Drafts of ‘Cotton Grass’ show how certain phrases were retained from initial poetic idea to final publication, but how others were crucially altered.
The two active presences of the poem are the grasses themselves and the ‘parade’ of walkers who pass them. The grasses are personified as ‘hand-maidens’ and ‘courtiers’: courtly and pacific attendants. In contrast, the walkers appear dehumanised. As ‘boots and sticks’ they are reduced to walking accessories which are themselves ambiguous – equally suggestive of rambling and violent confrontation.
On Day 12 of the notebook Armitage writes he ‘find[s] it extraordinary the number of people I pass […] Not even a grunt or a nod, not interested in people or stories or even, judging by the intensity of their stare at the ground – the journey. Only in the accomplishment and the destination.’
This notion is prefigured in ‘Cotton Grass’ and emphasised in the change from ‘royal convoy of boots and sticks’ in draft 1 to ‘the military convoy / of boot and stick’ in draft 2. The loss of the plural (boots, sticks) and the move from royal to military evokes the sense of a single, potentially aggressive, unit of unbending purpose.