Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Mower in Ohio

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Mower in Ohio

By John James Piatt (1835–1917)

[Born in James’ Mill, now Milton, Ind., 1835. Died in Ohio, 1917. Western Windows. 1869.—Poems of House and Home. 1879.—Idyls and Lyrics of the Ohio Valley. 1888.]

THE BEES in the clover are making honey, and I am making my hay:

The air is fresh, I seem to draw a young man’s breath to-day.

The bees and I are alone in the grass: the air is so very still

I hear the dam, so loud, that shines beyond the sullen mill.

Yes, the air is so still that I hear almost the sounds I cannot hear—

That, when no other sound is plain, ring in my empty ear:

The chime of striking scythes, the fall of the heavy swaths they sweep—

They ring about me, resting, when I waver half asleep;

So still, I am not sure if a cloud, low down, unseen there be,

Or if something brings a rumor home of the cannon so far from me:

Far away in Virginia, where Joseph and Grant, I know,

Will tell them what I meant when first I had my mowers go!

Joseph, he is my eldest one, the only boy of my three

Whose shadow can darken my door again, and lighten my heart for me.

Joseph, he is my eldest—how his scythe was striking ahead!

William was better at shorter heats, but Jo in the long-run led.

William, he was my youngest; John, between them I somehow see,

When my eyes are shut, with a little board at his head in Tennessee.

But William came home one morning early, from Gettysburg, last July,

(The mowing was over already, although the only mower was I):

William, my captain, came home for good to his mother; and I’ll be bound

We were proud and cried to see the flag that wrapt his coffin around;

For a company from the town came up ten miles with music and gun:

It seemed his country claimed him then—as well as his mother—her son.

But Joseph is yonder with Grant to-day, a thousand miles or near,

And only the bees are abroad at work with me in the clover here.

Was it a murmur of thunder I heard that hummed again in the air?

Yet, may be, the cannon are sounding now their Onward to Richmond there.

But under the beech by the orchard, at noon, I sat an hour it would seem—

It may be I slept a minute, too, or wavered into a dream.

For I saw my boys, across the field, by the flashes as they went,

Tramping a steady tramp as of old, with the strength in their arms unspent;

Tramping a steady tramp, they moved like soldiers that march to the beat

Of music that seems, a part of themselves, to rise and fall with their feet;

Tramping a steady tramp, they came with flashes of silver that shone,

Every step, from their scythes that rang as if they needed the stone—

(The field is wide and heavy with grass)—and, coming toward me, they beamed

With a shine of light in their faces at once, and—surely I must have dreamed!

For I sat alone in the clover-field, the bees were working ahead.

There were three in my vision—remember, old man: and what if Joseph were dead!

But I hope that he and Grant (the flag above them both, to boot),

Will go into Richmond together, no matter which is ahead or afoot!

Meantime, alone at the mowing here—an old man somewhat gray—

I must stay at home as long as I can, making myself the hay.

And so another round—the quail in the orchard whistles blithe;—

But first I’ll drink at the spring below, and whet again my scythe.

June, 1864.