Cut grass

Here’s a nice piece by Joe Moran on mowing lawns. Not that anyone’s been able to do much mowing recently – I’d probably have to have resort to a machete to get near our patch of grass, subsumed as it is by sub-tropical undergrowth. Good growing weather, see.

Anyhow, Mr Moran thinks that for ecological reasons we may be witnessing the demise of the British lawn (yes, I know). However, if it is happening, I’d put the decline of lawns down to a desire for convenience. Two of my friends, both incidentally (or not) City lawyers have replaced the grass in their modest London gardens with astroturf. It’s not that appalling. Apart from it meaning no more mowing and no more watering – their lawns are now always neatly cropped and vividly green – the stuff is also surprisingly pleasant to walk on with bare feet, especially when wet. A bit like a gently exfoliating foot scrub.

Mr Moran refers to the poetry of the soon-to-be-obsolescent lawnmower and quotes a line of Larkin’s from Cut Grass. Here it is in full:

Cut Grass

Cut grass lies frail:
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death

It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June
With chestnut flowers,
With hedges snowlike strewn,

White lilac bowed,
Lost lanes of Queen Anne’s lace,
And that high-builded cloud
Moving at summer’s pace.


Cheery stuff. But has anything ever written captured the full redolence of the smell of cut grass? There is an RS Thomas poem that puts it in some sort of intellectual context, though, as you might expect, we are talking hay rather than grass cuttings (much posher). It’s also served me over the years as a back-of-the-mind justification for not doing indoors work when the weather’s nice.

The Earth Does Its Best For Him

The paintings are under glass,
or in dry rooms it is difficult
to breathe in; they are tired
of returning the hard stare
of eyes. The sculptures are smooth
from familiarity. There is a smell
of dust, the precipitation
of culture from dead skies.

I return to Lleyn,
repository of the condescension
of time. Through the car’s
open windows the scent of hay
comes. It is incense, the seasonally
renewed offering of the live earth.


But, for me, this is the one – by a light-hearted and lyrical Ted Hughes:


The grass is happy
To run like the sea, to be glossed like a mink’s fur
By polishing wind.
Her heart is the weather.
She loves nobody
Least of all the farmer who leans on the gate.

The grass is happy
When the June sun roasts the foxgloves in the hedges.
She comes into her flower.
She lifts her skirts.
It does not concern her
The pondering farmer has begun to hope.

The grass is happy to open her scents, like a dress, through the county,
Drugging light hearts
To heavy betrothals
And next April’s fools,
While pensioners puzzle where life went so airily.

The grass is happy
When the spinner tumbles her, she silvers and she sweetens
Plain as a castle.
The hare looks for home
And the dusty farmer
For a hand-shaped cloud and a yellow evening.

Happy the grass
To be wooed by the farmer, who wins her and brings her to church in her beauty,
Bride of the Island.
Luckless the long-drawn
Aeons of Eden
Before he came to mow.

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10 thoughts on “Cut grass

    ian russell
    June 22, 2011 at 12:57

    ”It’s not that appalling.”

    Oh, it is, it is! It’s like a McDonald’s happy meal, or Britain’s Got Talent. I bet it doesn’t even smell good after the rain, or, indeed, doesn’t give you the wonderful fresh cut grass smell – one of the best olfactory experiences provided.

    ian russell
    June 22, 2011 at 12:59

    …I enjoyed the poetry.

    June 22, 2011 at 13:17

    I’m not sure I could be friends with anyone who replaced their lawn with astroturf. Lovely poems by the way.

  4. Worm
    June 22, 2011 at 13:36

    I have to say that I was slightly underwhelmed by the Larkin poem, which is a shame because he’s usually one of my favourites, but the other two are lovely, some wonderful imagery in the Ted hughes poem

    June 22, 2011 at 14:18

    Thats the trouble with cities your options are limited, me I just borrow my neighbours two pet llamas for a couple of hours. The dogs get the hump, but they dont eat grass, they just crap on it. They also nibble the hedge down which is a big help, I really hate that job. Not sure what Larkin would make of it, but my 95 year of nan thinks its hilarious.

    June 22, 2011 at 15:13

    Making huts with bales of hay was a favourite summer pastime as a kid. The Ted Hughes poem is a great choice – very seductive.
    Astro turf does seem a bit Brady Bunchesque. Although lawn is the highest maintenance garden you can have, it does go a little better with a deckchair and gin & tonic.

    June 22, 2011 at 16:39

    The Roundup strayed far, on the wind a fine mist
    Spread it’s deaths kiss over sward and fescue bent
    Time strode along and grasses were kissed
    With colour so brown not at all what was meant

    You know how, in a moment of madness, we actually read those Amazon reviews. I buy Roundup Ultra, four litres at a time, lots of weeds, I carried on down the page and browsed, a reviewer said, giving no stars ” The lawn turned brown after two weeks”, you couldn’t make it up.

  8. Gaw
    June 22, 2011 at 17:15

    Ian and Toby: City lawyers often don’t have much of a life and the astroturf is representative of this. Our hearts should go out to them (bet no-one’s suggested that before).

    Worm and Rory: I find the Hughes poem almost intoxicating. Although it doesn’t evoke the scent of cut grass directly it seems to create the feelings one gets around it.

    Sean: Having just cut the hedge but been put off from doing the lawn because of rain, I’m feeling the lack of a llama or two right now. Getting them into the garden through the hallway of our terraced house would be interesting…

    Malty: Mention of Roundup reminds me of summers in my youth knapsack spraying yards and paddocks. Its aroma is just as evocative as cut grass but not really as pleasant.

    Hey Skipper
    June 24, 2011 at 13:45

    I have the best wife possible: she loves mowing the lawn as much as I love a couple gin & tonics.

    June 26, 2011 at 18:35

    I really enjoyed the poetry. The soft line on astroturf I assume was a rare – and, I trust, fleeting – lapse of taste.

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