Rust in peace


The country here is littered with their bones;
Half-hidden carcases lie everywhere –
In ditches, under hedges, in that shed
Collapsing on itself. They are the dead
Left by the weary, never-ending war
Between the land and those who work to claw
A living from thin soil shot through with stones.

A roller, bust in hopeless halves. A plough
With coulters, mouldboards, landsides, beam and share
That once gleamed brightly, pitted, dull with rust;
A baler thick with long-gone summers’ dust;
A set of heavy harrows, choked beneath
Tall nettles, broken tines like missing teeth.
Their fall from grace complete, abandoned now –

Redundant, superseded, or plain wrecked
And left to rot. No money to repair
Or reinstate them. Killed by this terrain –
Its cruel contours, rocks and endless rain –
They stand as red-stained steles to all the hopes
Of fast, efficient working on these slopes
Sharp salesmen led their buyers to expect.

But someone, somewhere, still recalls the day
That shiny new machine was standing there
In pride of place: the farm folk gathered round
To peer and prod; and him, aloof and crowned
With glory as the only one who knew
Exactly how it worked, what it could do –
Not dreaming things could ever end this way.


Another piece brought back from west Wales, where the steep, stony land and pitiless rain are hell on men and machines. This follows the same form as my earlier Insomnia – if only to prove to myself that my invented scheme (with the stanzas linked by the ‘B’ rhyme in the second line – what was I thinking?) would work a second time!

12 thoughts on “Rust in peace

  1. Hi Nick,

    you crafted another miracle 🙂 it worked! This is such a very good, solid poem. Those old machines rusting in the ground.. maybe they make fertile ground one day.

    What a good idea to have the second line repeat in rhyme! 🙂 It gives the whole even more togetherness (if that is English)

    “They stand as red-stained steles to all the hopes
    Of fast, efficient working on these slopes
    Sharp salesmen led their buyers to expect.” Lovely!


    • Thank you Ina – I was pleased (and a bit amazed) that my mad rhyme scheme worked a second time! And I’m glad you approve of the second-line ‘B’ rhyme – that ‘togtherness’ is exactly what I was aiming for. Hope you’ve had a splendid weekend. N.x

  2. Hello Nick–another “fascination”! You really give the land/elements a strong personality–I’m seeing harsh and stern-visaged. And I get “fired up” with enthusiasm and inspiration, when you talk about things like an “invented scheme–stanzas linked by the B-rhyme in the 2nd lines”…Guess I must truly have a poet’s heart, if that thrills me so. Wishing you an excellent week–God richly bless you.

      • Oh, I wish I had a ‘real’ photographer’s eye, as my wife does – and a proper camera: I snapped this using the little one on my phone…the subject is the remains of a seed-drill, being slowly consumed by the elements and vegetation in a ditch near my mother-in-law’s house. N.

    • Thank you – my purpose has always been to give voice to the land, the trees, the birds and the animals, so this is a really gratifying response. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets excited by metre and rhyme; both are deeply unfashionable these days, but I’m a true devotee of Robert Frost, who said that ‘free verse is like playing tennis with the net down’. A good free-verse poem is still better than a bad metrical one, of course, but I see poetry as a craft, and like to work within measurable limits. And one has only to read your work to see you have a true poet’s heart. A splendid week to you, too. N.x

  3. Hi Nick,

    I absolutely love this poem. You have so clearly woven together people, history, machines and the land into what I feel is beautiful tale of life’s passing. You make one feel for the machines that now rust with no recognition.
    I suppose I feel a strong link the images you relate. Here in Oz the land too is littered with many machines now abandoned sometimes along with their farms.
    I also have a great love for farm machinery some of them are works of art in themsleves and a testament to mans determination and indomintable spirit.

    I have greatly enjoyed my time looking through the mirror into your landscape. Thank you.

    Tikarma. x

    • Hey Tikarma, great to hear from you! How have things been with you?

      I’m really glad you like this piece; it took several days, and numerous attempts, to get it to where I wanted it – but I was glad, really, because the poem is all about struggle and wrestling with the elements, so it would have felt somehow wrong if it had come together easily. And I’m also delighted that you can identify with the images; I spent a summer on a sheep farm at Grenfell (about five hours west of Sydney) when I was a student, and that was as much in my mind as the Welsh hill-farms when I wrote this; substitute ‘heat and dust’ for ‘cold and rain’ and it could equally apply to New South Wales as ‘old’ west Wales!

      Thank you so much. N.x

      • Hey Nick, sorry I’m slow to keep up. I’m having a few health problems of late the consequence of which is chronic fatigue, so I have become the proverbial turtle. Slowly but surely, if a bit on the late side. *sheepish grin*
        I think your efforts have indeed paid off and I agree taking time to complete the poem does reflect well the struggle you present. Sometimes a poem is well worth the effort and the wait.

        *big smile* I do like your comparison with “old” west Wales and New South Wales. How did you cope with the flies!? The one aspect of Australian farm life I don’t miss. 🙂
        One important element for me as a reader that I do very much appreciate in other poets and writers is the ability to tell a story that translates equally well to my world as I can step into yours. In this poem it was a flawless transition for me. I think it is now one of my favourites of yours. 🙂

        I hope you are well and thanks again for sharing and writing such a wonderful poem.

        Tikarma. xxxx

      • Hey Tikarma – sorry to hear you’re not feeling well; hope things pick up for you.

        I was in NSW in September, so the flies hadn’t really got going yet. I imagine they can be a torment, though…the weirdest thing was, on the way, we drove through the Snowy Mountains, which at that time of year were – well, snowy. I’d just spent summer on the farm in England, so to go from working with my shirt off in the sun to driving between snowdrifts was kind of a shock! Even stranger, for a Pom, was seeing parrots flying around. And I’m afraid we did kill a budgie when it flew into the van’s radiator grille at high speed…but that’s another story.

        I’m so glad the poem works on both sides of the world; it’s such a thrill to know that my stuff’s made it Down Under, even if I’ve never managed to get back there in 20 years! Take care of yourself, and hope you’re feeling better soon. N.x

  4. Nick, I’m having trouble keeping up with you lately. I hope you’ll forgive me. This cancer treatment stuff is wearing me out. I had a bit of a set back today, so the treatment is going to have to last a week longer than they said, but the good news is that I should be okay after it’s all over.
    Feeling the way I do I’m afraid I related to the tractors in your poem. Its craft is as careful and skilled as usual. But the tractors growing old, losing their newness, and then setting in a field after all their newness and useful life after breaking down is a good metaphor for life in general. They still contain their character, making a great opportunity for a photograph (I wish I had my entire family’s skill with photographs and art), and they are symbols of a history of work and struggle and growth that they, for only awhile, were key in making.
    What I like best about the poem, other than the rhyme and the meter, is:
    But someone, somewhere, still recalls the day
    That shiny new machine was standing there
    In pride of place: the farm folk gathered round
    To peer and prod; and him, aloof and crowned
    With glory as the only one who knew
    Exactly how it worked, what it could do –
    This calls up the close relationship between humans and their machines, the memory of the pride invoked upon new ownership, the wisdom imbedded in the human psyche at knowing “exactly how it worked, what it could do–”
    And then the lament, as old as the first farmer on his field, the young lover with a new love, the young man before he realizes he can grow old:
    Not dreaming things could ever end this way.
    Ahh Nick, Nick…this is fine poetry.

    • Thank you for the update on your treatment, Tom – I guessed something of the sort, and you’ve been very much in my thoughts. Sorry to hear things haven’t gone so smoothly, but that’s an encouraging prognosis. Hang in there, my friend; you have a huge community of us out here in the ether rootin’ for you.

      And thank you, too, for your fine and sensitive response to this piece; as I said to Tikarma, it didn’t come easy, which seemed apt – art imitating life, you might call it. It’s always dangerous to anthropomorphise, especially with inanimate objects like tractors and farm implements, but I do feel that through long use and familiarity, a bond of sorts can be formed between man and machine, the latter acquiring something that can only be described as a ‘personality’. That’s certainly been my experience with my bicycles, and even the tractors I drove in my youth. I guess it’s the thing I like least about modern cars: they don’t seem to take on that satisfying patina of age and shared experience – they just look tired.

      Our thoughts and best wishes are with you, as always. N.

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