April 25, 2014 § 30 Comments
This is a fanciful haiku, as in reality what I am about to describe probably wouldn’t happen. No matter you say – it’s one of those Japanese poems after all where you can write whatever you fancy. And of course you’d be right; but the desire to communicate, using something other than the time honoured 5-7-5 syllable arrangement of the form, has propelled me to ramble on a bit about stuff you probably couldn’t care less about.
It’s about the nature of sheep, of which I know more than a little. Apart from their two defining characteristics, which are to escape when you’re all dressed up for a night out, and to die before their time; there is one other – they do not do alone. Like wildebeest and sardines, they appear to have a collective conscious. If they find themselves devoid of company, they take on personality traits unknown in their species, and as sure as eggs are eggs, will not survive five minutes. Try to imagine a lone sardine in the wild Sargasso Sea. Think of a single wildebeest trying to outwit a float (or a pod if they’re little) of hungry crocodiles at a Sudanese river crossing. It would be messy but quick.
Put a sheep anywhere by itself, and if there’s no question of escape, before it dies of a broken heart or something more bloody, it will get depressed. This is where the haiku comes in. In the days before old barns were done up for city types to live in with their white carpets, sparklingly irritating 4 x 4’s and mud-free green wellies, there was a lovely old barn not far from our farm where I often walked. It was falling down gracefully and surrounded by a higgledy-piggledy brick wall covered with moss and lichen. Within this enclosure lived a very sad sheep. I used to hoist the children onto the wall and we would converse. At least we would try: the sheep, suffering from melancholia, took no notice. Then one day the builders arrived and the sheep disappeared. Where to? That great green field in the sky, I expect.
But back to the matter in hand. I wanted that sheep in a haiku, but could not for the life of me confine it and the barn to the 5-7-5 rule (that could be broken if I wanted – except I didn’t). So instead I transplanted the animal to an abandoned hill farm. When a hill farmer sells up or dies, the odd sheep is often left behind, either because it jumped out of the holding pen and ran off because it didn’t like the look of the lorry, or it simply didn’t get rounded up as it was busy elsewhere. Having a lie-in behind a tuft of grass perhaps, or having a swim in a dangerous tarn. Who knows. It could have been anywhere. So, it found itself alone. This is where poetic licence comes in. It would not have hung around waiting for its relatives. It would, like any creature that had lost its amorphous identity and reason d’être when it lost its mates, have gone looking for others. But this one didn’t. Perhaps the moon was enough…
the ewe lives alone
on the abandoned hill farm -
she talks to the moon
Image courtesy Robin Shillcock