Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Poetry of an Old Besom (A Blank Verse Poem)

The Poetry of an old Besom
A Blank Verse Poem

To my esteemed Friend of some Forty Years
Joseph Cowan Esq.,
[The mill-stone around Gladstones neck]
Of Stella Hall, Blaydonburn
(Late Member of Parliament for Newcastle-on-Tyne,)
This poem is most affectionately Dedicated (until I
have something better to offer for his acceptance).
George Markham Tweddell
Rose Cottage, Stokesley

There is much poetry in common things,
Which few of us are wise enough to feel,
Till Bards and Artists first make them their own,
And waken other souls to feel this truth.
A well-worn Besom laying near a pump 5
Was pointed out to me, and I was told
It was a subject which would quite defy
My greatest skill whereon to write a Poem;
The object was too unpoetical
E’en for a decent Essay writ in prose. 10
And my Companion for the nonce did kick
Away the Besom, as a loathsome thing,
Unworthy of his eyes to rest upon,—
One only conjuring up unworthy thoughts.
Opinions differ much in different minds, 20
And all our sympathies are not the same.
I mentioned the Prose-paper writ by SWIFT,
The witty sarcastic Dublin Dean,
In a most humorous parody of BOYLE,
Fully a century and a half ago; 25
But it was treated in too brief a style.
And only raised the laugh the Dean design’d.1
My “Meditations” differ’d from the Dean’s;
For straight before “my mind’s eye” there arose
A Vision of those Moors I dearly love, 30
With miles of Heather in full purple flower,

Which clothes with royal robe our Yorkshire Hills,
And shelters those poor Grouse which Sportmen seek
To slaughter for amusement. Ling in flower!
A sight to gladden every worthy soul 35
Which still retains some little of that love
Of natural beauty which so charms a Child.
A Youth and Maiden, in the spring of life,
Are seated on the Ling. Their eyes survey
The Landscape round with rapture; the blue Sea, 40
Studded with Ships and Steamers, unto them
Giving additional interest to the View:
Oh, may the Love which in her ears he pours
Prove all life long as earnest as ’t is now!
And may the Purity which blesses her 45
And all who come within her influence,
Never be sullied in her walk through life!
Methought the Bees were humming in mine ears
As they were gathering Honey from the Ling
And the Wild Clover.
Then the Vision changed. 50
Methought it was in Spring; and I beheld
A stalwart Man, whose face and arms were tann’d
By years of exposure to the Summer Sun,
Who, with his shining Sickle cut the Ling,
As Reapers did the Corn; and in his Carts, 55
Drawn by two Donkeys (which just then did graze
At leisure on the Sward, o’er which the Larks
Were carolling most joyously,) he placed
The moorland treasure, and conveyed it home:
Home—not to a close Cabin, in some Town 60
Where neither rural sight nor sound there be—
But to his Camp in a wide Yorkshire Lane,
Where there are pleasant places un-enclosed
Yet by our greedy Landgrabbers,—for whom
Six feet of earth will be full ground enough,2
And more than they deserve, when their poor souls 65
Have gone to their account: one of those spots
Where few folks pass, e’en on the longest day,
But where fine Wildflowers in profusion grow,
Where Whins gild all the “Waste” with gleams of gold,
And birds delight to build as well as sing,— 70
Which Pan might deem a perfect Paradise.
Anon, my Vision changed, and I beheld
The besom-maker’s Camp, in that lone Lane,

His Wife and Children, risen from sound sleep,
Such as the pamper’d very rarely know; 75
On straw spread ‘neath the Covers of the Carts,
Were looking quite as healthy as the Man.
A bare-foot Boy was handing him the Ling
To make his Besoms; the young Children ran
Chasing a Butterfly. O’er Fire of Sticks, 80
Fuel soon gather’d near, in Pan which hung
Suspended from a Tripod of three Poles,
Fasten’d together at their tops, their feet
Stretch’d as such distance o’er the cheerful blaze
That they were not consumed, his Wife was then 85
Cooking coarse Food, which the pure Air they breathed
And daily Exercise enabled them
To enjoy and thrive upon. And the Man
Took Shafts of Ash or Alder4, round which he
Deftly arranged the Heather at one end, 90
Binding him it firmly with his Briar-bands,
Or with split Hazel, and securing all
With Pegs of whate’er Wood came first to hand,
And, as he toil’d, most merrily he sang
Old Songs which cheer’d our Fathers long ago. 95
A powerful Mastiff, of pure English Breed,
Kept faithful watch all Night to guard the Camp
From all Intruders: peaceful he by Day,
But knowing well the Duty he should do,
And to be trusted as a Sentinel. 100
And that rough Man had Taste enough to love
The Beauty all around him; greater he,
In all true Manhood, than you simpering Fop,
To whom Life is a burden, “killing Time” 105
As well he can by Vice and Idleness,
And by his Follies slaughtering himself,—
The maddest of all Suicides I know.
And all the Besom-maker’s Family
Delight to listen to the Throstle’s Notes, 110
And to the Songs of Linnets from those Whins
Which glow like Flames around them everywhere.
For them the Sloe in early Spring sends forth
Its bonny Blossoms, and in May the Air 115
Around them by the Hawthorn is perfumed
As though they were in Rimmel’s Laboratory.
For them the Woodbine and the Wild Roses hang
Each Bush with Beauty; and the Broom presents
Plumes worthy of the helmets on the Brows 120
E’en of the best of my old Ancestors,

The fierce Plantagenets.3 Here Ferns abound
Whose Fronds may well supply an Artist’s Eye
With fine Designs our fabric to adorn,
Or Foregrounds for his Pictures. And lo there! 125
Yon huge old Crab-tree, in full Blossom now,
Is beauteous to behold. You could not have,
With EVELYN’s skill the Landscape to adorn,
A grander Park than this which Nature made,—
Scene of the Besom-maker’s Industry. 130
A gentle Rivulet runs whimpling near,—
A bosky Brook, that keeps all Summer cool—
Fresh from the Hills, with water all so cool—
It serves them as a Bath and Mirror both;
Its Banks all cover’d o’er with Primroses. 135
Whilst, close at hand, the purest Spring supplies
Abundance both for Drink and Cookery,—
A moss- and fern-clad Fountain, where, perchance,
Oberon, Titania, and their Elves,
May hold at times their Faery Revelry: 140
For there at Night the Glow-worms light their Lamps,
And on the Wildtime Bank above, all Day,
The gold-and sable-belted Humble Bees
Strike up their pleasant dreamy Minstrelsy.
There the Tormentil shows its little Star, 145
And Foxgloves (Fairy Fav’rites) proudly stand.4
There azure Harebells hang with greatest grace,
And many a Gem of Nature loves to grow.
Daybreak and Sunset and the Afterglow;
The Moon and Stars by Night; the Clouds by Day, 150
Moving each moment their Kaleidoscope,
In the Colours the Venetian Painters ne’er
Could not equal on their Canvas, e’en when their Art
Could boast of TITIAN or of VERONESE;—
Such are a portion of the Beauties spread 155
Daily around them,—and the whole are Free!
And should Disease attack them, (rarely known
To them who live a Life so natural,)
There are no lack of Simples close at hand,
A Friar Lawrence would delight to cull.5 160
But they who dwell with Nature like to them,

Have little need of Bookish Lore, nor lack
The painted Landscapes of e’en CLAUD LORRAINE,
WILSON, LINNELL, or TURNER, to give them
A healthy taste of Rural Scenery. 165
To them the Book of Nature opens wide;
And much they learn, though they could never pass
Examinations in our Colleges.
Again my Vision changed. I then beheld
That Woman and the largest of her Lads 170
Vending their besoms in the neighb’ring Town,
To honestly procure them Food and Clothes;
And then I felt it was a cruel Wrong
For Liberal Legislators, much mis-named,6
To Tax those poor but useful Labourers, 175
Because they exercised their natural Right
Of bartering Besoms made by the horn’d hands
Of Husband and of Father, in a Realm
Boasting its Freedom; their own Native Land,
As dear to them as it can ever be 180
To those who roll in Riches never earn’d
By their own Hands or Brains.
My Vision changed:
And then methought I saw the self-same Broom,
In its best fashion, brushing up the Dirt
From Stable and from Pavement, in the Hands 185
Of one who well could wield it aiding then
The Sanitary Laws; the cheerful Man
Whistling all the time he swept.
Worn to the stump,
As it now lay before me in the Yard,
It was not altogether useless then. 190
A buxom Maiden, with round rosy cheeks,
Who soon will marry, and bring forth a Breed
Of Boys and Girls as healthy as herself,
I saw impress’d its Services, when she
Wash’d her Potatoes, and it help’d her well 195
To cleanse the Tubors[1] from whatever Soil
Still clung to them when they first reach’d her Hands,
And when the Bands which bind the Besom now
Fail through Old Age, as I am failing fast,
The whole will aid in kindling her a Fire. 200
But every Atom will endure for aye,
In other forms: that which from the Earth was drawn
Will soon return in Ashes; but most part
Will float in the Air as gas, till plants breathe in
The Carbon, and retain it, to build up

The Grass, or Leaf, or Tree; and through all time
Its Particles will last in various forms,
As we have done in the primeval World,
Long ere those Saurians, at whose Fossils we
Now gaze on with such wonder, lived, and died. 210
Some Atoms of that well-worn Besom may
Have help’d to form the Body of a King,
Philosopher, or Poet, whose name on Earth
Mayhap has survived him Three Thousand Years;
And, in the Future, they again may bloom 215
As Flowers to gladden frail Humanity,
Or form Food for Mankind, when thou and I
Have long been quite forgot; yea, they may pass,
By natural process through the Blood, till they
May live in Artist’s or in Poet’s Brain. 220
For Matter is eternal: PROTEUS it,—
Ever assuming different Shapes, as taught
By HOMER, HESIOD, OVID, and the rest
Of Greek and Roman Poets long ago:
Alas! their Readers rarely penetrate 225
With BACON ’neath the surface of their Poems.7
To Minds which rightly think, nothing is mean
But evil Actions. Let us not despise
A thing at first so contemptible
As an Old Besom, and much less the Man 230
Who made it, poor he may ever be;
Nor ever shun his Friendship, if his Soul
Be but one tithe as pure as the fresh Air
And verdant Scenes in which he makes his Brooms.
And if our glorious Literature to him 235
Has been as a “seal’d Book;” if Science ne’er
Show’d him her grand Discoveries; if he
Be not so perfect as Men will become,
When knowledge of all Good “covers the Earth
As Waters do the Sea”—which yet will come:— 240
E’en now he is the Brother of the best:
Our duty lies in aiding to disperse
The clouds that hide him from the heavenly Light.
The very Broomstick, had its gift of Speech—
Though long since shorn of every green Leaf 245
That once were wont most gracefully to wave
Whatever Wind might blow—might sing to thee

Of happy Insects and rejoicing Birds
Which revell’d in its Branches.
And the Girths
(Or Laggings as we Clevelanders them call) 250
Of Bramble-briars which bind up the Ling,
Had they the power of utterance might hymn
A Melody more sweet than VIRGIL sang,
And tell us how, when blooming in the Brake,
A Poet came, and gazed with such delight, 255
That he felt forced to burst out into Song,
In praise of their pure “satin-threaded Flowers.”8
And how, when black-ripe Fruit took place of Flowers,
Children and Birds alike were fain to go
To feast upon their luscious Dewberries; 260
And how full many a Maid and Matron fair
Had paused in passing, and with gentle Hands
Pluck’d the wide Dessert, and their ruby Lips
Were stain’d by the refreshing Blackberries.
Such were the Thoughts which sprang into my Brain 265
When meditating on a well-worn Broom,
Whose Work has well-nigh done. Oh, when I die,
May my Life’s Work, and theirs who read this Lay,
Prove half as good as that Old Besom’s there!

George Markham Tweddell
Rose Cottage, Stokesley [[1] sic]
From North of England Tractates, No. 32

[[1] sic]
Note 1, Page 3.
See “A Meditation upon a Broomstick, according to the Style and Manner of
the Hon. Robert Boyle’s Meditation,” in which SWIFT exhibits all his trenchant
Note 2, Page 5
The reader will remember the brave answer of King Harold to his vile brother,
Tosti, (who had been driven from his mis-management of our district by the
revolt of the Northumbrians against his tyranny, and turned pirate,) to the
question asked just after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, September 25th, 1066.
What he would have given to his fellow-invader, Harold Hardrada, (or Harfager,)
King of Norway, whose five hundred ships had landed their cut-throat plunderers
in Cleveland,—“I will give him Six Feet of Earth; but stay—as he is a giant, he
shall have Seven!” which one is glad to know was all he got.
Note 3, Page 6
It was from wearing a sprig of the Planta Genista, or common Broom, in his
helmet, that Geoffry, Earl of Anjou, the father of King Henry the Second of
England first obtained the surname of Plantagenet. SHAKSPERE’s contemporary,
and probably acquaintance, one of the earliest and best of our English
botanists, JOHN GERARDE, recommended the pickled buds of the Broom,
used as Capers, for a Tonic.
Note 4, to Page 7.
The common name for Foxglove, applied to the Digatalis purperea, is a
corruption of Folk’s (that is Fairy’s) Glove: and in some parts of Ireland it is
named Fairy Thimbles and Fairy Bells; so that I am far from being the first to
associate this noble wildflower with our fanciful fairy lore.
Note 5, Page 7.
See the fine passage in the opening of the third scene of the second act of
Romeo and Juliet. SHAKSPERE (whose knowledge of natural history was
extensive, whatever literary charlatans, fitted for a lunatic asylum, scrabble to
the contrary) repeatedly alludes to the efficacy of Simples: and his friend,
“Of Simples in these groves that grow,
We’ll learn the perfect skill;
The nature of each Herb to know,—
Which cures, and which can kill.”
MILTON, in his Comus, has:—
“And show me Simples, of a thousand names,
Telling their strange and vigorous faculties.”
DRYDEN, also, and many of our old English Poets, seems to have delighted
to allude to the virtues of Herbs, then commonly called Simples.
Note 6, to Page 7.
By the Act 34 & 35 Vict. C. 96, sec 3, any one selling or offering for sale
his skill in handicraft, even round his own home, without a license, is liable
to fine or imprisonment. Finding poor old Jim Glasper, the Stokesley scissorgrinder,
a few years ago, afraid to turn out with his wheel because he could
not raise the five shillings for the renewal of his license, and being too poor
myself to give him that sum, I rose it in small donations from people who had
the octogenarian for a lifetime, and procured him the last license he ever
required. It has long ceased to concern poor old Jim, but the wrong yet
remains unredressed,—even under a Parliament elected by Household
Note 7, to Page 9.
I remember, full fifty years ago, reading a book by some learned Divine,
whose name I have long forgotten, in which he ignorantly branded the fine
symbolic teaching of the old Greek Mythology as a mere collection of bawdy
tales; and this too more than two centuries after the wise BACON had
published his Wisdom of the Ancients,– a work which no one should now be
without seeing that Cassell & Co. have brought out a complete edition at the
low price of Three-pence!
Note 8, Page 10.
Every English reader is, or ought to be, familiar with EBENEZER ELLIOT’s
sweet verses, “To the Bramble Flower,”—which are quite sufficient of
themselves to preserve his name to remotest posterity.

Paul Tweddell says of this poem -
An Old Besom is one of Tweddell's longest poems and incorporates a number of styles to be found, albeit less extensively, in all his works. It was published in 1888 towards the end of the series of North of England Tractates as No 32 and was dedicated To my esteemed friend of some forty years, Joseph Cowan Esq., of Stella Hall, Blaydonburn ...until I have something better to offer for his acceptance." Cowan and his house was situated close to Newcastle-on-Tyne, for whom he had been the town's Liberal Member of Parliament during the last decades of the 19thC, but had been a thorn in the side of the Prime Minister Lord Gladstone. He owned a number of local newspapers, including the Evening Chronicle to which Tweddell contributed articles. Cowan may have enjoyed the radical thoughts threaded through the poem, particularly, the trenchant comment in Note 6 about the Liberal party's thoughtless attitude toward the poor, as well as the approving comment in Note 8 about the Yorkshire Chartist and poet, Ebenezer Elliott, with whom Tweddell had corresponded, but never met (See here
and the critical reference to the Englsih Enclosures of the Georgian period in lines 30 - 32)

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