A Field in Hammerwich

by Sarah Dale

However fine the riddle of your wit,
You’ll not sift us out.
There was little of us being alive,
Being dead there’s less than nothing.

Remember these are the borderlands,
We live on the edge
In a state of war, of quick death
Even for the strong and skilful

After the thunder and spark of blade on blade
When those left alive have departed
We go quietly among the dead
And almost dead to see what is left

His eyes went round, surprised as a child,
When I cut his throat with my little knife,
That such a dull tool should be his end,
Not serpent breathed steel, bright hilted

We took our chance and as much loot
As we could stagger, hid the hoard
In haste on the side of the hill
Planning to return, hearing the hunt

Hounds nosed us down, dogs worth more
Than men such as we, the done to,
Not the doers, the bearers of fine blades,
Givers of gifts, takers of fealty

Being wise we admit to nothing
Especially not where the gold is hidden
As if we are lucky we may yet return
To the hoard on the side of the hill

We died with shut mouths
Long since and now we are
Part of the march, the intake,
Now, like lords, we give bread.


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Sarah DaleThe inspiration for “A Field in Hammerwich” came from a visit to the Staffordshire Hoard gallery at Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum.  I found out that Mercia means “Borderland” and I started thinking about the consequences of living in an area where the ownership of everything was up for grabs.  There’s also a lot of discussion in the exhibition about the lack of precise knowledge about why the hoard was found where it was and who left it.  I’ve answered the riddle by a story in which the gold was taken by two men who are so insignificant that their death has left no archaeological trace – however, they’ve become part of the earth, the earth grows crops and so they give bread, which is what “lord” means in Anglo-Saxon – “bread giver”. – Sarah