I have recently acquired a number of Eden Phillpotts works amongst which was a book of poetry called, ‘A Dish of Apples’ which basically consists of apple related poems. Amongst these is one called, ‘Cider Makers’ and for anyone who has seen cider being made in the traditional way or sat in a cider house his words admirably describe the ‘olden days’ of cider making.
When drifts the apple-breath, to steal again
Through fruit-crowned orchards, like fragrant wave,
And when on stilly nights
The falling fruit we hear ;
Then creak the rusty hinges, gape the doors
Of cider presses, slumbering and dim ;
And cobwebs tatter down
To shrivel in the light.
Through many a dusty vault the autumn sun
Launches a ruby shaft of eventide,
Determining shadowy shapes
Within the velvet gloom.
The presses heave, like cavern idols set
Above the granite troughs around their knees,
And seem to wake again
And stretch their giant limbs ;
For tide of life is running ; feet of men
Trample the orchard herbage, stamp and stain
That winds away and fades
Amongst the mossy boles.
Beneath the bough another harvest lies
In mounds and pools of light and scattered stars,
That gleam within the heart
Of every apple glade.
Shining behind the shadows, twinkling out
Where sunlight strokes the grass to emerald,
Or where, in garnered heap
The crimson apples flame.
Old ministrants of cider mysteries
Blend sweet and sour on immemorial plan,
And wrap the sacrifice
In woven horse-hair grey ;
And when the presses turn and grip and crush,
In rivulets the virgin cider flow,
While sunbeams twine thereon
A braid of trickling fire.
There is a hum and bustle through the vault ;
Great hairy arms knot up and heavy hands
Tug at the beams of oak
Upon their shining screws ;
While round each door the feathered people run –
White, spangled, bronze and coral red of comb –
Who from the pomace peck
A feast of nut-brown seeds.
Ripples the cider with a little sound,
Like the last, purring rill, that runs to catch
Within her silver bow
The blue forget-me-nots.
Ripples the cider, when the vat is drawn,
Translucently, as though crushed opal stones
Were melted ; then away
The racking to endure.
The ancient men who labour at the mill,
Have drunk from more than fifty cider brews,
Straining the massy beams
For half a century.
Where rays of light resolve the polished wood,
A fret of carving still their timbers show,
And, graved upon the grain
Are names of heroes fallen.
For many a varnished, mighty-shouldered man,
Who drove the press of bygone vintages,
The oak shall feel no more,
Yet still his life records.
And though no stone declares their sleeping-place
Under the darnel, yet the quick may read
How their old knives have set
A last memorial here.
Day upon day the curdled cider spurts,
The timbers grind and grunt, through the murk.
The towering screws throw down
Their cold and steely shine.
Then, flowing on and racked and racked again,
The cloudy liquors sparkle amber bright,
Till fore-glow the dawn
Is not more crystal clear.
The rites are ended ; barrels seem to bulge ;
Wet vats grow dry and weary beams are still,
Their chronicles enriched
With new recorded names.
Once more the doors are fast put home again
And quiet comes, to tempt solitude
Quick, peaceful, flickering things
That fear the voice of man.
The presses slumber and their fragrance fades ;
The shadowy mouse steals back his haunt ;
An empty knot-hole throws
The only ray of light,
When, red of eye on low November eaves,
The sun peeps through the naked apple boughs,
To flash a fleeting glance
That’s lost in nothingness.
Patient Arachne, hanging on her thread,
One moment twinkles, like bead of gold ;
Then only fitful sounds
Whisper upon the dark.
I especially like the lines that refer to the initials of the long gone cider makers that had been carved into the oak beams of the cider press because it is possible to see such inscriptions today. As the book was written in 1921 I presume that the ‘names of heroes fallen’ refer to men who died in the First World War?