There is nothing left but land, pitted and treeless.
It ekes out into the mist, empty of roads and walls,
hedges and fences. Flanders was a farming place,
small tenant holders and breeders: pigs, poultry,
flax, fodder for cattle. Now it is fallen fallow.
Each autumn after, ploughs will haul an iron harvest
from these fields, the tilth stony with shrapnel,
ballasted with mortars and mines. Cracked gas shells
will bleed their sour scent to the air; bullets will clutter
each row like seeds washed out by floods and storms.
The soil is deep here and always will be worked
however strewed with grave goods. Sappers talk
of axe heads, poniards, rusted blades, the clotted guts
of cannon, gauntlets with their clay hands – relics
from an older world they keep as battle charms;
and in among the bones and skulls of these three years
a catalogue of ochre ribs and knuckles crudely
disinterred: splinters of men sent here to kill and die
in worn fealty. They are more than half earth: still
their ghosts migrate the stark and unrepentant fields.
Rob Hindle discusses the ‘iron harvests’ of Ypres in this essay. ‘Third Ypres’ appears in Rob Hindle’s collection The Grail Roads. You can order the book securely by clicking on the relevant PayPal button below.
The Grail Roads: £12.99 (hardback)
More than 60 previous Featured Poems can be accessed via this index (many of these pages also contain audio recordings and short films).