Back to the land

 

Four horses browse the field beside the brook.
Not so remarkable, you’d think. Except
When I was young and this was Warren’s land
No hoof was suffered here. And as I look
Around this farm, whose features once seemed set
Like sun-baked Sussex clay, I see the hand
Of Time at work, reshaping subtly
The world I knew, and thought would ever be.

I learned the fields and footpaths, secret ways
Through woods, the course of streams, each gate and stile,
And where the first wild daffodils were seen.
I carted straw, hauled grain in holidays
And made this land my office. All the while
I wrapped myself within its folds of green
As camouflage against the life that stood
Awaiting me beyond, in adulthood.

They’ve sold the farm. No dairy herd here now:
Those horses all the livestock left. The grass
We cut and clamped for silage every spring
And hay in summer, gone and under plough.
And I left too; to study, then to pass
Long years in misplaced toil and wondering
What should I do and where did I belong
When my heart knew the answers all along.

So. Now a quarter-century has flown
And here I am, in boots, with dog at heel;
No prospects, plan or penny to my name,
Still wandering these familiar fields alone,
My head still full of songs and rhymes – my real
Life’s work, it seems: that much has stayed the same.
The horses glance, then drop their heads to graze
And I walk on, my mind on distant days.

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11 thoughts on “Back to the land

  1. What a truely beautiful poem.
    Clearly written from the heart.
    Which is where all the best poems come from.

    There are places from my youth that I dare not go back to. They have changed beyond recognition such that it is sometimes difficult to believe they ever existed.

    I wrote a piece once about a place from my childhood. One of my younger brothers, who had been back, said “Don’t go David, the cave is no longer there and in summer it is populated by wassocks on jet-skis!”

    Terrific piece Nick

    David

    • Thank you very much, David. I guess I’m lucky that the country round the village we moved to when I was 15 (nor far from my home now, and where my parents still live) hasn’t really altered very much – certainly not as much as it might have done, given the local councils’ growing fondness for building on greenfield sites. I wrote the poem after walking there the other day, and realising that, since my teenage/student days, I’ve probably changed and moved on less than the landscape has! It’s quite comforting to feel that I’ve ultimately stayed true to myself; but a bit worrying all the same for a man of 43 with a wife and daughter to support! N.

  2. Nick

    This is such a beautiful poem, dare I say yet another of my favourites of yours. You re definitely up there with the best poets, your talent is massive.

    I used to visit a large field every year with friends in my teenage years to celebrate Bonfire Night.
    I hate to say it but I now live in that field, our house being one of many others. the greenery having vanished.

    It is good to be back. That flu was a very unwelcome visitor!

    Christine xx

    i

    .

    • Lovely to have you back with us again, Christine – hope you’re feeling better. Thank you for your comment; affirming and heartwarming as ever. I heard someone say the other day that developers are ‘people who cut down all the trees and then name their new roads after them’; our district council is now proposing to stick 1,000 (yes, that’s three zeroes) new houses on farmland adjoining our part of town. Quite apart from anything else, it would completely encircle our ancient woodland and fill in our views over the Weald to the South Downs. Just one more on the lengthening list of idiotic schemes we’re having to fight around here! N.

  3. These are always your best, Nick, when you get away from the stuff of civilization and walk into the earth where farms and forest meet. The fact that you are still wandering the poetways you wandered as a child while there are subtle differences to the land says that you are an ancient spirit, familiar of the land and its ways, visiting your true place and then going on with life fulfilled with the who of who you are.
    I agree with Christine: “You’re definitely up there with the best poets; your talent is massive.”
    The key to the poem is in the first stanza:
    …And as I look
    Around this farm, whose features once seemed set
    Like sun-baked Sussex clay, I see the hand
    Of Time at work, reshaping subtly
    The world I knew, and thought would ever be.

    This is contrasted with the ending stanza:
    So. Now a quarter-century has flown
    And here I am, in boots, with dog at heel;
    No prospects, plan or penny to my name,
    Still wandering these familiar fields alone,
    My head still full of songs and rhymes…
    showing that you too have subtly changed, but still, like the land, hold on to an essence that is constant and unchanging.

    • I’ve been thinking about your comment a lot over the last few days, Tom; it’s really stirred something deep. ‘Ancient spirit’ and ‘familiar of the land’ are very resonant and powerful; I’ve definitely felt differently, and more positively, about myself and my work since reading that description – thank you so much. Hope all’s well with you, my friend. N.

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