I grip the handles of the scythe and swing it right to left, right to left. I keep the blade low but away from the dulling stones. It slices through the stems and the wheat falls to my left, into a neat row.

The scythe moves easily; I can work like this for hours. It is satisfying to do something well. This is a good day.

Do not mistake me. I do not forget the bad days or the hungry days, or the pain of life and its grief. I do not forget the long, cold, miserable winters, and the tiny coffins going into the ground.

I forget none of these things; they are in my bones, but, with the warmth of the sun on my back and a breeze stirring the leaves of the oaks, I remember what it is to be alive.

I swing the blade, right to left, right to left. I hear the hiss of the scythe as it cuts through the stalks. I hear birds singing in the hedgerow, bees humming.

It will soon be time to rest; I have worked since dawn. I will have some bread and cheese, and a good draught of ale. I will do then what I always do. I will lean back and look up at the sky, and think of the time when I will go with Sarah to the church on the hill to say our vows.

I will dream of Sarah, and her strong brown legs, her clear blue eyes, and that smile. I will hear the laughing and shouting and squabbling of the little ones that we will raise, when we are given our cottage by the hay-meadow.

The sounds have changed.

Now I see that I am wrong. Today is not for dreaming.

It is time for the reaper, clattering behind me, coming closer and closer.

There is no birdsong, now, no plodding or whinnying or snorting from the horses. There is only the rattle of machinery, and the tramp, tramp, tramp of the crop being swept into the blades. It is a blind and heartless thing; it marches across the land, and treads down everything it meets.

I swing the blade from right to left. I look straight ahead; there is no need to turn. I do not have to see it to know that its great iron wheels are pounding the earth.

There will be flecks of red lying amongst the mess that it leaves behind.

These poor scraps of colour will soon be gone. They are petals torn from broken poppies.



5 thoughts on “Early Harvest 1914

  1. Hi Vic, a great story full of nostalgic memories of warm summer days stacking sheaves of corn and then later in the year feeding the threshing machine in the stack yard as mice and rats run for cover.
    But as your story indicates the whole country community is depleted and given over to the modern mechanization of monster tractors and harvesting machines (not just combine harvesters). Around here, the by product for me is the destruction of many hedge rows and trees lines as fields are made larger to accommodate the machines. Also farm workers’ houses are either derelict or else became country retreats for the rich town folk. Curlew nests destroyed by two cut silage system and,,, ..need I go on?
    Good story,

    Regards, James.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, James. It’s strange, isn’t it, that we can still feel nostalgic for a way of life that disappeared so long ago? It’s made worse by knowing that there’s nothing that we can do about it. Thanks again for your kind comments. All the best, Vic.


  2. I interpret the ‘early harvest’ to be that of the enormous loss of life at the start of WW1 in 1914. To me, the rest of the poem falls in with this – the pre-war, idyllic memories providing a contrast to the reality of what is the ‘now’. No birdsong or snorting of horses (all now decaying in the quagmire) – and those ‘great iron wheels’ of the tanks coming ever closer. The ‘reaper’ will take all in the end, leaving only a trail of poppies where the dead have fallen,
    (Now you can tell me I’ve interpreted this completely wrongly!)
    Evocative images in your lovely poem, Vic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You see this exactly as I intended, so I won’t complain! There is a more literal interpretation available for those who prefer it. Although at this time farm labourers were being displaced by mechanisation, reaping machines could not work on a field until a first swathe had been cut by scythe. This provided a place for the horses to walk without trampling the crop. So a reaper using a scythe would be able to hear the rattling machinery behind him gradually getting closer. Thank you for reading this and leaving such a generous comment. 🙂


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