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Ian Duhig

Image by Caroline Forbes

The Lammas Hireling

Ian Duhig

The Lammas Hireling

Ian Duhig

Poem introduction

This poem is called 'The Lammas Hireling'. It's based on a story I heard when I was in Northern Ireland, out for a very late night walk, a local person pointed out a house he told me was where the local witches used to live, and in their tradition witches would change into hares, and when the father was dying, his family was very embarrassed because the father's body was turning into a hare's and this bloke told me the story said he attended the funeral and the last thing you could hear was the hare's paws beating the lid of the coffin as they lowered it into the ground. Hare stories are sort of found all over England and Europe in fact. There's one rhyme in this that I suppose it might be helpful for people to have pointed out, and that's the one "to go into the hare gets you muckle sorrow, muckle care"- that's from the Annals of Pursuit which is a North Country witches' chant, restored by Robert Graves. "A cow with leather horns" is another name for a hare - if you think about it you'll see why. The story is: a farmer gets a young man from a hiring fair, which is how labour was engaged well into the last century, and takes him home with him, and finds he's got more than he bargained for.

The Lammas Hireling

After the fair, I'd still a light heart
And a heavy purse, he struck so cheap.
And cattle doted on him; in his time,
Mine only dropped heifers, fat as cream.
Yields doubled. I grew fond of company
That knew when to shut up. Then one night,

Disturbed from dreams of my dear late wife,
I hunted down her torn voice to his pale form,
Stock-still in the light from the dark lantern,
Stark naked but for the fox-trap biting his ankle.
I knew him a warlock, a cow with leather horns.
To go into the hare gets you muckle sorrow,

The wisdom runs, muckle care. I levelled
And blew the small hour through his heart.
The moon came out. By its yellow witness
I saw him fur over like a stone mossing.
His lovely head thinned/ His top lip gathered.
His eyes rose like bread. I carried him

In a sack that grew lighter at every step
And dropped him from a bridge. There was no
Splash. Now my herd's elf-shot. I don't dream
But spend my nights casting ball from half-crowns
And my days here. Bless me Father, I have sinned.
It has been an hour since my last confession.

from The Lammas Hireling (Picador, 2003), copyright © Ian Duhig 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher


Ian Duhig

Ian Duhig Reading from his poems

1From the Irish

2Nothing Pie

3Chocolate Soldier

4Come the Morning

5Clare's Jig

6Straw School

7The Lammas Hireling

8There Is No Rose Of Such Virtue

9Paschal Anthem


11Sundry Receipts of Vatsyayana called Mrillana written in the form of Sutra

12The Badly-Loved

13The Lady who Loved Insects

14From the Plague Journal


16Out of Boredom 17A Dream of Wearing String Vests Forever 18Another Poem About Old Photographs 19I'r Hen A'i Chaneuon 20Cutler's Poetry 21Midnight on the Water 22Rosary 23Margin Prayer from an Ancient Psalter 24Who Killed Freddie the Dolphin?

Books by Ian Duhig