up until to-morrow.

At thrashings once in ancient days

The whiskey circulated freely ;
Yet 't was a time of prayer and praise,

And folks that drank were Christians, really,
Our late religion of the lip

Has rather changed our noble breed.
When every farmer took a nip

When he was putting in the seed ;
And when the bottle passed around

The bright and busy harvest field,
Then not a drunkard could be found,

And cider every autumn sealed.
But our religion of the lip

Will from the highest housetop tell
That he who dares to take a nip,

Is bound to sweat it out in hell.
Methinks our land was just as well

Before these modern days had fallen.
Ah, they were further off from hell,

With whiskey at twenty cents a gallon


Than we are now ; but on my pate

I 'll soon have tem'prance brick-bats crashing ;
I Ve talked so much, it 's now too late

To finish Wilson Keefer's thrashing.


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, May 12, 2012



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