The Field Mouse
by Gillian Clarke
Q Why is the long grass a ‘snare drum’?
A The insects in the grass make the field sound like a snare drum.
Q What does ‘the air hums with jets’ mean?
A The jets are military aircraft, practising low flying over hill country. When war threatens somewhere in the world, and Britain is involved, the activity increases. The noise is sometimes a terrifyingly sudden scream, and sometimes a continuous roar, like deep humming.
Q What is the ‘terrible news’ on the radio?
A It was the war in Bosnia, in the former Yugoslavia.
Q What is lime?
A This lime comes from limestone, and is naturally present in alkaline soil. In acid soil lime is deficient, and farmers add it to help the crops to grow. It sweetens the soil, so I describe the cloud drifting onto our land as ‘a chance gift of sweetness’.
Q Why do you talk about Summer in Europe’?
A British people and Bosnian people are both Europeans. We are alike. Summer, whether in the countryside in Wales (where I am) or in Bosnia, is hay making time. Farmers cut long grass, dry it, and store it to feed their animals in the winter. They wait for a good weather forecast before cutting the hay, as it needs to dry in the sun for a few days before it is baled and stored. All children love playing in the hay. It is a sunny, happy, busy time.
Q So why do ‘the fields hurt’?
A Small animals get killed in the long grass during hay making. Think also of the word ‘battlefield’. Here, little creatures were killed. In Bosnia men, women and children were killed. We call hay making cutting the hay, but the Welsh equivalent translates as ‘killing the hay’.
Q Who are the children and what are they staring at?
A There are two countries, Wales and Bosnia, and two groups of children, here, and there. The children here are sad to see small animals injured. In Bosnia the children see people die. I’m also thinking of the children of the world watching adults wreck our planet. They stare at what we, the adults, have crushed.
Q What do you mean by ‘the wrong that woke from a rumour of pain’?
A The rumour of pain, the world’s pain, comes from the media, wars and rumours of wars. I am reminded of the world’s troubles by the sight of the injured field mouse brought to me by a four year old boy. We try to save the mouse. It is tiny, but its agony is as big as if it were a man. It has been hurt by accident, but it reminds me of the war I’ve been trying to forget about all day, I’ve been trying to enjoy a happy day in the sunshine, picnicking with the children in the hayfield. The death of one small mouse brings the pain close.
Q What do the last lines of the poem mean?
A It’s a nightmare, a bad dream about the children being as frail and vulnerable as field mice, and there’s gunfire in the air. The poem asks what if this were Bosnia, and my neighbour hated me just because we had different religions and different ethnic backgrounds? What if instead of a cloud of lime he threw stones at me?