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Landscape Painter

Tiny against the black fen and the huge sky,
He watches the wind coming in, the blank eye

Of the house stuck in the swallowing level
Behind him, to which the cable travels—

Its single thread dipping and rising
Across the ten-mile length of black soil, linking

This land beyond road-ends. Obsessed by it
His brush moves on canvas and palette,

Painting sky and earth and water:
Nothing else holds round here, no better

Obstacle evolved. Attempting to hold still
The slow drains dragging northwards, full

Of this month’s rain, or the desolation
That hangs out there on the treeless fen.

This, perhaps, is beyond the strength of art,
More than the landscape alone can impart

With shape or colour. This land, so boldly
Clawed back from the sea, that seems another sea,

Now of black earth—is what the fenmen made,
What they laboured for, and in your landscape

Where are they, the labourers of this land?

Who cannot be prised from their damp birthright,
Whose family set the first plough straight

Through the drying peat and held this half-land
For centuries against the water, sat hard

As the fields shrank back and the houses
Cracked and toppled into the fen. From this

You pulled them clear to paint instead
The wind delicately nodding the reedhead.






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