A line that has really been haunting me recently is ‘Horses turned out into a cold field have it’ from the great Martin Stannard’s poem The Ingredient. I don’t know why. As Martin might once have said about Geoff Hattersley, you would be forgiven for thinking it is not much of a line. But that is not how this -or poetry- works. It grabs you (me) because it grabs you (me) because it grabs you.
I have been doing a lot of driving recently for one reason or another and I have seen many horses turned out into cold fields as I shoot past in my fast hire car. I don’t care what the weather forecasters say about the recent toasty February temps. A field in February is cold. That is what they are supposed to be. And horses turned out into them is part of this feeling of great cold, to the marrow.
Some of them wear coats. I notice these are nearly always green.
horses turned out
Someone (we are not told who) has been doing the turning out. To a soap-scented city dweller like me, that means only one thing. A farmer. I know nothing about farmers or farming. Or horses. Or fields. Or turning them (or anything else) into cold fields. But the poem says is has happened, so I am prepared to bet that it is true. And if it is true, someone, somewhere, made the decision to do the turning out.
Part of this poem’s greatness is that this is never explained.
into a cold field
I think of all fields as cold (see above). I slept one night in one, and though it was the height of summer it was still cold. I rest my case. Horses turned out into a cold field. The word ‘into’. As though sent into the outer darkness. Or exile. Or wherever horses go when it is all over. Into. A word which suggests no prospect of ‘and back out again’. Of return. Of hearth and home.
Simple words used simply without adornment are the best ones, I think.
Even by this early point in the poem (line 4) we have already had (ahem) three ‘have it’s. The unmodified engine of the poem’s repetition: X has is. Y does not. (We are talking about the never-identified ‘Ingredient’ by the way.) Horses turned out into a cold field have it. A punchline that gains accumulated wisdom and strength via bold assertion. Everything about the ragged world is here in that line, the freezing rain, the wind, the not yet visible move from one season to the next, the barely surviving on scraps Englishness of it all.
Something of the sadness. Something of the mad laughter.