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The Ghost of Itteringham Mill
Workmates sit awhile and listen, listen while I play the host
And with story entertain you, how last night I saw a ghost;
'Tis my birthday and my years have overtopped three score and ten
Wish me gladness on my journey - you and I are working men
And the task entrusted to us, well and truly must be done
To the order, for the pleasure of the Lord of Wolterton;
Yon old mill now in conversion to a dwelling sound and fair
Shall redound to all our honour when we've finished the repair.

Last midnight alone I wandered where the harvest moon was high
Gaunt old gables cast their shadows and the rafters and the sky
In a mood of meditation entered thro' the old south door,
Climbed the worn and crazy ladder mounting to the grinding floor.
There before me on a space where once revolved the big mill post
stood a spectre in the moonlight - 'twas an ancient miller's ghost,
Short and stocky, aged and bearded, dust upon him still like down
And I saw the old man's visage darkened with an angry frown
As he gazed on th'disordere and the wreckage all around
Of the gear that once his mill was - broken heaps upon the ground
In his eyes I read a question which I had no wish to shun
Plainly what the old man asked was "What is this that you have done?"
I gave answer, unrepentant why indeed should I repine?
"Long years back you had your day and now old Isegrim this is mine
Then you served your generation at your trade of grist and grind
Made the Bure serve your purpose independent of the wind;
What has made you come amongst us visiting these earthly scenes
Ghosts can want no flour nor supers, bran nor water mill machines
Were you restless in your dwelling, is there sin upon your soul
Something that you shun from telling - unpaid debt or unjust toll?
You are but a wandering spirit with no need of food or pelf
Flesh and bone have lost their merit - shadow of your former self
"Come" I said "and I will show you why all this unseemly rout
Give a lucid explanation what the scheme is all about"
And I saw the face had brightened of this ancient miller man
Took occasion by the forelock and introduced my plan
"See" I said "this stately entrance, and the heavy oaken door
In the hall an oaken staircase and a polished oaken floor;
In this room the guests assemble with the family to dine
And in converse intellectual wash the viands down with wine;
Heat a spacious wide apartment where erstwhile your breastwheel turned
Ease and luxury established where the mill your living earned;
On the river and the meadows many ample windows look;
In the housing of the breastwheel is a cosy ingle-nook
There the kitchen where the cook will appetising savouries make
Ah! I see your constitution has no stomach for a steak!
On this floor where we are standing like the other floor above
Are the bedrooms and the landing - rooms for rest and dreams of love
This more sumptuous than the others has a fitted bathing place
Which in all her youthful beauty will a gentle maiden grace;
(Did I say "a gentle maiden"? this our age has rampant run
Yours was simpering, gentle maiden - ours obstreperous Amazon!)
When the winter winds are swelling as you know they howled of old
Conduits warm run round the dwelling - What you are hot and cold?
Thus I closed my long oration and in final effort tried
To obtain his approbation that my work was justified
But although intent I listened not a vocal sound I heard
Brightly then his blue eyes glistened, meant for an approving word.
Then I said in accents pleasant "you and I can understand
Let us link the past and present - miller will you take my hand?"
But ere I could reach the person something happened as a feared
In an act of quick dispassion instantly he disappeared.
I was left in contemplation standing in the mill alone
Whilst the Bure in perturbation sang a ceaseless monotone;
Now the interview was ended I to earth again returned
Down the ladder I descended from the ghost a lesson learned;
In the open, leafy alders, swaying sighing in the wind
And the river sweeping onward - typical of human kind
Picture of our roving, sighing, drifting on towards the sea
To embark on new adventures - willy nilly - you and me
And perchance in some long future when the Bure babbles still
Through the meads of Itteringham a builder's ghost will haunt the mill.

Ernest Edward Smith (71) - 1938


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Copyright © Jonathan Neville 2003