Listen to the land

Special Collection

Foreword by Sir Andrew Motion

These fine poems, written at different times and from a variety of perspectives, all look hard at the landscapes they enshrine. In doing so, they achieve (at least) two things at the same time. They honour the facts they preserve; and they create little screens on which are projected the feelings of the poets. They are, in other words, all forms of emotional observance. This sort of activity, and the combinations that it includes, has been central to poetry in all parts of the world for a very long time. But as these lines remind us, it has never been more important. Obliquely or urgently, quietly or loudly, all these poems give voice to the deep pleasure we find in landscape, and also to the reasons why we need to protect it. In this respect, we might well call them seriously beautiful.


Liz Berry

A trio of poems that celebrate the beauty of birds, starting with Liz Berry's poem Bird, which opens

"When I became a bird, Lord, nothing could not stop me"

Above the Forests

Ruth Bidgood

Across the valley, in the forest,

is a felled square, striped

with new planting. In squads, platoons,

battalions, the trees march

to their abrupt death. Soon

cleared sloped bristle

with the new young levy.

Frosted Fields

Rachael Boast

So these are the veils of the morning,

the last gift to be given

by air and into air,

and by the slow sun

heavy with all the days of the year.


Basil Bunting

Brag, sweet tenor bull,

descant on Rawthey's madrigal,

each pebble its part

for the fells' late spring.

Dance tiptoe, bull,

black against may.

Ode to the West Wind

Percy Bysshe Shelley

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

The Nightingale's Nest

John Clare

Up this green woodland-ride let's softly rove,

And list the nightingale; she dwells just here.

Hush! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear

The noise might drive her from her home of love;

Into the Trees

Ruth Gilbert

Fern-shadows, and the tall magnolia flowers

Drenching the air with perfume and with light,

This is the chosen, the appointed night

The shining instant in your Book of Hours.

Considering the Snail

Thom Gunn

The snail pushes through a green

night, for the grass is heavy

with water and meets over

the bright path he makes, where rain

has darkened the earth's dark.

Mossbawn Sunlight

Seamus Heaney

There was a sunlit absence.

The helmeted pump in the yard

heated its iron,

water honeyed

A Shropshire Lad II: Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

A E Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

Hawk and Shadow

Kathleen Jamie

I watched a hawk

glide low across the hill,

her own dark shape

in her talons like a kill.

Blackberry Eating

Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September

among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries

to eat blackberries for breakfast,

The Trees

Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Binsey Poplars

Gerard Manley Hopkins

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,

Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,

All felled, felled, are all felled;

Of a fresh and following folded rank

The Light Fell

Owen Sheers

The weather was confused all day

so who can say why it was just then

the light fell that way -

Reading Leaves

Jean Sprackland

A change of wind brings a few foreign leaves,

skimming the hedge and the dustbins,

landing on my lawn like splashes of blood.

I pick one up and try to read it, but the message

is in a language of reds I can't decipher.

Tall Nettles

Edward Thomas

Tall nettles cover up, as they have done

These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough

Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:

Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.

During Rain

Charles Tomlinson


slats of the garden

bench, and strung

to their undersides

ride clinging

raindrops, white

with transmitted