August Rhymes and Miscellanea

There’s something about August that is so English. Here are a few miscellanea that I think encapsulate the month.

The Irish-Gaelic and Scottish-Gaelic names for the month, Lunasa and Lunasdal, refer to the festival Lughnasadh (in honour of the pagan god Lugh) on 1st August, which became synonymous with Lammas.

The Anglo-Saxons called it Weodmonath (‘month of weeds’). In Welsh it is Awst.

It is the sixth month of the Roman calendar, named after the Roman Emperor, Augustus.

August is the month of harvest.

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August comes, and though the harvest-fields are nearly ripe and ready for the sickle, cheering the heart of man with the prospect of plenty that surrounds him, yet there are signs on every hand that summer is on the wane, and that the time is fast approaching when she will take her departure . . . But, far as summer has advanced, several of her beautiful flowers and curious plants may still be found in perfection in the water-courses, and beside the streams – pleasanter places to ramble along then the dusty and all but flowerless waysides in August.

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August Sayings

Dry August and warm
Doth harvest no harm.

A rainy August
Makes a hard bread crust.

Married in August heat and drowse,
Lover and friend as your chosen spouse.

If a fly lands on your nose, swat it till it goes;
If the fly then lands again, it will bring back heavy rain.

Dew at night
Next day will be bright.

The moon and the weather
Change together.

Evening red and morning grey,
Two good signs for one fine day.
Evening grey and morning red,
Send the shepherd wet to bed.

When a cow tries to scratch its ear,
It means a shower is very near.
When it dumps its side with its tail,
Look out for thunder, lightning and hail.

Rain from the east
Will last three days at least.

If the moon shows a silver shield
Be not afraid to reap your field.
But if she rises haloed round
Soon we’ll tread on deluged ground.

Let the wealthy and the great
Roll in splendour and in state,
I envy them not, I declare it.
I eat my own lamb, and my chicken and ham,
I shave my own fleece and I wear it.
I have lawns, I have bowers,
I have fruit, I have flowers,
The lark is my morning alarmer;
So jolly boys now, ne’er good speed to the plough,
Long life and success to the farmer.

Make sure of thy reapers, get harvest in hand,
The corn that is ripe doth but shed as it stand.
Grant harvest Lord more, by a penny or two
To call on his fellows the better to do.
Give gloves to thy reapers, a largess to cry
And ever to loiterers have a good eye.

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Harvest Time
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Crying the Neck

When the last sheaf is cut, the harvest spirit lurking in the corn dies, its throat symbolically slit by the scythe.

The mowers call ‘We have it!’, the response is, ‘What have ee? A neck?’ ‘A neck’, comes the reply. The sheaf is then made into a corn dolly and usually carried to the farmhouse where it stayed over the fireplace until ploughing time.

We ha’ neck! We ha’ neck!
Well a-ploughed! Well a-sowed!
We’ve a-reaped and we’ve a-mowed!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll a-cut, we’ll a-bound!
We’ll a-zot upon the ground!
We ha’ neck! We ha’ neck!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Corn Dolly

The original purpose of the corn dolly was to preserve the spirit of the corn through the winter. Come January, the dolly would be ploughed back into the soil. Until then she presided over the kitchen. Occasionally she was hung in the church.

The last cartload of corn harvested from the field was called the Horkey or Hockey load, and both cart and horse were dressed with ribbons and garlands. The cart and procession wound its way to the farm, where it was greeted with food and drink.

The Harvest Home

When the harvest is over to our master we will steer
And wet a good supper with a drink of strong beer.

The usual fare was a roast, along with hare or rabbit pie (often made from the animals caught during the harvesting), plum pudding and endless supplies of beer and cider, followed by a round of toasts to masters and mistresses, and songs, dancing and revelry.

Well ploughed
Well sowed
Well harrowed
Well mowed
And all safely carted to the barn with nary a load throwed!

It was common for the church to demand a tithe of one tenth of the crop and it was equally common for the harvesters to try and cheat the tithe. One harvester chant runs:

We’ve cheated the Parson, we’ll cheat him again,
Why should the Vicar have one in ten?
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There’s nothing like this poem to picture August perfectly:

The South Country

WHEN I am living in the Midlands
That are sodden and unkind,
I light my lamp in the evening:
My work is left behind;
And the great hills of the South Country
Come back into my mind.

The great hills of the South Country
They stand along the sea;
And it’s there walking in the high woods
That I could wish to be,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Walking along with me.

The men that live in North England
I saw them for a day:
Their hearts are set upon the waste fells,
Their skies are fast and grey;
From their castle-walls a man may see
The mountains far away.

The men that live in West England
They see the Severn strong,
A-rolling on rough water brown
Light aspen leaves along.
They have the secret of the Rocks,
And the oldest kind of song.

But the men that live in the South Country
Are the kindest and most wise,
They get their laughter from the loud surf,
And the faith in their happy eyes
Comes surely from our Sister the Spring
When over the sea she flies;
The violets suddenly bloom at her feet,
She blesses us with surprise.

I never get between the pines
But I smell the Sussex air;
Nor I never come on a belt of sand
But my home is there.
And along the sky the line of the Downs
So noble and so bare.

A lost thing could I never find,
Nor a broken thing mend:
And I fear I shall be all alone
When I get towards the end.
Who will there be to comfort me
Or who will be my friend?

I will gather and carefully make my friends
Of the men of the Sussex Weald;
They watch the stars from silent folds,
They stiffly plough the field.
By them and the God of the South Country
My poor soul shall be healed.

If I ever become a rich man,
Or if ever I grow to be old,
I will build a house with deep thatch
To shelter me from the cold,
And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
And the story of Sussex told.

I will hold my house in the high wood
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

 

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