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A Day`s Work

by James Graham 

Posted: 13 November 2005
Word Count: 169

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A Day's Work

After weeks of rain, I heave and shove the mower
through the heavy grass, and hunkering gouge
the damp green gobbets from its moving parts.
I clear a circle round the birch, and plunge
my hands into a fine composted bark
and lay and smooth it round the stem.
I hoe some weeds and let them dry in the sun.

My neighbour has a clock that chimes
on every hour, but doesn't count the hours.
This is play-labour, neither waged nor feudal.
And you might come and look, and I might point
to where the mown grass seems to smoulder
among the wavering shadows of the tree,
and then it would be yours as well as mine.

Careful to save the soil, I rake the weeds
and mound and shovel, bag and barrow.
Remembering a wound the chafing wind
has gouged in an alder-stem against its stake,
I unfetter the good tree, and clean the stem,
and dress it with healing stuff, to make it safe.

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Comments by other Members

Tina at 17:07 on 13 November 2005  Report this post
HI James

Feels like a long time since your last poem or is it me??

I was putting off the garden today - too cold - too wet - too lazy but spent a lot of the day thinking I should have done it rasther than putting it off! BUT I see you were busy or was the poem writing a catharsis / replacement for the actual thing?

Your careful writing here grips the moment of labour as something totally absorbing with no distraction, methodical and rewarding - and then the offer of joining with that: -

and I might point
to where the mown grass seems to smoulder
among the wavering shadows of the tree,
and then it would be yours as well as mine.

feels quite poignant.

Very enjoyable

joanie at 21:15 on 13 November 2005  Report this post
James, please tell me why I feel - I don't know - nostalgic, pensive, as I read and re-read this. I can picture you working in the garden and I get a real feeling of gentleness, of quietly doing what needs to be done.

The second verse is magical - I love the idea of 'play-labour, neither waged nor feudal'. I can't help feeling that the closing words speak of something much more than gardening.

Lovely - I keep returning.


Elsie at 21:52 on 13 November 2005  Report this post
I see what Joanie means - this has a very solid, reassuring feel to it, like being back at your parent's home, seeing the work done in the garden - people not rushing. LIke the clock that doesn't count the hours.

Brian Aird at 22:14 on 13 November 2005  Report this post
Ah! The joy of unpaid labour away from any overbearing concepts of profit and loss or counted time. A tiny ordered fragment of the world that we can have and hold where progress in measurable and observable; a pleasure that no one taxes and only Mother Nature might disagree with our plans.

Yet the pleasure obtained is surely magnified by the fact that it is the product of our labour, even if we might share it with an observer or a friend. How else can it be our garden? Yet I do think of my favourite places, tended by others, as my own; just because I've invested so much time learning the plants there or finding short cuts in the attached woods and knowing which trees have hornet nests.


engldolph at 19:04 on 15 November 2005  Report this post
It's a beautiful poem James. I remember reading the original in When Certain Fruits, and I think your minor changes are all good.

I think what I like most, besides the honesty and pleasure of this "play-labour", and the attention to the trees, a idea of a small helping hand for their future growing, is the way the middle stanza breaks away from the first and third -

The first and third with their focus on honest labour, built on a backbone of verbs:
heave / hunker / clear / plunge / lay / hoe / save / rake / mound / shovel / bag........

but then in the 2nd, the poet takes over..head lifting with the chimes...like someone leaning on his spade and having a look..like someone arriving with a cup of tea..invited to see mouldering grass / wavering shadows
to make this scene "yours (which to me meant "everyone's)

I think it is this that really made it for me.

Only thing that came to mind was dropping the "the" in the last line..

and dress it with healing stuff; make it safe.
(as if you were whispering those last two words)

very much enjoyed

James Graham at 20:38 on 16 November 2005  Report this post
Thanks to all. Tina, this poem is a few years old, going back to a time when I used to do more 'labour' in the garden than I do now. Laziness? I've been there. Correction - I am there. Then it was the real thing, now it would more likely be a replacement. Fantasy gardening.

Mike, I like the 'you might come and look' bit myself. The greatest exponent of the second person pronoun was Paul Celan - his 'you' could be someone in his own life, the reader, and everybody, all at the same time. At the time of writing I was addressing this 'you' to my wife, but if it can mean 'everybody', all the better. Yes, this poem was in my collection - and it's now revised. Even if a poem has been published, you can still go on revising it. Might be a problem if it has become really famous...on everyone's lips...taught in schools and universities. Well...as I say, you can revise it even after it has been published.

Brian, that sense you have of 'owning' a familiar place that doesn't actually 'belong' to you, is interesting - and might even make another poem. It's interesting because it would be a proper job for poetry - questioning the usual meaning of words. 'Mine' and 'yours': the woods are 'mine' because they're part of my life, and I've invested them with meaning.

Joanie and Elsie - if the garden images suggest associations beyond gardening, that's very gratifying. It wouldn't be the first time gardening has been seen as symbolic.

The star of my garden at the moment is my little beech in its autumn colours - like a frozen bonfire.


Mac AM at 09:31 on 30 November 2005  Report this post
Hello David,

Just stopped by to say how lovely this poem is. I like the blend of methodical and mechanical – particularly the gobbets of turf from the mower and the clock that doesn’t count the hours. The rhymes and near rhymes are lovely too – parts, birch, bark.

I really enjoyed the might because it carries such a lot of weight in the poem. It is good to leave the reader wondering what this could mean and it underlines that this play-labour is for your own enjoyment. It also sits well with the healing that is taking place at the end of the poem, where the alder is tended and repaired. In a sense both the tree and the I are being repaired by this activity.

It is a delight David.


James Graham at 19:29 on 30 November 2005  Report this post
Mac, many thanks. What you say in your last sentence registers especially with me. I have that sense about the healing too.


Mac AM at 13:24 on 01 December 2005  Report this post
No, thank you for such a great read.


Mac AM at 13:56 on 04 January 2006  Report this post
Why did I call you David? Twice?

Sorry James.


eddieg at 21:42 on 28 June 2006  Report this post
Hi james...
Just joined full after your comments on my poem...tahnkyou.

I am very new this and have found, from i don't know where, a love of poetry.

So I new to commenting on other peoples poems... but here is what i thought.
It made me feel very nostalgic and harmonious... like with nature.
But i also sensed a feeling of anticipation of anticipation.
Is that any use.


portobelloprincess at 10:15 on 14 October 2007  Report this post
This is the first piece by you that I have read and reviewed - but, for me - this felt more ike a short story than a poem as I fuond that there were too many words relating to gardening that I didnt understand - I shall, however, read more of your writing and I am sure that i will find somehting that I can relate to!
smiles across the miles,
Linda B.

James Graham at 20:23 on 15 October 2007  Report this post
Linda, it never occurred to me that the references to gardening could put readers off this poem. They're familiar to me that I forget they're not so familiar to everyone. But if someone posted a poem full of references to, say, making jewellery, the shoe would be on the other foot. I realise I have written quite a number of 'gardening poems'! - but in spite of that I hope you do find other poems of mine that you can relate to.


portobelloprincess at 22:57 on 17 October 2007  Report this post
James, I really ought not to have tried to review a poem about gardening as I know nothing of the termanology..( spelling wrong?!) anyway, I shall be back to your page and will read some of your work - you are most prolific and have a wonderful range of language;
I shall read and enjoy your work - I am a total romantic when it comes to poetry - Its just the way that i am- but, you write with great depth..I shall explore further!
smiles across the miles,
Linda B

James Graham at 11:56 on 21 October 2007  Report this post
Hi Linda - I used to be an English teacher, so you lose a mark for spelling. It's 'terminology'. Write it out five times at the back of your spelling notebook! Thank you for your interest in the poems in my archive, and for your very positive comment.


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