I sallied afield when the bud first swells,
And the sun first slanteth hotly,
And I came on a yokel in cap and bells,
And a suit of saffron motley.
He was squat on a bank where a self-taught stream,
Fingering flint and pebble,
Was playing in tune to the yaffel’s scream,
And the shake of the throstle’s treble.
“Now, who may you be?” I asked, “and where
Do you look for your meals and pillow?”
“My roof,” he said, “is the spacious air,
And my curtain the waving willow.
“My meal is a shive of the miller’s loaf,
And hunger the grace that blesses:
‘Tis banquet enough for a village oaf,
With a handful of fresh green cresses.
“A plague on your feasts where the dish goes round,
Though I know where the truffles burrow,
And the plover’s eggs may, in fours, be found,
In the folds of the pleated furrow.
“And my name? O, I am an April Fool,
So yclept in the hamlet yonder;
For when old and young are at work or school,
I sit on a stile and ponder.
“I gather the yellow weasel-snout,
As I wander the woods at random,
Or I stoop stone-still, and tickle the trout,
And at times, for a lark, I land ’em.
“But I flick them back ere they gape and pant,
After gazing at gill and speckle.
For why should I keep what I do not want,
Who can fish without hook or heckle?
“Yes, I am an April Fool: confessed!
And my pate grows not wise for scratching;
But I know where the kingfisher drills his nest,
And the long-tailed tits are hatching.”
Then he leaped to his feet, and he shook his bells,
And they jangled all together,
As blithe as the chime that sinks and swells
For the joy of a nuptial tether.
And, as they chimed, in the covert near
Where ripens the juicy whortle,
The rustling whisper reached my ear
Of a loitering maiden’s kirtle.
Whereat he laughed: “I’m an April Fool,
But am jocund withal and jolly,
So long as I have this realm to rule,
And a lass to love my folly.
“Go and woo, where the deftly fair parade,
The smiles of a fine court lady;
But I will cuddle my rustic maid,
In the pheasant-drives husht and shady.
“Her cheek is as creamy as milk in June,
And the winds nor chap nor warp it;
We dance, with the blackbird to give the tune,
And with primroses for carpet.
“Her quick-flashing fingers knit the hose
For her little feet neat and nimble;
Her kiss is as sweet as a half-shut rose,
And her laugh like a silver cymbal.
“She never asks how my fortunes fare,
Nor wonders how full my purse is;
She sits on my knee, and she strokes my hair,
And I tell her my wildwood verses.
“She has not a gem she can call her own,
But I rest on a sheepfold hurdle,
And, out of the daffodils newly blown,
Entwine her a golden girdle.
“And soon I shall have for my nut-sweet girl,
When the May tree is adorning
Its weather-tanned skin with rows of pearl,
A new necklace, night and morning.
“When shortly we catch the cuckoo’s call,
We shall clap our hands to hear him;
For let whom they may his gibes appal,
This April Fool don’t fear him.”
Then a wind-cloud, hued like a ringdove’s neck,
Made the rain run helter-skelter;
The keen drops pattered on bank and beck,
And I crouched in the ditch for shelter.
But he whistled his love, and he waved his cap,
And the bells all rang together;
“Just fancy!” he cried, “to care one rap
For the whims of wind or weather.
“Through all the seasons I keep my youth,
Which is more than you town-folk do, sir.
Now, which is the April Fool, in sooth?
Do you think it is I,-or you, sir?”
Then the rain ceased slashing on branch and pool,
And swift came the sunshine, after;
And the thrush and the yaffel screamed, “April Fool!”
And the covert rang with laughter.