Owen Sheers’s ‘Landmark’ explores a couple’s sexual encounter, their bodies leaving a mark on the land. The idea of the title suggests the actual mark they left, but also has the connotations of a landmark event, the encounter connecting the couple together.
Owen Sheers splits ‘Landmark’ into five stanzas, each measuring three lines. This form is commonly known as writing in tercets, and is often suggested to be an ancient form of Welsh poetry. This poem, taking place outdoors, is at one with nature, which gives reason for ‘Landmark’ to be written in a form that inherently bares a connection with nature. The intertwining of Welsh identity and nature is important to Sheers, using the form to tap into aspects of his national identity, with the poem taking place within the Welsh countryside. You can read the full poem here.
Afterwards they were timeless
and dressing, reclaiming their clothes
Sheers begins ‘Landmark’ by focusing on temporal markers, ‘Afterwards’. In doing this, he suggests there is an importance to the event that has just taken place, the poet’s story is split into a ‘before’ and ‘afterwards’. The act is fused with importance, furthered by the suggestion that they are now ‘timeless’.
This word, ‘timeless’, draws upon the suggests of memory associated with a very similar poem in Sheers’ anthology, Marking Time. The idea in both these poems is that memories of events can leave a mark that excludes them from time. In both poems, sexual acts are the thing that Sheers remembers, with his relationships often focusing on the sexual, rather than romantic aspects.
The fleeting nature of time is also a concern within the opening stanza of ‘Landmark’. Sheers writes ‘they lay that way for a while’, the suggestion of ‘while’ indicating a time period which elapses. Although briefly together, they have to move from their state of bliss, not being able to escape the transience of time.
The focus on the couple as bonded by their sexual experience is suggested through the coupling of pronouns under ‘they’. Instead of describing them as two split identities, Sheers instead groups them both under the umbrella pronoun of ‘they’, implying their connection. This extends to ‘their clothes’, a sense of cohesion between the couple.
from the white-blossomed branches of the blackthorn tree.
his watch, her ear-rings, their clumsy shoes.
Stanza two of ‘Landmark’ draws slightly away from the couple, quickly examining the surrounding natural scene. They used the ‘blackthorn tree’ as a hanger to hold their clothes. Sheers suggests the unity between man and nature, the sexual encounter taking place within nature and the natural world being used as a hanging line to support their belongings.
The immersion into the real world is suggested through ‘they were part of things again’. For a ‘while’ they were ‘timeless’, excluded from the natural progression of time and simplifying existing in an in-between period. Yet, the couple has to surface, coming back to the real world.
The detailing of items, ‘watch…ear-rings… shoes’ grounds the couple within this reestablished reality. They have to draw themselves back into the real world, clothing themselves piece by piece. The listing of items suggests a begrudging nature when putting the clothes back on, Sheers taking it one item at a time.
They noticed the telephone wires, the time,
folded at the bottom of the bank.
The ‘telephone wires’ they ’noticed’ symbolize a sense of connection between the two lovers. Going back into the real world, they have established a form of connection they had lost, or perhaps never had before. Their increased perception of the natural world around them suggesting a change in the couple. The couple from the beginning of ‘Landmark’ have now changed from their experience.
The unending progression of time is made clear from the decomposing ‘sheep’ at the ‘bottom of the bank’. Although the lovers were briefly ‘timeless’, the natural world was not. The progression of time is made obvious, grounding the couple in reality as they have seen the now ‘long-dead’ body of a sheep. This perhaps also relates to the power of the natural world.
On going they stopped and turned to look back,
and they saw where they had been —
The reference ‘On going’ calls to the poem of the same title within the collection, On Going. Indeed, by drawing upon this poem, Sheers imbues the poem with a sense of fatality, referencing the process of dying. It seems that by leaving their bubble of ‘timeless[ness]’, they have suffered a form of death, losing something they once had.
Sheers continues using the ‘they’ pronoun throughout ‘Landmark’, further pushing the idea of unity within the couple. They have shared an experience together, and are now connected.
The idea of ‘look back’ could be them looking back both literary but also within their memories. They ruminate on the experience they just had, cementing the memory into their minds, much like the poem Marking Time.
The strength with which they grip each other symbolizes this desire to hold on to their memories and newfound connection. The moment they have shared was ‘timeless’, and a part of them wants to continue in that time vacuum. They grip each other, trying to hold on to that sense of ‘forever’. The image of the couple embracing is a romantic one, with the connotations of memory infusing the scene with a certain beauty.
It is after this rumination on the process of memory and forgetting when they see ‘where they had been’. The harsh hyphen following the sentence startling the rhythm of the piece, suggesting that Sheers and his lover are shocked by what they see. Looking back into the past reveals a distortion, removing a sense of the perfection of the moment.
a double shadow of green pressed grass, weight imprinted.
and complete without them.
The suggestion of ‘shadow’ renews this sense of distortion. The thing they thought beautiful may actually be negative, with the destruction of nature they caused remaining long after they have left. The focus on ‘double’ indicates that the damage came from both of them. The use of ‘they’ now turns into something negative, with them both causing destruction. Instead of focusing on man’s power over women, which is typical to Sheers, he instead focuses on the dual destruction of nature by men and women.
The ‘weight imprinted’ relates to the weight of their bodies on the ‘grass’, pushing it down. Yet, it also relates to the ‘weight’ of their action, both on them and on nature.
The focus on ‘sarcophagus’ stems from the connotations of death. The flattened grass has been destroyed by their actions, their state of ‘timeless[ness]’ being born from man’s power over nature. The suggestion of ‘complete without them’ is that what they have left will never be undone. Their moments of lust have caused damage to nature which stays as a Landmark on the landscape. Perhaps Sheers is referring to the ignorance of man, unknowing of the weight of their actions.
‘Landmark’ explores relationships, both sexually and emotionally, and how these interplay with the theme of nature.