Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field

Patchwork-fields-012Tim Dee at The Guardian:

Halfway through this book, John Lewis-Stempel writes about a midsummer day he spent hand-scything a meadow on his farm in Herefordshire. He looks up and, surveying the scene, says: “Almost all the things I love are to do with grass. Geese, sheep, cows, horses. Even dogs eat grass.” On the same page he mentions two great farm-working poets, Robert Frostand John Clare, who found poems in the fields. “There is nothing,” he writes, “like working land for growing and reaping lines of prose.” And then, once again, he stoops to his tools until interrupted by a brown vole that tries to flee the scythe by running up his leg. The hay cutters “of yore”, he adds, tied string around their ankles to foil such rodent adventures.

Against the odds (agribusiness, the common agricultural policy, foot-and-mouth disease, bovine TB, the near extinction of the skylark and the lapwing), the pastoral is alive and (sort of) well in British letters. Western writing has been drawn to lines of mowers strung across a field since the first poems of Greece and, among the cutting men, there have long been those who went to mow seeking something other than a swath of useful drying grass. Pastoral literature grew up in fields such as Lewis-Stempel's and he joins an unlikely but distinctive parade of scythe-wielding, haymaking writers from the last 100 years that includes Tolstoy, DH Lawrence, John Fowles, John Berger, Ted Hughes and even, briefly, Franz Kafka.

more here.