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,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering-sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk though the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

Frances Cornford
(30 March 1886-19 August 1960)

I've always found this poem both melancholy and haunting, and perhaps even a little cruel.

Its subject, a woman, is caught in a fleeting glance from a train window, recognised as an alien element in her surroundings and then as quickly judged as she is briefly seen - she is fat, unloved and oblivious - she rates only a single line of description, where even the grass that her gloves keep from touching her skin is given two. She is dismissed.

I've always wondered where she came from, and where she is going - maybe she is hurrying to church, and will savour the softness of the grass when she returns. Perhaps, not unloved at all, she rushes to a lover's embrace, dressed to please him and anticipating him peeling each item of clothing from her body.

If nothing else, the poem shows how we jump to conclusions about strangers, guided by nothing more than inconsequentialities and our own prejudice.

Poem noded with permission

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