They’re here, at last. I’ve missed them. As the days
Grow longer, so, like migrants, back they come
To bare, long-empty fields; the heavy hum
Of diesels drifting with the dust they raise.
The clay will not endure them with the rain
Of winter in it; dried by wind and sun
It welcomes them. Now there’s work to be done;
With share and tine they wake the land again.
The skylarks’ song, birds nesting in the wood
The lambs and daffodils, the flush of green
As buds appear – conventionally seen
As certain signs that Winter’s gone for good.
Me? In the rumble of a big John Deere,
The sudden stink of hot hydraulic oil
And sweet, sharp scent of rippling, fresh-ploughed soil
I feel the first deep stirrings of the year.
The teams of Shires and Clydesdales are long gone
And I lament their passing; but these new
And great beasts of the field complete my view
As underneath their wheels, the world rolls on.
I need no food, and drink but once a day.
I take no leisure: work is all I know.
In summer I bring in the precious hay;
In autumn, break the ground; in spring I sow.
Although I have no arms, no hands or feet
I travel far, lift mighty loads and bear
A man upon my back. I eat no meat
Yet killed a million horses. Should we share
The road, you may resent my company,
For I have many followers. I tower
Above the one who’s master over me:
I am subservient, for all my power.
OK, an easy one to start 2012. Over Christmas, I’ve been reading a selection from the hundreds of riddles the Anglo-Saxon poets wrote about birds, animals and everyday objects, and they’ve inspired me to have a go myself. I’ve always loved the ‘riddles in the dark’ exchanged by Bilbo Baggins and Gollum in The Hobbit, which are written in exactly this style (let’s not forget that JRR Tolkein was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford for 20 years) As with so many ancient forms of writing, it appears very simple, but is actually surprisingly tricky and subtle. The originals tend to be about swords, shields, helmets and other gear of war; mine describes something a bit more contemporary. No prizes for guessing what.