Work song


I ride along this lonely lane
With eager eyes and ears that strain
To hear those well-loved sounds again:

The diesel’s drone, the seagulls’ cry –
The noises-off that signify
Spring fieldwork’s under way close by.

The John Deere drives four furrows through
The stubborn clay. I wonder who
Would stop to watch the work I do?


This one came to me, more-or-less fully-formed, on Tuesday’s bike ride: three tercets of iambic tetrameter, for those of a prosodical turn of mind. If I might crave your indulgence, it works best read aloud.

The finest, and probably most famous, example of this form is The Eagle, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson – a masterclass in conciseness (he needed only two tercets!) and deceptively simple language.

The image is an old one (so old I had to scan it from a print…) of my good friend Ebenezer driving a John Deere, with a four-furrow plough, near the village where I used to live. The tractor I actually heard on Tuesday was a Massey-Ferguson smashing up clods with a power-harrow. As well as being far less romantic, it neithers scans nor alliterates nearly so well – plus, it was too far from the road to photograph properly. This is why they invented poetic licence. N.

14 thoughts on “Work song

  1. I am glad I did! Clients… 😦
    I tried one too:

    A day like this should always end
    with someone holding on your hand
    and knowing that you have a friend.

    What shame it is to find your pain
    is all that’s left, here to remain
    and haunt you over and again.

    A friend like this might come no more
    into your house, but leave the door
    ajar, it can be like before.

    it is not good like yours, but I wanted to try the rhythm.

    • That’s such a lovely comment – thank you! In fact, I was a teacher – of business, for sudents aged 16+, in an agricultural college – for a few years: although I loved teaching, the endless paperwork, meetings, funding issues and internecine warfare that bedevil the UK’s tottering further education system proved too much for me, and I quit. It took me 18 months to get myself together again – the eight I spent working with horses are still the happiest period of employment I’ve ever known – and although I’ve done some training work since, I’ve never gone back to the classroom full-time. It’s one of the few great regrets I have in life that I never made it as a teacher: there are few higher or more worthy callings. N.x

  2. Ahh, Nick, back to tractors and the dark, rich earth again! What a wonderful “three tercets of iambic tetrameter.” When you sing, you sing. Ina managed to do a pretty good tercet too, didn’t she? in response to yours. Three: five: three, aaa, bbb, ccc; what a wonderful rhythm for a song that echoes and echoes back in time.

    • I had a lot of fun with Ina and our ‘duelling tercets’ yesterday. I haven’t attempted one in Dutch, though…she definitely came out ahead there. I guess tractors and farmwork are still pretty ‘fertile ground’ for me after all these years; it’s a great privilege to share these simple pleasures. N.

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