In Charles MacKay’s poem, The Miller of the Dee, there was a miller who works hard grinding corn and other grains all day. Millers back then, in Charles Mackay’s day, are generally poor, but they can be as happy as any other man. And this was perhaps the reason why MacKay wrote a poem about a miller who once lived happier than a king. We can find out by reading the poem below why he was happier:
There dwelt a miller, hale and bold,
Beside the river Dee;
He worked and sang from morn till night–
No lark more blithe than he;
And this the burden of his song
Forever used to be:
“I envy nobody–no, not I–
And nobody envies me!”
“Thou’rt wrong, my friend,” said good King Hal,
“As wrong as wrong can be;
For could my heart be light as thine,
I’d gladly change with thee.
And tell me now, what makes thee sing,
With voice so loud and free,
While I am sad, though I am king,
Beside the river Dee?”
The miller smiled and doffed his cap,
“I earn my bread,” quoth he;
“I love my wife, I love my friend,
I love my children three;
I owe no penny I can not pay,
I thank the river Dee,
That turns the mill that grinds the corn
That feeds my babes and me.”
“Good friend,” said Hall, and sighed the while,
“Farewell, and happy be;
But say no more, if thou’dst be true,
That no one envies thee;
Thy mealy cap is worth my crown,
Thy mill my kingdom’s fee;
Such men as thou are England’s boast,
O miller of the Dee!”
In the first stanza, a miller is portrayed as someone very happy and content with his situation and having nothing to worry about in life. He keeps himself busy working at the mill from sunrise to sunset. And while he works, he gets used to singing songs to keep him entertained.
He reveals that he is not envious of anyone and thinks that the people around him were not envious of him either. Charles Mackay even went as far as to exaggerate the fact that the miller’s song was actually more relaxing than that of the sweetly singing bird lark.
Then, in the second stanza, king Hal entered and arrived at the miller’s place. The king makes it clear that perhaps the miller was wrong in his belief that no one envies him. The king was, in fact, envious of the miller’s happiness and wished to exchange his own heart with that of the miller. The king wanted to free his own heart from tensions and all troubles.
The king has so many things that worry him and make him sad, and thinking about them makes the burden heavier on his heart. While the miller’s heart, on the other hand, was light and free from worries of life. So the king couldn’t help but ask the miller his secret.
In the third stanza, the miller reveals his secret which, to him, was not a secret at all.
The miller humbly removed his cap from his head, showing a smile on his face, and explained to the king that he worked for a living, that he loved his wife and three children, that he also had friends to love, and that he didn’t owe anyone money. He was also very grateful to the River Dee for spinning the mill with the flow of its water so he could make flour by crashing the grains.
In the last stanza, the king took a deep breath and said goodbye to the miller while also blessing him at the same time. King Hal also reminded the miller that he was wrong to say that no one envies him. The king compares the flour-coated miller’s cap to be worth more than his crown. He also believes that the flour mill is more precious than his kingdom and that England should be proud of men like the miller, who make a great contribution to the country.