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English Literature

The Field Mouse

For some background on Gillian Clarke, look at the Context section of Catrin

Subject matter


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The Field Mouse

Summer, and the long grass is a snare drum.The air hums with jets.Down at the end of the meadow,far from the radio's terrible news,we cut the hay. All afternoonits wave breaks before the tractor blade.Over the hedge our neighbour travels his fieldin a cloud of lime, drifting our landwith a chance gift of sweetness.

The child comes running through the killed flowers,his hands a nest of quivering mouse,its black eyes two sparks burning.We know it will die and ought to finish it off.It curls in agony big as itselfand the star goes out in its eye.Summer in Europe, the field's hurt,and the children kneel in long grassstaring at what we have crushed.

Before day's done the field lies bleeding,the dusk garden inhabited by the saved, voles,frogs, and nest of mice. The wrong that wokefrom a rumour of pain won't heal,and we can't face the newspapers.All night I dream the children dance in grasstheir bones brittle as mouse-ribs, the airstammering with gunfire, my neighbour turnedstranger, wounding my land with stones.

A field mouse

Picture courtesy of Meagan Jenigen

The poem describes hay making in Wales, one summer in the early 1990s. The war in Bosnia was going on at the time. When a field mouse gets injured and dies as a result of the hay making, Clarke is reminded of the war and how the weak and vulnerable become victims of violence.

Gillian Clarke tells us on her website that the fighting referred to in the poem is the Bosnian conflict [conflict: Tension caused by a disagreement between people with different opinions, facts or beliefs. ], but the poem itself does not specify which war inspired it. Why do you think this is?

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