Written in June 1940, and later published in Word Over All (1943), this poem recalls Day-Lewis’s time serving in the Home Guard near his home on the Devon-Dorset border. Rejecting both the communist leanings of his Thirties poetry, and the influence of WH Auden, he found in the patriotic defence of the countryside from a feared German invasion a source of deep patriotism.
A hill flank overlooking the Axe valley.
Among the stubble a farmer and I keep watch
For whatever may come injure our countryside –
Light-signals, parachutes, bombs or sea-invaders.
The moon looks over the hill’s shoulder, and hope
Mans the old ramparts of an English night.
In a house down there was Marlborough born. One night
Monmouth marched to his ruin out of that valley.
Beneath our castled hill, where Britons kept watch,
Is a church where the Drakes, old lords of this countryside,
Sleep under their painted effigies. No invaders
Can dispute their legacy of toughness and hope.
Two counties away, over Bristol, the searchlights hope
To find what danger is in the air tonight.
Presently gunfire from Portland reaches our valley
Tapping like an ill-hung door in a draught. My watch
Says nearly twelve. All over the countryside
Moon-dazzled men are peering out for invaders.
The farmer and I talk for a while of invaders:
But soon we turn to crops – the annual hope,
Making of cider, prizes for ewes. Tonight
How many hearts along this war-mazed valley
Dream of a day when at peace they may work and watch
The small sufficient wonders of the countryside.
Image or fact, we both in the countryside
Have found our natural law, and until invaders
Come will answer its need: for both of us, hope
Means a harvest from small beginnings, who this night
While the moon sorts out into shadow and shape our valley,
A farmer and a poet, are keeping watch.
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