Homeland is effectively three poems in one, dealing with a British assault on the Roman Barbury Castle, memories of 19 local places and praise of the River Cole.
How pleasant 'tis to cast aside one's suffering for a while,
Forget his own tormentous life and cultivate a smile,
To throw the wretched burden down and leave the din behind,
And rush into the open fields, and dally with the wind,
To pluck a primrose from the bank, the hawthorn from the bough,
The purple heather from the hill, or the hyacinth below!
Dear Barbury, how I love to trace thy strong embattled mound,
To think upon the mighty dead beneath thy hallowed ground,
To cast imagination back to far-off distant days,
And watch the world through other eyes, her customs and her ways!
I see the armed hordes of men with many a livid scar
Assembled in the plains beneath and marshalled up for war,
I see the thin advancing line thrown out and forward cast,
And catch the clarion's strident note and hear the trumpet's blast.
"Ad arma, arma," comes the cry, re-echoed from the hill,
"Vivat Italia" from the trench, and "Roma, Roma," still;
Up, up the heights the invaders creep, bravely and undismayed,
And rush along the level crest and storm the palisade.
Thick fly the missiles round about, the solid posts remain,
The foremost line is beaten down, the valiant heroes slain;
Another wave comes dashing on and leaps against the wall,
A second slaughter is begun, the stern invaders fall;
Again and yet again they strive to reach the inner mound,
The clustering Romans hold the field and beat them back to ground.
Immediate from the further side thin wreaths of smoke arise
And curling up beyond the trench, ascend into the skies,
The invading foe have gained the fence, unnoticed and unknown,
And fired the obstructing palisade, and think to burn it down.
The arrested Romans sound the alarm and view it with amaze,
Rush eager to the assaulted spot and try to quench the blaze,
The wily Britons, half concealed behind the volleying smoke,
Fetch up the faggots from the field, the fir-wood and the oak,
And cast it on the burning pile, and raise a lusty din,
Hoping to force the barrier down and take the camp within.
Here lumps of various fat are brought and solid balls of pitch
To swell the volume of the flames and help to scale the ditch;
Another, bolder than the rest, his utter garb disclaims,
And tears it eager from his back and casts it in the flames;
Seized with a passionate desire, runs forward from his place
And catches up a burning brand and hurls it in their face.
In vain! no labours will avail, down from the dizzy mound
The angry Romans leap apace and make a sally round,
Take the invaders in the rear and drive them to the plain,
Leaving a bloody trail behind and numbers of the slain,
Re-climb the fortress of the hill with many a lusty shout,
Gather the corpses from the trench and cast them roughly out.
Within the warriors are received in patriotic style,
The old centurion's rightly pleased, the very Tribunes smile,
Forthwith the daring deed is writ for Claudius at home,
With every detail of the siege and posted off to Rome;
Peace rules the circle of the camp, the old centurions guard
Their sentinel upon the ridge, or sit upon the sward.
The worsted Britons down below present a woful plight,
No tents receive their vestige in to shield them from the night,
Their lame and wounded in the field are painfully withdrawn
And shrouded in the narrow wood or herded on the lawn;
The corpses of the dead are claimed and honoured with a mound,
And buried with their broken shields and left amid the ground.
Now messengers are posted off to Pewsey in the Vale,
And Cirencester to the north, to tell the doleful tale,
New reinforcements to engage, to storm the height once more,
And drive the cursed Roman out from old Britannia's shore;
The hard repast is meted out, the solemn band removes
And disappears beyond the heights or underneath the groves.
Ofttimes on Liddington's bare peak I love to think and lie,
And muse upon the former days and ancient things gone by,
To pace the old castellum walls and peer into the past,
To learn the secret of the hills, and know myself at last,
To woo Dick Jefferies from his dreams on Sorrow's pillow tossed,
And walk with him upon the ridge, and pacify his ghost.
Anon to woody Savernake or Marlborough I repair
To wander in the forest glooms and take my pleasure there,
There to inhale the morning breath, or brush the evening dews,
Down the long corridors and aisles and in the avenues.
On Hinton is the dear resort, that's perched above the dale,
Or Charlbury Hill, or Totterdown, or Aldbourne in the Vale,
Or on toward the rising sun where Alfred fought the Dane,
And beat five foreign princes down and won the realm again;
By Ashdown, turning to the north, o'er many a warrior's grave,
Straight to the margin of the hill and halt at Wayland's Cave.
Now forward to the east again where sharp against the skies
The sturdy Roman station stands, the towering ramparts rise,
The scene of many an ancient fight, and many a bloody scar,
A stern and solitary peak, the vantage ground of war.
Here Alfred, conqueror of the Dane, to celebrate the fight,
Returning from the bloody field, upon the western height
Carved the white figure of a horse, eternal thanks to show,
And tell the victory far and wide to the happy fields below,
Wherefore 'tis clearly White Horse Hill, called by the king's command,
That overlooks the pleasant vale, the noblest in the land.
There's one more character of note, that's Dragon Hill beneath,
Where good King George impaled the beast and wounded him to death,
No grass upon the summit grows, 'tis where his blood was shed,
Here all the herb is withered up, the roots are dry and dead.
Now forward to the east again along the balmy slope
I climb the summit of the ridge and stand upon the top,
Thence, looking to the distant south, among the verdant green
The Lambourne heights are visible, Seven Barrows too are seen,
Still, silent emblems of the past, the doom of men and things,
The burial ground of heroes, or the sepulchres of kings.
Filled with the magic of the hills, I take the passage down
And loiter underneath the wood and pass the Blowing Stone,
Through peaceful Uffington I steer and westward in my course,
And sally through the pleasant lanes, up the Valley of the Horse,
Musing upon the woody elms, the meadows, and the streams,
Filled with all nameless, dear delights, pure flowery thoughts and dreams.
And O how sweet, when direst grief afflicts the withering soul,
To wander in the fields unseen beside the flowery Cole,
Down the long avenues of elms, o'er many a verdant patch,
Or by the old forked willow-tree there underneath the hatch,
To listen to the gurgling stream, the full melodious flow
Down the long sliding pavement to the silent pool below!
Here as I sit and meditate the water-fowl swims by,
The lordly heron overhead sails up along the sky,
The timid water-rat peeps out and paddles in the stream,
The bright kingfisher flies across, the scaly fishes gleam,
The cheerful robin and the wren express a tender note,
And the gold-billed blackbird chirps aloud and whistles in his throat.
Here sweet herb-willow from the brook dilates a rich perfume,
And meadow-sweet upon the bank and yellow bedstraws bloom,
Here purple cranes-bill meets the eye in terraces and plots,
The golden cinquefoil by the wall, and blue forget-me-nots,
Rich comfrey and bright money-wort trail all the banks beneath,
And on the hedge the summer rose emits a fragrant breath.
How oft in boyhood's happier days I loved to wander here
Upon the margin of the brook, beside the waters clear,
How oft to tread the verdant fields, to shelter in the cool,
To chase the squirrel in the wood, to angle in the pool,
To pluck the wilding from the bunch, the berries red and brown,
To scamper underneath the boughs, and shake the hazels down!
Ah! youth is full of happy days, and hopes of golden things,
Little we reck about the past or what the future brings,
Too soon the vision steals apace, hard bitter pangs we feel,
Joy's brittle bubbles break and pass, Time turns his heavy wheel.
Dear quiet Cole, meandering down mid flowery banks and hems,
Bearing thy tributary gift to placid-flowing Thames,
Many a bitter tear I've shed, and wanted many a joy
Since first I gambolled on thy banks, there when I was a boy.
I've watched the summer come and fade with many an aching heart,
Brown Autumn wither in the fields, Spring blossom and depart,
My dearest dreams have withered too, my brightest hopes are sped,
Cold blows the drear autumnal blast, and chill upon my head.
Thou only, dearest Cole, remain'st, you shadowy pools and rills,
You sweetly-sacred meadow walks, you open downs and hills,
You faintly-stirring odorous winds that puff among the leaves,
You flowers that bloom along the banks, you golden-drooping sheaves;
You only cheer my sable path, and save me from the gloom
That over-awes my daily thought, the blackness of the tomb;
The iron bond is on my heart, the world would wrest and wring
And wrench my fingers from the clutch, but closer yet I cling;
I cannot, will not leave you yet, while I have strength to give,
I'll clasp you to my loving soul as long as I shall live,
And in my death, whate'er dissolves, I'll love you deeper still,
Forever floating in the vale or wafting on the hill.
Illustration courtesy of From a Yellow House in England
Alphabetical list of poems online