John Buchan

Plain Folk

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Since flaming angels drove our sire
From Eden's green to walk the mire,
We are the folk who tilled the plot
And ground the grain and boiled the pot.
We hung the garden terraces
That pleasured Queen Semiramis.
Our toil it was and burdened brain
That set the Pyramids o'er the plain.
We marched from Egypt at God's call
And drilled the ranks and fed them all;
But never Eschol's wine drank we,--
Our bones lay 'twixt the sand and sea.
We officered the brazen bands
That rode the far and desert lands;
We bore the Roman eagles forth
And made great roads from south to north;
White cities flowered for holidays,
But we, forgot, died far away.
And when the Lord called folk to Him,
And some sat blissful at His feet,
Ours was the task the bowl to brim,
For on this earth even saints must eat.
The serfs have little need to think,
Only to work and sleep and drink;
A rover's life is boyish play,
For when cares press he rides away;
The king sits on his ruby throne,
And calls the whole wide world his own.
But we, the plain folk, noon and night
No surcease of our toil we see;
We cannot ease our cares by flight,
For Fortune holds our loves in fee.
We are not slaves to sell our wills,
We are not kings to ride the hills,
But patient men who jog and dance
In the dull wake of circumstance;
Loving our little patch of sun,
Too weak our homely dues to shun,
Too nice of conscience, or too free,
To prate of rights--if rights there be.

The Scriptures tell us that the meek
The earth shall have to work their will;
It may be they shall find who seek,
When they have topped the last long hill.
Meantime we serve among the dust
For at the best a broken crust,
A word of praise, and now and then
The joy of turning home again.
But freemen still we fall or stand,
We serve because our hearts command.
Though kings may boast and knights cavort,
We broke the spears at Agincourt.
When odds were wild and hopes were down,
We died in droves by Leipsic town.
Never a field was starkly won
But ours the dead that faced the sun.
The slave will fight because he must,
The rover for his ire and lust,
The king to pass an idle hour
Or feast his fatted heart with power;
But we, because we choose, we choose,
Nothing to gain and much to lose,
Holding it happier far to die
Than falter in our decency.

The serfs may know an hour of pride
When the high flames of tumult ride.
The rover has his days of ease
When he has sacked his palaces.
A king may live a year like God
When prostrate peoples drape the sod.
We ask for little,-leave to tend
Our modest fields: at daylight's end
The fires of home: a wife's caress:
The star of children's happiness.
Vain hope! 'Tis ours for ever and aye
To do the job the slaves have marred,
To clear the wreckage of the fray,
And please our kings by working hard.
Daily we mend their blunderings,
Swachbucklers, demagogues, and kings!

What if we rose?-If some fine morn,
Unnumbered as the autumn corn,
With all the brains and all the skill
Of stubborn back and steadfast will,
We rose and, with the guns in train,
Proposed to deal the cards again,
And, tired of sitting up o' nights,
Gave notice to our parasites,
Announcing that in future they
Who paid the piper should call the lay!
Then crowns would tumble down like nuts,
And wastrels hide in water-butts;
Each lamp-post as an epilogue:
Would hold a pendent demagogue:
Then would the world be for the wise!--

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

But ah! the plain folk never rise.

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John Buchan