Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Troubling Man

John Clare, May, lines 73-104 (from The Shepherd's Calendar):
But woodmen still on Spring intrude,
And thin the shadow's solitude;
With sharpen'd axes felling down    75
The oak-trees budding into brown,
Which, as they crash upon the ground,
A crowd of labourers gather round.
These, mixing 'mong the shadows dark,
Rip off the crackling, staining bark;    80
Depriving yearly, when they come,
The green woodpecker of his home,
Who early in the Spring began,
Far from the sight of troubling man,
To bore his round holes in each tree    85
In fancy's sweet security;
Now, startled by the woodman's noise,
He wakes from all his dreary joys.
The blue-bells too, that thickly bloom
Where man was never known to come;    90
And stooping lilies of the valley,
That love with shades and dews to dally,
And bending droop on slender threads,
With broad hood-leaves above their heads,
Like white-robed maids, in summer hours,    95
Beneath umbrellas shunning showers;—
These, from the bark-men's crushing treads,
Oft perish in their blooming beds.
Stripp'd of its boughs and bark, in white
The trunk shines in the mellow light    100
Beneath the green surviving trees,
That wave above it in the breeze,
And, waking whispers, slowly bend,
As if they mourn'd their fallen friend.
Oliver Rackham, The History of the Countryside (1986; rpt. London: Phoenix Press, 2000), p. 92:
Throughout history the bark of oak — other trees will not do — has been used for tanning leather. Medieval accounts record sales of bark as a by-product of felling timber; an unimportant by-product, since the timbers of many pre-1600 buildings still have some of their bark left on. The trade went on quietly until 1780, when there was a sudden boom in leather which followed the same course as the contemporary boom in shipping. From 1780 to 1850 the tanyards were no mere users-up of by-products but a gigantic industry, a much bigger consumer of oak-trees than the naval dockyards and almost certainly a bigger consumer than the merchant shipyards.
The Oxford English Dictionary doesn't seem to recognize the compound "bark-man" (line 97), meaning a laborer who removes bark from trees.

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