Cornbaby – A Harvest Poem

The dark season is almost upon us, with only a couple more weeks to go before Halloween – hooray! 🎃 So as a goodbye to the summer, let me share with you a poem I wrote after visiting a small exhibition organised by the London-based artist Ben Edge in collaboration with the Museum of British Folklore. The exhibition, titled ‘Ritual Britain’, featured a mixture of Edge’s folklore-inspired paintings and objects from the museum’s collection, such as dolls dressed in Morris dancers’ costumes, photographs of British folk rituals by the folklorist Doc Rowe, and a number of beautifully crafted corn dollies.

Among the latter was the larger-than-life figure of a ‘baby’ in a long white dress, with a head consisting entirely of ears of corn radiating out from its centre. While I lamented the general scarcity of informative labels in the exhibition (there was a documentary film showing in one of the rooms, but it was too crowded to get in), a couple of plaques next to the corn baby rendered the following:

For some reason, the corn baby grabbed my attention to the degree that I kept finding myself thinking about it over the next few days. Then, one night when I was having trouble getting to sleep, these thoughts formed themselves into a rhythm and, eventually (with a bit of prodding), a full poem. Now, I generally think of myself as somewhat handicapped when it comes to poetry: there are many poems I like, but even more I simply don’t get, especially when they neither rhyme nor have a discernible rhythm to them. But I was pleased with Cornbaby, and seeing as how it got a lot of positive feedback (it even, quite unexpectedly, won the Folk Horror Revival Facebook group’s bi-weekly ‘creative theme’ challenge in July), I decided to let it loose on the world. So here it is – now bring on Halloween!

Cornbaby

Cornbaby’s born at the end of summer
Of soil and toil, a labour of love
A child of the wind and rain and sunshine
A sun for a face, all sated with gold

Dress it in white, like your grandparents used to
Carry it gently, carry it safe
The husk of its body a shelter for summer
Dance it to rest now, sing it to sleep

Cornbaby lives in the houses of worship
In the hearts of the people, they’re keeping it warm
Cornbaby sleeps in its perch through the winter
Dreaming of sunshine, of wind and of rain

When the daytimes get longer, Cornbaby wakens
It wants to go out now, it’s longing to play
Its feet in the soil, its head in the sunshine
Waving and swaying and playing, it grows

Cut down the corn at the end of the summer
Don’t fear for Cornbaby, it won’t be harmed
Born and reborn from the harvest each season
It’s old as the land, eternally new