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J. E. Ball (fl. 1904-1906)

A Sestina of Memories


              1When you were nine, and I was six years old,
              2Do you remember how we wandered forth,
              3Two small explorers, through the summer fields,
              4With apple turnovers provisioned well,
              5And trampled down the farmer's mowing grass,
              6In haste to pluck the little red-stemmed rose?

              7And how the farmer in his fury rose
              8With hot red face, as ogres wore of old,
              9And eyeing angrily his battered grass,
            10With wingèd words he drove the culprits forth,
            11And swore a whipping would be theirs as well
            12The next time they profaned his sacred fields?

            13Regretfully we left those sunny fields
            14(For there alone it grew, our longed-for rose),
            15And sate us down beside a little well
            16That bubbled up ’midst stonework grey and old,
            17And watched the slow soft runlets spouting forth,
            18To lose themselves amidst the spongy grass.

            19Long time we lay upon the kindly grass,
            20Until the cows from out their distant fields
            21In solemn, slow procession issued forth.
            22With stiff and lagging movements then we rose,
            23Our little bones aweary felt, and old
            24(For all the ground was damp beside the well).

            25Long weary weeks passed by ere we were well:
            26Long aching weeks; by then the farmer’s grass
            27Had turned to hay, and our offence was old.
            28Again we entered those forbidden fields,
            29But found no more our creamy-petalled rose,
            30Thorns, only thorns, the straggling hedge brought forth.

            31Sadly we turned, and sadly trotted forth,
            32Our flowers were gone, and all our hopes as well;
            33Though some, consoling, said, “Your little rose
            34Will bloom again: and, not to hurt the grass,
            35You might go skirting round the farmer’s fields –
            36His hand is mortal heavy, though he’s old.”

            37Still to the sunlit fields Hope speeds us forth:
            38Prone on the grass, we dream that all is well:
            39And so wax old, and never grasp our rose.


Online text copyright © 2004, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Westminster Problems Book: Prose and Verse, comp. N.G. Royde Smith, from The Sanctuary Westminster Gazette Competitions, 1904-1907 (London: Methuen, 1908): 166-67. Keynes J.5.8 Cambridge University Library
First publication date: 1904
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2004
Recent editing: 1:2004/5/19

Form: sestina


Other poems by J. E. Ball