Called in

In Wellingtons and waterproofs he stands,
A lonely lighthouse in a sea of grass,
To call the cows in: whistles, claps his hands,
Cries ‘Hup’ and ‘Go on then, girls’ as they pass:
Unhurried, rope-veined udders swinging, large
With milk, the smells of warm crushed turf and dung
Surrounding them in their slow-motion charge
Towards the gate. Their names are on his tongue
And they obey his summons. What do I
Bring in from my own forays in the field?
No milk or meat, no crop to justify
My time; and yet my labours have their yield:
When nothing’s left of this land, man or herd,
Their memory will live. You have my word.

 

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7 thoughts on “Called in

  1. I like the way the lighthouse figure is picked up in the persona, or could be, can be, depending on the reader. You are to this fragile and disappearing way of life as the dairy farmer is to his cows. That kind of “couture” (hidden) selvage make this sonnet resonate, don’t you think?

    • Thank you so much Tom. The image of the lighthouse was one of those ‘deliberate in retrospect’ choices: I felt it was right when I wrote it, but wasn’t entirely sure why! My unconscious putting in a rare appearance, perhaps. Anyway, I’m very pleased that you picked up on the link, albeit a tenuous and rather apologetic one, I was trying to make between myself and the cowman; the main difference is that he knows exactly what he’ll find when he goes out to the fields every day, while for me it’s a matter of chance. On this occasion, I got lucky. N.

  2. That phrase “their slow-motion charge” is very appealing. It seems to capture the herd perfectly, but also – in a way – the whole sonnet is a slow-motion charge towards your final couplet.
    I rather like Tom D’Evelyn’s observation about the lighthouse figure too.

    • A wise and delightful response as always, John – I’m really grateful. I was standing on the edge of the field watching the cows coming up the hill towards me and it really did have the feel of a cavalry charge – although a rather ponderous and comical one, and not a sight likely to strike much fear into the heart of the enemy! N.

  3. Hmmm, Nick, the comment I left on this one has disappeared. I’m not sure I’ll be as good at making a comment the second time around. What I remember saying is that one of my heroes is Wendell Berry, an American poet, novelist, and one of the most important essayists in this country. I love Berry’s poetry, and in many ways it has echoes of Nick Moore in it, the defense of farming as a way of life and the importance of place in the humanity of those who live upon and with the land. I actually think you’re a better poet even though I love Berry.
    What makes this sonnet special is not only the language, which, as usual sings, but the way it captures the essence of farm life. I have been at my father in law’s farm and watched the Holstein cows come out of the field toward the barn and felt the same feeling:
    To call the cows in: whistles, claps his hands,
    Cries ‘Hup’ and ‘Go on then, girls’ as they pass:
    Unhurried, rope-veined udders swinging, large
    With milk, the smells of warm crushed turf and dung
    Surrounding them in their slow-motion charge
    Towards the gate…
    The sad thing is that we do need a memory keeper of this way of life. At least in the United States the farms, too often, are becoming factories that produce products rather than the crops and produce of farm life. Such life needs to have someone, Nick Moore, turn its essence into poetry that echoes back into time the meaning of who we humans are. This is simply a wonderful sonnet. Tom This is a gorgeous poem. I will read this over and over again. Love Ethel

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