This tale is told by many tongues,
of now and yesteryear.
Three hundred years of life are here,
but memories disappear.
Between each line, a thousand words
of love, of heart and soul,
there’s mystery here, it must be said,
when tales remain untold,
they seed a search for history,
a sparkle in the eyes
of once romantic sons of yore;
a family’s demise.
And how their days would start at dawn
to sounds of clacking feet.
Underneath the stairs they’d run,
their serving paths to beat.
Stone dressed, these monuments became
far more than home sweet home,
for they withstood the test of time
in centuries to come.
And who could guess, in such a place,
we’d cast our eyes and, more,
write stories in organic dust,
of lives that went before.
Their toil, by standards of today,
would break, in half the time,
the backs of men and women who,
at forty, passed their prime.
Faint tinkling of bone china plates
their masters’ breakfast fare,
the focus of their energies
to serve, make good, repair.
And all day long these duties pressed
their shoulders to the stone
all day, each week, each month, each year,
their lives were not their own.
No leisure time to recreate,
without upstairs’ consent.
With no spare time or energy,
their lives were paid as rent.
No time allowed away from toil
save worship Sunday morn,
where duty bound them to this house,
all but their souls forsworn.
So much depended on their strength,
their duty, loyalty;
with half a day each week to rest
they earned their royalty.
They had to cast off any thought
of freedom, every day,
they bore their obligation and
they signed their lives away.
Then, life meant building grander things
mere ornaments to scale,
denying the austerity,
when nation could not fail.
And here to glimpse humanity,
their own great compromise;
to fall from favour and love’s loss;
so too a great house dies
… and with it all dependant life,
no welfare scheme was theirs
for all of its inhabitants
underneath the stairs.
And as his mansion starts to die,
the Earl sold on his lot,
the need for education rose
and a roof to stop the rot.
But here’s the final irony:
for those who served in fear
of losing jobs for which, today,
we freely volunteer.
This grand estate, these monuments
this house and gardens too
are all the product of an age,
restored and serving you.
This landscape’s green and pleasant land
its rooted, verdant gold
captures all these mysteries
for you that we unfold.
© 2013 John Anstie (lyric edited 2016)
[This lyric is based on an original ballad, written three years before, but extensively edited and augmented for Joseph Alen Shaw’s commission, the ‘Wentworth Cantata’, which was performed in the historic Victorian Conservatory of Wentworth Castle Gardens, South Yorkshire in October 2016. Joe has written about his composition, elsewhere in this month’s edition]