John Masefield (1878-1967) was a British poet, primarily associated with the Georgian period. He was the British Poet Laureate from 1930 to 1967.
Old Jarge, Hal, Walter and I, the Rector and Bill,
The old red setter and Joe, the retriever, Bess,
Went out in the cider time for something to kill,
Past Arthur's Camp, a couple of miles, I guess.
We came in the noon of the blue September day
To a tongue of grass thrust into a cleft of copse,
Berries were black and plump on the changing spray,
A dwindled spring went over its lip in drops.
We stopped to drink at the spring, Hal, Walter and I,
The retriever, Bess, the old red setter and Joe.
A covey went up with a whirr and the guns let fly,
The birds went skimming the trees towards Barney's Low.
They fired two last long shots, the Rector and Bill,
A feather came out of a bird, but the bird went on.
"Hit him," they said; we muttered, "You didn't kill."
Over the tips of the trees the covey was gone.
The hit bird swerved from the line of the covey's charge,
Over the grass of the field we watched him rise:
"Got him," the Rector said. "Her towers," said Jarge.
We saw him breast like a lark the hot blue skies.
He climbed the air till he struggled in sky alone,
Straining and beating up on a battling breast,
Then paused, then dropped with a thump upon bounding bone:
Joe brought him in; we bagged him up with the rest.
At covey-call time in the dusk September eve,
We loitered home together and shared the kill:
Nine brace, three rabbits, a hare: we all took leave;
Jarge took the dogs: the moon came over the hill.
Poor Bess, the retriever, died, her muzzle all white;
A run-away cart ran over the spaniel, Joe;
Jarge died of a quart of rum next Christmas night:
The old red setter went west, oh, ages ago.
Bill died from shock of a fall, as his heart was weak,
The Rector lingered to die of a sheer old age;
Walter went down with a stroke and could not speak,
He, too, has gathered his goods and drawn his wage.
Only Hal and myself of the nine remain,
And Hal's forgotten the bird, forgotten the shoot;
The grass, the wood and the spring are here in my brain,
With the dogs and the wine-leaved brambles black with fruit.
I think of the towering bird with its choking lung,
Its bursting heart, its struggle to scale the sky,
And wonder when we shall all be tried and hung
For the blue September crime when we made it die.