Evelyn Mary Dunbar (1906-1960)
"A 1944 Pastoral: Land Girls Pruning at East Malling"
How it rained
When we worked at Flintcomb-Ash,
And could not stand upon the hill
Trimming swedes for the slicing-mill.
The wet washed through us -- plash, plash, plash:
How it rained!
How it snowed
When we crossed from Flintcomb-Ash
To the Great Barn for drawing reed,
Since we could nowise chop a swede. --
Flakes in each doorway and casement-sash:
How it snowed!
How it shone
When we went from Flintcomb-Ash
To start at dairywork once more
In the laughing meads, with cows three-score,
And pails, and songs, and love -- too rash:
How it shone!
Thomas Hardy, Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928).
Hardy is one of the few poets who, as a man, can successfully write a poem from the point-of-view of a woman, without doing so in a false or patronizing fashion. (Perhaps, as a man, I am not qualified to opine on the matter. Hence, I apologize for any presumption.) In addition to "We Field-Women," I am thinking of, for instance, "Autumn in King's Hintock Park" (an elderly woman raking up leaves) and "The Farm-Woman's Winter" (a woman whose husband has died, leaving her alone on the farm). And there are many others. As I have noted before, Hardy had a great deal of empathy with, and compassion for, his fellow human beings (as individuals, not as "humanity" in the abstract). This may account for his ability to place himself into another person's shoes.
Evelyn Mary Dunbar, "Winter Garden" (c. 1929-1937)
The scenes depicted in "We Field-Women" seem positively bucolic in comparison with the less-than-idyllic Welsh drama of the following poem by R. S. Thomas. Hardy is often (rightly and wrongly) accused of being a pessimist. But Thomas can make Hardy look like an innocent Pollyanna daydreaming of rural arcadias.
On the Farm
There was Dai Puw. He was no good.
They put him in the fields to dock swedes,
And took the knife from him, when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.
There was Llew Puw, and he was no good.
Every evening after the ploughing
With the big tractor he would sit in his chair,
And stare into the tangled fire garden,
Opening his slow lips like a snail.
There was Huw Puw, too. What shall I say?
I have heard him whistling in the hedges
On and on, as though winter
Would never again leave those fields,
And all the trees were deformed.
And lastly there was the girl:
Beauty under some spell of the beast.
Her pale face was the lantern
By which they read in life's dark book
The shrill sentence: God is love.
R. S. Thomas, The Bread of Truth (Rupert Hart-Davis 1963).
Whew! Now, I believe that the caricature of R. S. Thomas as a curmudgeon is overdone. That being said, I suspect that some of his Welsh parishioners may have found him to be a less-than-outgoing and less-than-warm vicar. On the other hand, I also suspect that Thomas was truthful to what he saw. And we must not forget that his Wales is also marked by moments of transcendent beauty.
Evelyn Mary Dunbar, "A Land Girl and the Bail Bull" (1945)