Meditation on a line by Martin Stannard (LentBlog2)

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.


have it


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.




  1. The Palestinians use the Arabic word “sumud” which can be translated “steadfastness”. Maybe “it” has something to do with this. Dogged (or horsey) endurance, refusal to be ground down, to find some kind of sustenance, no matter what.

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  2. Having spent a lot of time mucking out stalls I can attest to the fact that horses are generally turned loose, rather than, turned out, into the fields. They are turned loose so they can get their exercise and so we can clean out their stalls. It’s not a “turned out” as in a forced out. Every horse I’ve ever met hated being caged and loved being released into the field. Even when it’s dangerously cold we had to lure them back with the promise of food and there were always a couple we had to actually go round up and bring back in. When I ponder the line “horses turned out into a cold field” my mental picture is the look of pure joy when I open that heavy door and the horse passes by me on their way to fresh air and free runs. Having said that, I haven’t read the poem so I’m not sure of his context.

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