Poetry Review — The Land

The Land by Vita Sackville-West

“The Land” is a lengthy, lyrical poem covering the Kent countryside over a period of a year. The poem begins in winter, and even in winter, there are signs of life and a new beginning. Spring begins the greening of the land. The farmer on the hill has fields that require little labor. In the valley, the farmers work rotating crops, working around the weather, and working around the rain or lack of it. They take a pride in their work and hardships and toil to make the land pay off. They look with disdain at those farming on the hill.

Summer’s heat is punctuated with rain in England — the relief from the heat and the smell of water striking the hot ground. The reader is then transported to a place where the rain does not provide relief. Sackville-West draws on her experience in the Middle East and Iran to compare the harsh desert to the lush green of England. This comparison is almost taken directly from her book Passage to Tehran. As in many of her works she draws heavily from her own experiences.

Fall is the completion of the year. The harvests and the plans for next year are gathered and formulated. The crops planted in spring are revisited in their completion and the details noted. It is also a time for cider and woodworking. All that was done since winter becomes ripe for harvest. Even the squirrels know it is time to collect food.

Although the poem concentrates on the land, the passage that appealed to me the most was the one on the constellation Orion. The constellation rises in the fall and sets in the spring. For those who spend time outdoors in the evenings and night, Orion’s march across the sky is as accurate as a calendar. It shows that more than the land changes with the time of the year. It is an example of how our view of the universe changes with time.

Sackville-West takes the reader into something deeper than a nature poem. The farmer and shepherd do not see the year as a discrete unit. To them, it is a scroll that continually loops. The reader could, also, easily fall back into the cycle by returning to the beginning of the poem.

It is a step beyond pastoral poetry and into reality. It is almost as if the reader slipped into the mind of the “ideal” farmer or shepherd. Sackville-West does not just offer descriptions; she gives the reader a three-dimensional journey. It is a virtual reality completed with words. The poem lives and breathes.

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