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Song Of The Hempseed (1844)


Ay scatter me well, 'tis a moist spring day,
Wide and far be the Hempseed sown,
And bravely I'll stand on the autumn land
When the rains have dropped and the winds have blown.
Man shall carefully gather me up,
His hand shall rule and my form shall change,
Not as a mate for the purple of state,
Nor into aught that is " rich and strange."
But I will come forth all woven and spun.
With my fine threads curl'd in serpent length,
And the fire-wrought chain, and the lion thick mane.
Shall be rivalled by me in mighty strength,
I have many a place in the busy world,
Of triumph and fear, of sorrow and joy
I carry the freeman's flag unfurl'd
I am linked to childhood's darling toy.
Then scatter me wide, and hackle me well,
For a varied tale can the Hempseed tell.

Bravely I swing in the anchor ring
Where the foot of the proud man cometh not.
Where the dolphin leaps, and the sea-weed creeps
O'er the rifted sand and the coral grot.
Down, down below I merrily go
When the huge ship takes her rocking rest.
The waters may chafe, but she dwelleth as safe
As the young bird in its woodland nest.
I Wreathe the spars of that same fair ship
Where the gallant sea-hearts cling about,
Springing aloft with a song on the lip,
Putting their faith in the cordage stout,
I am true when the blast sways the giant mast,
Straining and stretch'd in a nor west gale,
I abide with the bark, in the day and the dark,
Lashing the hammock and reefing the sail
Oh, the billows and I right fairly cope;
And the wild tide, is stemmed by the cable rope.

Sons of Evil, bad and bold,
Madly ye live and little ye reek
Till I am noosed in a coiling fold
Ready to hug your felon neck.
The yarn is smooth and the knot is sure,
I will be firm to the task I take ;
Thinly they twine the halter line,
Yet when does the halter hitch or break
My leaves are light and my flowers are bright--
Fit for au infant hand to clasp;
But what think ye of me, 'neath the gibbet tree,
Dangling high in the hangman's grasp ?
Oh, a terrible thing does the Hempseed seem
'Twixt the hollow floor and stout crossbeam

The people rejoice, the banners are spread
There is frolic and feasting in cottage and hall ;
The festival shout is echoing out
From trellised porch and Gothic wall ;
Merry souls hie to the belfry tower,
Gaily they laugh when I am found,
And rare music they make, till the quick peals shake
The ivy that wraps the turret round ;
The Hempseed lives with the old church bell,
And helpeth the holiday ding-dong-dell.

The sunshine falls on a new-made grave ;
The funeral train is long and sad ;
The poor man has come to the happiest home,
And easiest pillow he ever had,
I shall be there to lower him down
Gently into his narrow bed ;
I shall be there, the work to share,
To guard his feet, and cradle his head,
I may be seen on the hillock-green,
Flung aside with the bleaching skull,
While the hearth is thrown with worm and bone,
Till the sexton has done, and the grave is full.
Back to the gloomy vault I'm borne,
Leaving coffin and nail to crumble and rust.
There I am laid with the mattock and spade.
Moistened with tears and clogged with dust ;
Oh, the Hempseed cometh in doleful shape,
With the mourners cloak and sable crape.

Harvest shall spread with its glittering wheat ;
The barn shall be opened, the stack shall be piled ;
Ye shall see the ripe grain shining out from the wain.
And the berry stained arms of the gleaner, child.
Heap on, heap on till the waggon ribs creak,
Let the sheaves go towering to the sky
Up with the shock till the broad wheels rock,
Fear not to carry the rich freight high,
For I will infold the tottering gold,
I will fetter the rolling load ;
Not an ear shall escape my binding hold.
On the furrowed field or jolting road ;
Oh, the Hempseed hath a fair place to fill,
With the harvest band on the corn-crown'd hill.

My threads are set in heaving net,
Out with the fisher-boy far stands,
While he whistles a tune of the lonely moon,
And trusts for his morrow's bread to me.
Toiling away through the dry summer-day
Round and round I steadily twist, the deep old well
What is rarely prized but sorely miss'd
In the whirling swing--in the peg-top string,
There am I, a worshipped slave,
On ocean and earth I'm a goodly thing,
I serve from the play ground to the grave,
I have many a place to the busy world,
Of triumph and fear, of sorrow and joy ;
I carry the freeman's flag unfurl'd,
And am linked to childhood's darling toy ;
Thea scatter me wide and hackle me well,
And a varied tale shall the Hempseed tell.


From the New South Wales newspaper the Hawkesbury Courier and Agricultural and General Advertiser Thursday 14 November 1844 p. 3.

Eliza Cook (24 December 1818 - 23 September 1889) was an English author and poet associated with the Chartist movement. She was a proponent of political freedom for women, and believed in the ideology of self-improvement through education, something she called "levelling up." This made her hugely popular with the working class public in both England, America, and as we can see here, Australia.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory