Connecting with Hardy's 'The Sheep-Boy'

On Rainbarrows with Alban O'Brien

Connecting with Hardy's 'The Sheep-Boy'

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The Sheep-Boy

A yawning, sunned concave
Of purple, spread as an ocean wave
Entroughed on a morning of swell and sway
After a night when wind-fiends have been heard to rave:
Thus was the Heath called ‘Draäts’, on an August day.

Suddenly there intunes a hum:
This side, that side, it seems to come.
From the purple in myriads rise the bees
With consternation mid their rapt employ.
So headstrongly each speeds him past, and flees,
As to strike the face of the shepherd-boy.
Awhile he waits, and wonders what they mean;
Till none is left upon the shagged demesne.

To learn what ails, the sheep-boy looks around;
Behind him, out of the sea in swirls
Flexuous and solid, clammy vapour-curls
Are rolling over Pokeswell Hills to the inland ground.
Into the heath they sail,
And travel up the vale
Like the moving pillar of cloud raised by the Israelite:—
In a trice the lonely sheep-boy seen so late ago,
Draäts'-Hollow in gorgeous blow,
And Kite-Hill's regal glow,
Are viewless—folded into those creeping scrolls of white.

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On Rainbarrows

I came across the above poem when I was preparing some materials for sixth formers who might be studying The Return of the Native and might want to be guided from the cottage to look at Rainbarrow and Green Hill (Mistover Knap) with some accompanying readings for each stop (Tony Fincham’s Hardy’s Landscape Revisited is good on a possible route). It is possible to climb to the top of Green Hill for a view over to Rainbarrow and to imagine the bonfire being lit by Eustacia to attract Wildeve there like a moth to a flame. (It is also the site of the recent BBQ induced fire on Puddletown Heath so probably not a good idea to replicate!) It is called Mistover in the novel because Hardy had many memories of the mist sweeping in from Osmington Cliffs (due South, near Poxwell, so Pokeswell Hills) across Rainbarrows (with an s in the original) down to Draäts'-Hollow and onto to nearby Puddletown (Kite’s Hill is opposite the entrance to the Eweleaze where our Tom shared a trice or two with Tryphena Sparks (see In A Eweleaze Near Weatherbury).

Imagine my delight in discovering that the poem referred to two places near home where I regularly walk. Kite’s Hill is passed whenever I take a roundabout walk from home to the centre of Puddletown and, according to Kaye-Robinson, Dra’ats Bottom is the first coombe that you would pass if you were taking the circuitous route by carriage that Eustacia and Clym took on their wedding day (along the Rhodendron Mile and left up the track to Green Hill just before Beacon Corner, for those with an OS map). Dra'ats refers to the draughts or gusts of wind that blow up from the coombe. Hopefully I will be able to lead some people on this walk with the readings I have selected once this pandemic has run its course. In the meantime enjoy the view from Mistover where Eustacia built her bonfire and looked over towards Rainbarrow and The Silent Woman beyond, though of course this would have been heathland rather than pine forest when Hardy imagined it.

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12 June 2020

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