A real sign of spring this afternoon: out on the Madone, I passed the first field I’ve seen cut for silage this season. Making silage (cutting grass while it’s still green, then sealing up to pickle in its own juices) is a far more reliable way to provide winter feed for cattle than haymaking in a changeable climate like Britain’s, and is now all-but universal practice. To us, silage looks revolting and smells worse, but to cows, it’s ambrosia. Which is just as well, because they’ll eat virtually nothing else all winter long.
Before it’s mown and the grass is carted away, a silage field is lush and iridescent: afterwards, it’s an anaemic stubble, pale and incongruous amid the rampant greenness all around. That convict-crop look stuck in my mind, and by the time I got home, a poem was well on its way. It being Sunday, I gave myself a day of rest from strict rhyme and metre, and indulged in a little free verse. And why not.
They came for it early
And fully armed.
The swollen stems never stood
A chance. They were cut down
In a blur of blades,
Crushed till their juices ran like blood,
Laid out in windrows
And left for dead.
But there was more:
There’s no escape
Once you’re in the machinery.
The men returned next day
With a new terror
That picked up the weary, wilted grass
Chopped it savagely into one-inch lengths
Then whirled it in a hurricane blast
And hurled it up the chute.
A brief arc through space
Then plunging in an emerald cataract
Into the trailer’s echoing dark.
They left the field shorn, stark
And pale with shock, a convict’s scalp
That made the land around recoil
In fear and shame.
The grass they carted off
Inside strong walls
To serve a summer’s sentence
But when Winter shackled the land
They let it out
And after its long months
Its character was reformed.
And for the rest of its days
It did nothing