England: Chartist Ernest Jones’ poem A Hymn for Lammas Day

Ernest JonesFrom London daily The Morning Star:

Sharpen the sickle

(Tuesday 29 August 2006)

POETRY: Ernest Jones

AUBREY BOWMAN studies Chartist Ernest Jones’s best poem.

The sickle, like its less agile big brother the scythe, is often associated with the figure of “time” and, naturally, with work on the land.

In Sonnet 116, Shakespeare referred to “Time’s bending sickle” and, much later, William Blake gave us this telling quatrain:

“The sword sang on the barren heath, The sickle in the fruitful field: “The sword/He sang a song of death/But could not make the sickle yield.”

In Chartist Ernest Jones’s poem A Hymn for Lammas Day, the sickle is the image used in an exhortation at the beginning of each verse, addressed to the reapers in the field.

The poem goes on to describe a characteristic country scene at harvest time, with the whitened sheen from the hot summer sun on the cornfields.

In the second verse, we find a change of mood.

No longer the simple pastoral scene of the first verse. “Proud, pomp,” even “golden” are words which, it is true, can describe the fully erect stems of ripened corn, but they are words which can also conjure up a picture of serried ranks’ demonstrators.

The poignant question, “How many will lie on the plain?” posed by Shelley in his poem The Mask of Anarchy about the massacre of Peterloo in Manchester, will still have been within living memory.

In the next lines, we meet the age-old concept of starvation in the midst of plenty, of people dying “in the sight of so rich a store.”

Chartism: here.

1842 British general strike: here.

Early 20th century English socialist MP Victor Grayson: here.

7 thoughts on “England: Chartist Ernest Jones’ poem A Hymn for Lammas Day

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