The Learned Pig

Art – Thinking – Nature – Writing

Meadow Grass / Unmake the Land


Meadow Grass

She’s brought me here because this awkward land
Has been left undisturbed, unploughed: the anthills dot

The sloping curve of earth like pockmarks, and
In the tracks of grazing cattle and the oak tree’s swell

Years and years reveal themselves in skim and scratch of code
She reads each shift and switch: all these are signs

In the gold a green woodpecker’s wing is caught
Just there by the daggers of low-lit evening sun

Our fingers brush the tufted dogtail
Meadow foxtail, rye grass, clover

Smooth velvet purple of the Yorkshire fog
I shred them without thinking, seeds unready and unripe

When she was young the butterflies were endless: now
The gatekeepers lift before our step and sway

In chalky dun and copper and the glint
Of winged eyes start and fret and beat

I read that people have been saying that this land
Was better, richer, purer fifty years ago

Forever, always, since there have been words
For land and field and harvest, back and back and back

And now the woodpeckers call across the meadow –
Behind the hedge the hay’s brought in

The swell of field is penitent and golden, shorn
The butterflies alight, take flight among

The final days of the summer grass and
The last of the dog rose, falling.



The Learned Pig



Unmake the Land


But I am also guilty: passing potato pickers on a
Moving train, the speed renders them unreal –

I see dungarees, men on their knees, the imagined
Sheen of sweat on brow and cheek
I hate the way we all go back to Brueghel

Figures bend for a second and are gone, again
Zipped in the flash of the rolling green they join
The miles of never-ending hedges, dip and curve
Of coppice, rows of wheat and ready earth.


The hedgerow gives me all of these:
Red campion, the purple vetch, white tumble
Of the meadowsweet, above and
Arching close and damp I whisper
Oak and ash and hazel just to know their names

I pass pale, unreal across
The wide paved driveway of the farm
Already, tractors crunch the gravel, blot
My slap of sandal, pheasant’s plucked and
anxious cry, unhappy sound of sheep close by

Behind the muffled, dripping hedge I hear
The half-shout of an unknown tongue
The polytunnel rises smooth, repeating
Grey in the grey of early skies

Two people walking, talking, step in step
With me behind the hedge’s screen about
The weather, maybe, wives and mothers,
The aching gap of miles to home –

Unwelcome men at their unwelcome task
They make, and every year, unmake the land
And we carry on beyond the borders of
Whatever acreage it is they touch and turn.




Image credits (from left to right)
1. Joan Eardley, Ripening Barley (c.1960-62), gouache, 43cm x 35.5cm
2. Joan Eardley, Barley Field (c.1961-62), gouache, 22cm x 21cm
Both via The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh.


This is part of FIELDS, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring fields as natural and (agri)cultural, invisible and visible, poor and productive, created and creators. FIELDS is conceived and edited by Marloe Mens.


The Learned Pig