"The Lammas Hireling" was written by contemporary British poet Ian Duhig. The poem is a dramatic monologue set some time in the past and is based on Northern Irish folklore. The speaker—a farmer—tells the story of a hireling (young man) he employed around the time of the Lammas Harvest (which celebrates the harvesting of the wheat). At first the hireling seems to have a natural aptitude for work on the farm. One night, however, the farmer catches the hireling in a fox-trap under the full moon and realizes that he's a witch. The hireling transforms into a hare, and the farmer kills his new employee with a gunshot to the heart. Switching to the present tense at the end, the farmer tells the reader—who acts like the speaker's priest hearing confession—that he rarely sleeps, and spends his nights making ammunition for his gun. The poem won the U.K.'s National Poetry Competition in 2000.
After the fair, ...
... Yields doubled.
I grew fond ...
... his pale form.
Stock-still in the ...
... runs, muckle care.
I levelled ...
... rose like bread.
I carried him ...
... my herd’s elf-shot.
I don’t dream ...
... my last confession.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
More Poems and a Bio of Duhig — A valuable resource from the Poetry Archive.
Witchcraft and Britain — A short and interesting take on witches' place in society through the centuries.
The Allansford Pursuit — A witches' chant restored by poet Robert Graves from manuscript fragments (which the Duhig's poem alludes to).
Duhig Interviewed — An insightful interview with the poet for The Compass magazine.
A Reading by Ian Duhig — Footage of Duhig performing the poem in 2016.
1After the fair, I’d still a light heart
2and a heavy purse, he struck so cheap.
3And cattle doted on him: in his time
4mine only dropped heifers, fat as cream.
5Yields doubled. I grew fond of company
6that knew when to shut up. Then one night,
7disturbed from dreams of my dear late wife,
8I hunted down her torn voice to his pale form.
9Stock-still in the light from the dark lantern,
10stark-naked but for one bloody boot of fox-trap,
11I knew him a warlock, a cow with leather horns.
12To go into the hare gets you muckle sorrow,
13the wisdom runs, muckle care. I levelled
14and blew the small hour through his heart.
15The moon came out. By its yellow witness
16I saw him fur over like a stone mossing.
17His lovely head thinned. His top lip gathered.
18His eyes rose like bread. I carried him
19in a sack that grew lighter at every step
20and dropped him from a bridge. There was no
21splash. Now my herd’s elf-shot. I don’t dream
22but spend my nights casting ball from half-crowns
23and my days here. Bless me Father for I have sinned.
24It has been an hour since my last confession.