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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.


The Reapers of Lindisfarne

By Margaret J. Preston (1820–1897)

IN his abbey cell Saint Cuthbert

Sate burdened and care-dismayed:

For the wild Northumbrian people,

For whom he had wrought and prayed,

Still clung to their warlike pastime,

Their plunder and border raid;

Still scouted all peaceful tillage,

And queried with scowling brow,

“Shall we who have won our victual

By the stout, strong hand till now,

Forswearing the free, bold foray,

Crawl after the servile plough?”

“Through year and through year I have taught them

By the word of my mouth,” he said,

“And still, in their untamed rudeness,

They trust to the wilds for bread;

But now will I teach henceforward

By the toil of my hands instead.

“In their sight I will set the lesson;

And, gazing across the tarn,

They shall see on its nether border

Garth, byre, and hurdled barn,

And the brave, fair field of barley

That shall whiten at Lindisfarne.”

Therewith from his Melrose cloister

Saint Cuthbert went his way:

He felled the hurst, and the meadow

Bare him rich swaths of hay,

And forth and aback in the furrow

He wearied the longsome day.

And it came to pass when the autumn

The ground with its sere leaves strawed,

And the purple was over the moorlands,

And the rust on the sunburnt sod,

That, ripe for the reaper, the barley

Silvered the acres broad.

Then certain among the people,

Fierce folk who had laughed to scorn

The cark of the patient toiler,

While riot and hunt and horn

Were wiling them in the greenwood,

Cried: “Never Northumbrian born

“Shall make of his sword a sickle,

Or help to winnow the heap:

The hand that hath sowed may garner

The grain as he list,—or sleep,

And pray the hard Lord he serveth,

That his angels may come and reap.”

Right sadly Saint Cuthbert listened;

And, bowing his silvered head,

He sought for a Christ-like patience

As he lay on his rush-strewn bed,

And strength for the morrow’s scything,

Till his fears and his sadness fled.

Then he dreamed that he saw descending

On the marge of the moorland tarn

A circle of shining reapers,

Who heaped in the low-eaved barn

The sheaves that their gleaming sickles

Had levelled at Lindisfarne.

In the cool of the crispy morning,

Ere the lark had quitted her nest

In the beaded grass, the sleeper

Arose from his place of rest;

“For,” he sighed, “I must toil till the gloaming

Is graying the golden west.”

He turned to look at his corn-land;

Did he dream? Did he see aright?

Close cut was the field of barley,

And the stubble stood thick in sight:

For the reapers with shining sickles

Had harvested all the night!