John Heath-Stubbs

Image by Caroline Forbes

John Heath-Stubbs

b. 1918 d. 2006

Wayfarer, pause. Although you may not see,/Earth's bright children, herbs and flowers, are here:/It is their small essential souls that greet you, - 'Inscription for a Scented Garden for the Blind', John Heath-Stubbs

The Mulberry Tree

John Heath-Stubbs


Song of the Death-Watch Beetle

John Heath-Stubbs


The Carrion Crow

John Heath-Stubbs


Inscription for a Scented Garden for the Blind

John Heath-Stubbs


The Poet of Bray

John Heath-Stubbs

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About John Heath-Stubbs

John Heath-Stubbs (1918 - 2006) recalled how the teacher at his tiny village school read her pupils Our Island Story, sparking in him the lifelong fascination with history that informed his poetic career. He completed his education at Worcester College for the Blind and Queens College, Oxford. First published in 1941 in Eight Oxford Poets, Heath-Stubbs had a prolific career - as a critic, anthologist and translator as well as poet. He received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and the St Augustine Cross and was awarded the OBE in 1988. He died in London in December 2006.

In the 'Poet of Bray', Heath-Stubbs elegantly parodies the kind of poet who follows literary fashion. His own poetry resolutely refused the labels critics tried to pin on it; described first as a Romantic and then as a Classicist, Heath-Stubbs' work often ran counter to prevailing currents. Perhaps his immunity from fashion was partly informed by his lifelong immersion in history and classical mythologies. In his poems an encounter with Shakespeare, or Li Po or Plato is as natural and immediate as his description of a stone-chat or death-watch beetle. This is not to suggest Heath-Stubbs' work is archaic, far from it; his distinctive achievement was to forge a modern pastoral out of unlikely sources, a style which can encompass Yeatsian symbolism and dry irony. A similar balance is present in his versatile use of form, being equally at home in free verse and the most complex of stanza patterns: included here are a villanelle, a sonnet, a poem written in couplets, together with the Betjeman-like rhythms and rhymes of the lighter poems.

His reading captures this range of tones; deep and resonant it can suggest the voice of an Old Testament prophet, but elsewhere is warm and humorous and he clearly relishes the bite of satire. The dead king in 'Purkis', for instance, may be described in formal tones, but it's the crude cry of the charcoal-burner which ends the poem and after whom it is titled.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 23 November 2000 at the poet's home in London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

John Heath-Stubbs's Favourite Poetry Saying:

"[Poetry is] articulate music" - Dryden

Selected bibliography

Touching the Sun: Poems in Memory of Adam Johnson by...


The Game of Love and Death, Enitharmon, 1990


In the Shadows: A Sequence of Sonnets (with David Gray...


Pigs Might Fly, Carcanet, 2005


The Return of the Cranes, Carcanet, 2002


The Eight Poems of Sulpicia, Hearing Eye, 2000

The Sound of Light, Carcanet, 1999


Literary Essays, Carcanet, 1998


The Torriano Sequences, Hearing Eye, 1997



1973 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry


John Heath-Stubbs

John Heath-Stubbs Reading from his poems



3A Crow in Bayswater

4Christus Natus Est

5The Frog and the Nightingale

6Wishes for the Months

7The Lady’s Complaint

8Girl with Marionettes

9Plato and the Waters of the Flood

10When Sappho Loved

11The Timeless Nightingale

12The Poet of Bray

13Inscription for a Scented Garden for the Blind

14The Tree-Creeper

15The Carrion Crow

16The Stonechat

17The Blackcap


19Song of the Death-Watch Beetle


21Inscription for a Sundial

22A Jellicle Cat

23The Mulberry Tree

24The Ghost of Gruesome Towers

25A Ballad of the Piltdown Man

26At the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea

27A Ballad of Trafalgar Square


29Ockham’s Razor

30A Christmas Rose

A tour of the Archive with Catherine Olver

I think it's defensible to say that there's something about any poem worth the title that asks to be read aloud....

Featured Guided Tours

Books by John Heath-Stubbs