Night after night I sit and look out
Hoping to see a barn owl about
As white as a surrendering flag;
This gliding wraith-like spirited rag
Would ghost the dark field in looping strides
To scan the rank grass with razor eyes.
A facial disc, ears set obliquely,
Picks up murmurs sent non consciously
By vole and mouse – but, yes, lost to me.
Signals that were never meant to be
From deep inside the raked-over grass:
To all those as deadly as Arras.
This floating thing of deathly beauty
With fine synchronous duality
Is the most sublime killing machine
I am sure that I have ever seen;
And I’ve worked with tigers and lions,
But this owl alone brides its talons.
Yet, see, its peril is also white,
As soft a shroud as wings in the night.
Snowfall that covers the killing ground
Blankets out unwitting sight and sound
And shields for one and for all the voles,
Who may now venture without their holes.
Yet what brings life in train brings death, and
Will fate Her players as chance demands.
For beneath the snow, still in the fray,
The brown fox now ventures into play.
And snow, which enables voles to crawl
Out of sight, masks the deadly footfall.
Nature weighs, measures and will balance
All the players in Her endless dance.
No design and no manufacture,
Refined, eternally year on year,
Until parts all slot in their places
Until man kicked her traces.
His ‘god-given’ urge to dominate
Set himself above Nature’s mandate
Does with sublime precision tamper
And monkey with the blind watchmaker
Those parts that never can be put back
Become young future’s brains to rack.
So the barn owl, in microcosm,
Sets the stage therein Nature’s prism.
One immaculate crafted species
Details Her overwhelming thesis.
And would, with infinite patience, show
The magic of the owl and the snow.
Devon, January 2019
A monster was coming on at me,
Devouring the world, all I could see,
Such was its all-consuming presence,
That nothing else composed an absence.
Crashing there, pulverising closer.
A beast advanced over the border.
Now, sounds of the English countryside,
Herald a fresh hell of herbicide.
An incessant whine of brute machine
Counterpoising the crack, crunch and scream
Of advancing chains flailing hedges,
Even trees and all the quiet edges.
Fields once in early autumn slumber,
Bough and branch in myriad number,
Are beaten into low submission.
Heavy-handed ironbound precision
Bullies countryside’s casual borders
Into tame and abased neat order.
Now reducing full forage hedgerows,
In all their blowsy carefree billows,
Into managed new factory walls;
As close as the jackboot tractor crawls.
Those linear woods, trashed in thoughtless
Haste, make a sad wake in wakes of mess.
These linear woods are all that’s left
Of a landscape that is now bereft
Of the deciduous eternal
Hanging woods which once clothed the feral
Land from east to west, from south to north.
A greenwood cover of endless growth.
Now, ev’ry year hedges try anew,
To regrow once more and save a few.
Hawthorns! Their remembered sweet fragrance
In blossom clouds of creamy cadence,
But there they are, hacked back more and more
Till all that’s left is jagged and raw.
They won’t be laid traditionally.
Every advance drives more fiercely
Into older and thicker timber,
Till the gross impact upon your ear
Is in due accord with the ravaged
Scene: wood and nerves together shred.
Now, never mind the long standing tree.
And farmers won’t see the bird or bee.
For what cannot be seen counts as nought.
Subtle lessons like these can’t be taught
To those immured within tractor walls,
Or logged into cool persuasive malls.
Then his tea, in towered splendour, he sips.
And with insouciant fingertips
Nudges on hundreds of horsepower might.
Never giving one thought to the sight
Of tangled despoilment left behind
After the flailing chains’ savage grind.
Now, with protection wrapped round his face,
Headphones musicking a deaf embrace,
To insulate the remote cabbed man
From all consequences of his plan.
So deafness mutates this crashing hell.
With never a witness left to tell.
Aye, the crashing sound above all else
Has no regard of pastoral sense.
It surely would dumbfound old hedgers
Thankfully safe now in quiet slumbers.
Would they swap craft’s old occupation
For this new gross manifestation?
Now, a poet wand’ring in Nature
Seeks his peace in this secret treasure;
For wind and song are quintessential;
Listen! And be mute deferential.
For there is peace and sweet harmony
In measuring life’s geometry.
Still the brute tractor masticates on.
Jaws chewing; weight thrown about; and strong
Enough to pulverise any foe.
What hope can there be of tomorrow?
Yet wait! The pregnant buds still prepare
To try yet again another year.
Now the ogre leaves the margin’d stage
(And a poet impotent in rage!),
The hedging tree will lick its spirit.
And the only good to come of it,
If calm reflection matters a toss,
Is to help us value what we’ve lost.
(c) Richard Meyer,
Winswell Water, N. Devon, October 2018