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The Last Load


Image: Sean Boggs
Farming: Not for wimps

I had lunch with friends on Sunday. One of them was a farmer, eighty but ageless, confident, happy, with a swift blue-eyed smile streaking from his red face. He and his wife, who sat across the table, had raised four sons and a daughter on the living he raised from the farm. "You need experiences in order to learn," he remarked about his children, "and the farm gave them experiences".

Poet Laureate Ted Hughes (1930-1998) wrote about racing a storm to bring in the hay -

Last Load

Baled hay out in a field
Five miles from home. Barometer falling. ?
A muffler of still cloud padding the stillness. ?
The day after day of blue scorch up to yesterday,
The heavens of dazzling iron, that seemed unalterable,
Hard now to remember.

Now, tractor bounding along lanes, among echoes, ?
The trailer bouncing, all its iron shouting ?
Under sag-heavy leaves ?
That seem ready to drip with stillness.
Cheek in the air alert for the first speck.

You feel sure the rain's already started -
But for the tractor's din you'd hear it hushing
In all the leaves. But still not one drop
On your face or arm. You can't believe it. ?
Then hoicking bales, as if at a contest. Leaping ?
On and off the tractor as at a rodeo.

Hurling the bales higher. The loader on top ?
Dodging like a monkey. The fifth layer full ?
Then a teetering sixth. Then for a seventh
A row down the middle. And if a bale topples
You feel you've lost those seconds forever. ?
Then roping it all tight, like a hard loaf.

Then fast as you dare, watching the sky
And watching the load, and feeling the air darken
With wet electricity,
The load foaming through leaves, and wallowing

Like a tug-boat meeting the open sea -
The tractor's front wheels rearing up, as you race, ?
And pawing the air. Then all hands ?
Pitching the bales off, in under a roof, ?
Anyhow, then back for the last load.

And now as you dash through the green light
You see between dark trees ?
On all the little emerald hills ?
The desperate loading, under the blue cloud.

Your sweat tracks through your dust, your shirt flaps chill, ?
And bales multiply out of each other
All down the shorn field ahead. ?
The faster you fling them up, the more there are of them -
Till suddenly the field's grey empty. It's finished.

And a tobacco reek breaks in your nostrils
As the rain begins ?
Softly and vertically silver, the whole sky softly ?
Falling into the stubble all round you

The trees shake out their masses, joyful, ?
Drinking the downpour. ?
The hills pearled, the whole distance drinking
And the earth-smell warm and thick as smoke

And you go, and over the whole land ?
Like singing heard across evening water
The tall loads are swaying towards their barns
Down the deep lanes. ?

Found in a website devoted to the poetry of hay by British and American writers.