There is a real Ha’nacker Mill, Halnaker Mill near Chichester in Sussex, and maybe there was a real Sally, but what draws me most to this poem by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) is its hauntingly prophetic image of what might be called the unpeopling of the countryside. I am old enough to have just caught the last years of a rural way of life now vanished, to remember a time when farms employed whole gangs of workers and an obliging tractor-driver, innocent of health and safety, might give small children a ride on the end of his trailer as it bumped its way across the fields with its harvest load.
Sally is gone that was so kindly,
Sally is gone from Ha’nacker Hill
And the Briar grows ever since then so blindly;
And ever since then the clapper is still…
And the sweeps have fallen from Ha’nacker Mill.
Ha’nacker Hill is in Desolation:
Ruin a-top and a field unploughed
And Spirits that call on a fallen nation,
Spirits that loved her calling aloud,
Spirits abroad in a windy cloud.
Spirits that call and no one answers —
Ha’nacker’s down and England’s done.
Wind and Thistle for pipe and dancers,
And never a ploughman under the Sun:
Never a ploughman. Never a one.