The Green Knight’s Lament
from The End of My Tether
Even in the dark cavernous barrow, his green skin shone; he moved towards them purposefully, a great stooping figure, grassy hair spilling in a silky fan from his shoulders, his beard a tumbling nest of leaves. Stilling their instinct to back away, the green axe held out like Excalibur, all powerful.
– Welcome, he said. You know the pact we pledged. We made our covenant, I bared my neck like Barleycorn to take your blade. Now take off your headgear, bow your heads that I may give you answer with my axe.
– There must be some mistake, stammered Oliver de Foie.
– It’s Kernan you want, surely? said Hockle. He struck off your head off, he took what was yours.
– No mistake, he responded. Kernan is a part of me, and I of him. My head was his head, he took it and I took it back, a twelvemonth gone, a year ago today. But you men took what was not yours, you killed my country; what you’ve done has cost the earth, my plants and people, my birds and beasts who were not yours to take. No general good was served, no one’s interests but your own.
– Where are we? asked Maw. Who are you, in God’s name?
– I am the Green Knight and the Green Man, Cernunnos and Kernan. I am foxglove and fleabane, cat’s-ear and cowslip, hogweed and cow parsnip. I am harebell and hare’s-foot clover, stork’s bill and bird’s-foot-trefoil. I am dove-foot crane’s-bill and mouse-ear chickweed. I am bee orchid and dog-violet, dog-rose and dog’s mercury. I am toad and
He moved towards them.
– I am the linnet and bullfinch, the whistling lapwing. I am the spotted flycatcher, the song thrush and tree sparrow. I am the barn owl and the grey partridge. All these you killed.
I am the cornflower, the corn buttercup,
corncockle, corn gromwell, cornsalad,
corn parsley and lamb’s succory.
I am fumitory and pheasant’s eye,
shepherd’s needle and thorow-wax.
I am the pink bindweed in the cornfield,
the bright red poppy, yellow corn crowsfoot,
broad-leaved spurge and red hemp-nettle.
I am the purple knapweed in the meadow,
bryony in the hedgerow, I am finch and warbler
darting among the dog roses.
I am weed knotgrass in the wheatfield
with six pink flower-spikes, food
for the red-yellow leaf beetle, no more.
I am the larvae of the leaf beetle, food
for farmland bird chicks, no more.
I am the weevil and rove beetle,
the larvae of moths and sawflies, food
for songbirds, not now, all killed,
bindweed, beetles, birds, all gone.
I am seed of weeds. I am seed-eating birds.
I am corn bunting, cirl bunting, yellowhammer.
I am the insects. I am the insect-eaters.
I am the hovering lark and fieldfare.
I am the vole, the shrew and the fieldmouse.
I am the owl and the kestrel.
I am marshes and wetland, all drained,
moorland and water meadows, all gone.
I am the cowslip on the chalk down,
the dropwort, the devil’s-bit scabious,
dwarf sedge, burnt orchid and toadflax.
I am the clustered bellflower.
I am the chalk hill butterfly
feeding on the horseshoe vetch.
I am the marbled white, the chequered skipper,
adonis blue, pearl-bordered fritillary.
I am hay-rattle yellow in the hayfield,
the black knapweed, the wild daffodil.
I am the cowslip and the meadow buttercup,
the adder’s tongue fern, the green-winged orchid.
I am the silent field of ryegrass too,
the silage field of ryegrass, no grass
but ryegrass, no plant permitted
but ryegrass, nothing but ryegrass.
No ploughman treads this empty space
where all the air a solemn stillness holds,
no beetle wheels his droning flight,
no drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.
Where are the owls and insects?
Where are the finches and cornflowers,
mice and moths, beetles and butterflies?
Where are the people, the farmers
who lived off the land, who gave us our food,
people and plants, birds and beasts all one?
All gone, all gone, all driven from the land.
And why, you men of greed?
Your cash crops killed us off,
your fertilisers forced us out,
you poisoned with pesticides,
you looted the land, and why?
You pulled up the hedgerows,
made big farms bigger, rich men richer,
small farms fail, money out of misery.
You turned our land into badlands
where nothing grows but money.
When money fails, nothing left,
nothing left to grow. You took it all.
There’s nothing, nothing, nothing left.