This is the last of the four songs that make up the Vaughan Williams set, Four Poems by Fredegond Shove. Shove (1889 - 1949) was a rather obscure poet and niece of Adeline Fisher, the composer's first wife. "The Water Mill" is the only song in the collection that is lively and largely upbeat in mood, the others ranging from gloomy ("Motion and Stillness") to celestial but mysterious ("Four Nights") to ghostly ("The New Ghost").
"The Water Mill" is a perky and colorful song, and even manages to veer into a sort of hearty brand of Impressionism in capturing images of the busy mill wheel and splashing water. The text is somewhat less sunny and cheerful in its descriptions: 'There is a mill, an ancient one/Brown with rain and dry with sun." Nevertheless, Vaughan Williams converts its rust into shiny steel, its grays into beaming yellows, with bouncy rhythms, a vibrant, playful vocal line, and a mood, if not of complete elation, then of busy joy. He even shows a folk-like manner here, when the vocalist turns nearly ecstatic, jauntily singing, 'The miller's cat is a tabby...." If this song has a weakness, it is in the piano's almost unrelenting rhythmic figures, meant to depict the spinning of the mill wheel. Still, this is not a major deficit, and the song must be counted as an overall success.