Bring the Summer Home (The Poll Tax Song)

Our King went forth to Normandy
With grace and might and chivalry;
The God for him wrought marvellously,
Wherefore England may call and cry:
‘Deo Gratias!’

Part I

The King went forth to Normandy,
Pride of might and chivalry;
Welsh and English longbowmen,
Bondmen, serfs, were in the van.
While at home men and women laboured in the fields
That the masters might enjoy their yield;
Live and die in the iron bonds of Edward’s laws,
Caught up in the toils of Edward’s wars.

In the thirteenth year of the war
Came the pestilence to our shore;
Sergeant Death stalked through the land,
Murder walked at his right hand.
Kings and their conscript armies play their bloody games
In the fertile fields of Aquitaine;
Children die caught upon the point of hunger’s lance,.
While their fathers die in the fields of France

In the fortieth year of the war,
Richard flogged us with the law,
Beat us with the new poll tax,
Flayed the skin from off our backs.
Our lives are forfeit, caught between the granite millstones
Of the Church and State and King’s throne;
They grind our bodies down, our very souls they plunder,
While our children die of hunger.

The axe was sharp, the stock was hard,
In the fourteenth year of King Richard;
Keen the blade of the next poll tax,
Honed till sharper than the axe.
The sweating reaper sees the hated tax-collector pass,
Time, he thinks, to put the scythe to the grass;
‘The time has come to put the wheat away, uproot them all!’
Says the farmer-priest of York, John Ball.

Thirteen hundred eighty-one,
Now the sheep-shearing time has come,
With King Richard’s third poll tax,
Hear the cry: ‘Get off our backs!’
Now soon the sheep will shear the wolf, the lambs will show their teeth,
Soon the wrestlers will be on the heath;
And we will dance the Trueman’s Morris at the Whitsun games
To the welcome sound of broken chains.

Thirteen hundred eighty-one,
Now the May Games have begun;
Brentwood folk begin the jig,
Dance the poll tax whirligig.
The tax-collectors they are forced to join the rebel dance,
High up in the air they twitch and prance;
Across the Thames the army of the Essex bondsmen went,
Joining forces with the men of Kent.

Part II

We have brought the harvest home,
Yes, we have brought the summer home,
And we have cut and stacked the corn,
Yes, we have brought the summer home,
And sent the tax-collector running,
We have brought the summer home,
Sent the tax-commissioners running,
We have brought the summer home
And Hob the robber, he is hiding.

We have brought the harvest home,
And the noble knights are hiding,
And the noble squires are hiding,
And the noble lords are hiding,
And the stiff-necked priors are hiding,
And the abbots, they are hiding,
And the bishops, they are hiding,
We have brought the summer home,
Yes, we have brought the summer home.

We have made a good beginning
Since that glorious day in Brentwood
When we chased the tax-collectors
And the day we marched to Maidstone,
And we brought the summer home,
Since we freed John Ball from prison,
Since we burned Lancaster’s palace,
Since we stormed Rochester castle,
Took the head off our Archbishop,
And the head off Robert Hales,
And the head off Sir John Fordham,
We have brought the summer home,
Yes, we have brought the summer home.

When Able Kerr’s men entered Dartford,
And went on to capture Gravesend,
And we brought the summer home,
And we sacked the Marshalsea,
Yes, as we brought the summer home,
Yes, we brought the summer home.

How we revelled in the May Games,
With the chasing of the landlords,
And we celebrated Pentecost,
With John Ball and Wat Tyler,
And the feast of the sheep-shearing,
With Jack Straw and William Grindcobbe,
And the feast of Corpus Christi,
With the bleeding of the gluttons
And the vigil of St. John the Baptist
Brought the summer home!

Part III

All the south has caught on fire,
Norfolk, Hampshire, Hertfordshire,
Johann Nameless, Thomas Scott,
Piers Ploughmen, Hob and Wat.
To Canterbury, fifty thousand men of Kent are sped,
England’s Chancellor will lose his head.
And then Wat Tyler and his men are London-bound,
Pull the nobles and their prelates down!

Poll the taxers, dock the priests,
Wring the necks of noble geese!
Loose all prisoners, set them free,
From Newgate and the Marshalsea!
Burn down the palace of the Duke of Lancaster!
Who’s the servant now, sir, who’s the master?
Tear the tyrant Treasurer of England from his bed,
See how he can fare without his head!

Part IV

Adam Attwell,
And John Ball,
Nicholas Bokeland,
Simon Burleigh,
And Jack Cave,
Master baker
And John Cant,
A shoe maker.

And George Donnesby
Of Lincoln
William Grindcobbe
Of St. Albans
Thomas Hardinge,
Maidstone mason,
Also Hugh Harvey
Of Chester.

And there’s Able Kerr
Of Brentwood,
Richard Kendall,
And John Kirby,
Geoffrey Lister,
Dyer of Stafford,
And Jack Mylner,
John de Molyne.

There’s John Potter,
Master fuller,
And Ralph Rugge,
And Walter Sybylle,
Thomas Simpson,
And Jack Straw,
And Alan Thredder.

There’s Will Tongue
And Robert Westbourne,
John de Wode,
And there’s Wat Tyler!

Part V

July, Thirteen Eighty-one,
Brave Wat Tyler’s come and gone,
Killed by creatures of the court,
Killing bondsmen is royal sport.
John Ball was stretched upon the rack then disembowled and hung,
His broken body on a dunghill flung;
He said that when the great ones have been rooted up and cast away,
Only then will we learn to be free.

Nineteen Hundred Eighty-nine,
Against the new poll-tax combine;
Join the men of ’Eighty-one,
Finish what John Ball began.
Now we can stretch our hands across time’s ocean wide,
Marching onwards at Wat Tyler’s side;
All honour to the ragged bands who at Smithfield lay,
Those who braved the axe and led the way.

Words by Ewan MacColl, tune by Peggy Seeger (1989)

Robert Koenig, After the Uprising: Wat Tyler and his Followers after the Suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 (Wat Tyler Country Park, Basildon, Essex, 2006

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