Week 128: The Coast: Norfolk, by Frances Cornford

Frances Cornford (1886-1960) was a granddaughter of Charles Darwin now perhaps best remembered for her somewhat condescending poem ‘To A Fat Lady Seen from the Train’, which begins ‘O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,/Missing so much and so much?/O fat white woman whom nobody loves/Why do you walk through the fields in gloves’ and which aroused the ire of the redoubtable G.K.Chesterton who, himself inclined to corpulence, leapt to the stout lady’s defence with a poem that begins ‘Why do you rush through the field in trains,/Guessing so much and so much?/Why do you flash through the flowery meads,/Fat-head poet that nobody reads…’. This is all good fun, but a bit unfair to Frances who did write some fine lyrics including this favourite of mine, that seems to me a perfect evocation of the East Anglian landscape.

I suspect that the ‘finches on the telegraph’ were actually corn buntings, which love to sit on telegraph wires and were at that time classed with finches, but are now placed in a different family. But enough of the ornithological pedantry… 

The Coast: Norfolk

As on the highway’s quiet edge
He mows the grass beside the hedge,
The old man has for company
The distant, grey, salt-smelling sea,
A poppied field, a cow and calf,
The finches on the telegraph.

Across his faded back a hone,
He slowly, slowly scythes alone
In silence of the wind-soft air,
With ladies’ bedstraw everywhere,
With whitened corn, and tarry poles,
And far-off gulls like risen souls.

Frances Cornford


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