Featured Poem: Wordes Unto Adam His Own Scriveyne

Writers often wish a plague of scabs (and worse) on their editors and Chaucer’s poem about his copyist or scribe, revealed a few years ago as Adam Pinkhurst, is one of the most famous literary outbursts against them. Chaucer’s poem is concise and to the point. Giles Coren came over all medieval in a long email to his subs at The Times and was rather less economical. Adam Pinkhurst, it turns out, worked on many of Chaucer’s best-known manuscripts, and was a ‘favoured scribe’. That makes the following all the more significant:

Wordes Unto Adam His Own Scriveyne

Adam scrivener, if ever thee befall

Boece or Troilus for to write new,

Under thy longe locks thow maist have the scall(1),

But after my makinge thou write mor trew,

So oft a day I mot thy werke renewe

It to correct, and eke to rubbe and scrape,

And all is thorowe thy necligence and rape(2).

1. scab

2. haste

Featured Poem: Emily Bronte, ‘Stanza’

Think of the Brontës and poetry isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. It’s more likely to be Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights or Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (which, incidentally, is the focus of Readers Connect in the current issue of The Reader magazine and one of the novels in our Richard and Judy Poll, which closes at the end of the month). Yet Emily Brontë is widely regarded as one of the most original poets of the nineteenth century, remembered for her lyrics, such as ‘The night is darkening round me’ and for her passionate invocations from the world of Gondal (an imaginary world that she created with Anne), as well as more personal musings and visions, of which ‘Stanzas’ is one. It is vivid in its evocation of the atmospheric landscape of the moors, which are the centre of her thoughts and the place of her inspiration.

There is, however, some doubt as to whether Emily did indeed write this poem; that it should probably be ascribed to Charlotte. Yet Emily’s poetic work, like Wuthering Heights, so often evokes the moorland scenery that surrounds her – something she was more intensely attached to, and concerned with, than her sisters – this poem is no exception. Surely it was Emily? We’ll never know.


Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:Today, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.

I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

Emily Brontë

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Featured Poem: Hen Felin, by Grevel Lindop

Helen Tookey, whose poem ‘At Burscough, Lancashire’ from her book Telling the Fractures we featured a few weeks ago, writes to recommend ‘Hen Felin’ by poet Grevel Lindop, from the collection Playing With Fire (Carcanet Press, 2006) Helen has written a substantial and fascinating exploration of the poem which we’ll publish tomorrow:


Hen Felin


There is a white house sunk in the long grass

and a spring rises, no one knows from where


and there is nothing, nothing and again nothing.

The nothings talk together in the house.


The beach breathes when the tide hisses along it,

each pebble bald as a moon; and the moon rises,


and the rocks melt and wrinkle the bright sea.

Part of me has been living here for years


among the nothings and the silences

which are not nothing and are never silent.


And stranded under the long grass and the weeds

a wooden boat, her timbers sprung by time


the white wood mildewed, SWALLOW on the bow:

a white moon drowning in a green sea.


The knitwork tapestry of furballed goosegrass,

pink spikes of willowherb have run her through


but still the unstaunched spring whispers and sings

and will not let her rest and turn to earth


but long past hope still sets the empty heart

echoing to the perpetual music of water.

‘Hen Felin’, from the collection Playing With Fire by Grevel Lindop is published here with permission from Carcanet Press.

Featured Poem: Sonnet–To Science, by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the strangest and most compelling writers of the Romantic period in the United States. He is well known for his tales, which include landmark detective stories as well as the Gothic suspense and horror tales for which he is most famous. In this poem from 1829 the speaker, clearly caught up in personal passions, accuses science of removing wonder from life. But there is also a sense of awe in the face of the power of science and perhaps a realisation that its truths are themselves a source of wonder. In later work Poe placed science and poetry in balance, the one seeking beauty and the other truth.


Sonnet-To Science


Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!

    Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.

Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,

    Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?

How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,

     Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering

To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,

    Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?

Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?

    And driven the Hamadryad from the wood

To seek a shelter in some happier star?

    Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,

The Elfin from the green grass, and from me

The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

Featured Poem: Røros, by Julie-ann Rowell

Julie-ann Rowell is a poet whose first pamphlet collection, Convergence, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Her new collection, Letters North is published by Brodie Press.  Julie-ann will be reading at the Ways With Words Literature Festival, Dartington Hall, on Saturday, 12th July, 2008 at 11am. For further information and to book tickets, go to: http://www.wayswithwords.co.uk/festivals/dartington-hall-10/events/sun-on-the-water-151.

Røros in northern Norway is a strange place to experience an epiphany, and I was also there on business, not pleasure, and yet, amongst the preserved slag heaps and the sparse town, came a moment of revelation about the simplicity of happiness — Julie-ann Rowell


There was a moment in the old copper town
when I thought I had found something out

about the deep-down universal, as the German girl
and I ambled to the stone church

discussing chance meetings on trains,
divine connections with strangers, relatives

from generations long gone. ‘We all knew
each other once’, said Angela. So the few hours

together in the mining town was a revival
of past ties, friendships, broken promises.

I think I loved her when she embraced me
and said how to find the past right here and now.

To not be afraid. The church came into it –
built in 1784 for the miners and their families.

Prayers said each Sunday for the mine owners
who occupied the prime seats. But so what for social

distinctions if we all knew each other once?
I took my seat amongst the spirits of miners,

three hundred years of them. I was jubilant with
Angela, who was smiling a kind of universal smile.


Julie-ann wrote a recommendation of Edward Thomas’s ‘Adlestrop’ for us back in November 2007. ‘Røros’ is published here by permission. Here’s the link to her website.

Britten’s War Requiem

Sixty years ago, Liverpool and Cologne were on opposing sides of a terrible war.  Today in an act of reconciliation, they are twinned cities. Last week, as part of the Capital of Culture programme and in a celebration of unity, choirs and orchestras from both cities performed  Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in Liverpool Cathedral.

A full symphony orchestra, a chamber orchestra, organ, two conductors, three vocal soloists, a boys choir and four other major choirs came together in the massive and awesome cathedral space.  Blending the liturgy with secular texts, the work uses the Latin Mass for the dead, interwoven with nine songs for tenor and baritone, based on the war poems of Wilfred Owen.

The combination of all these factors made for an evening of unparalleled experience that no one who was there will ever forget.

In the Dies irae, the soprano’s singing of the Lacrimosa is interrupted by the tenor (on this occasion the sublime voice of Ian Bostridge) singing the words of Owen’s great poem ‘Futility’.



Move him into the sun-

Gently its touch awoke him once,

At home, whispering of fields unsown.

Always it woke him, even in France,

Until this morning and this snow.

If anything might rouse him now

The kind old sun will know.


Think how it wakes the seeds-

Woke once the clays of a cold star.

Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides

Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?

Was it for this the clay grew tall?

-O what made fatuous sunbeams toil

To break earth’s sleep at all?


The traditional Mass offers ultimate hope of salvation.  Britten’s angry, tender, moving War Requiem ends quietly and inconclusively with no such complete promise but only a resolution of sorts.


Posted by Angela Macmillan

Featured Poem: ‘At Burscough, Lancashire’

Helen Tookey is a Liverpool-based writer and editor. Her collection of poetry, Telling the Fractures, a collaboration with photographer Alan Ward, was published in May 2008. The poems tell of love, death, and time, of childhood and the passing of generations. The poem ‘At Burscough, Lancashire,’ first appeared in The Reader, issue 27 and tells of West Lancashire’s ‘moss’, a flatland that was once a vast lake.

At Burscough, Lancashire

Lancashire’s Martin Mere was the largest lake in England when it was first drained to reclaim land for farming, in 1697.

Out on the ghost lake, what’s lost
is everywhere: murmuring in names
on the map, tasted in salt winds
that scour the topsoil, westerlies
that wrenched out oaks and pines, buried now
in choked black ranks, heads towards the east.
Cloudshadows ripple the grasses as the seines
rippled over the mere by night, fishervoices calling
across dark water. Underfoot, the flatlands’
black coffers lie rich with the drowned.

Featured Poem: Amy Lowell, ‘Carrefour’

This week’s poem is selected by poet Rebecca Goss.

The word ‘carrefour’ means crossroads, a heady, allegorical title, but we have been at the very edge of something happening here.  Considering when Lowell was writing, it makes me like this poem even more.  Such sexual urgency and vulnerability, how passive ‘she’ is to her visitor, lying down, wet from bathing.  Such submission to the violent feeling of love and yet love’s beauty is here too.  Look at that language, ‘strangle’, ‘wild’, ‘mercy’, mixed with the delicate purity of ‘bees’ and ‘white honey’.  The word ‘strangle’ is an interesting one.  Lowell’s use of dense sensual imagery (all five senses employed in seven lines), leaves the reader at the end, as breathless as the voice in the poem.


O you,
Who came upon me once
Stretched under apple-trees just after bathing
Why did you not strangle me before speaking
Rather than fill me with the wild white honey of your words
And then leave me to the mercy
Of the forest bees?

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)


Rebecca Goss is a Liverpool poet whose work has appeared in  literary magazines including The Reader, Ambit, Stand, Magma, Mslexia, The Interpreter’s House and Smiths Knoll. She regularly gives readings in the city and you can next hear her read on Thursday July 24th, at the Costa Poetry Readings Series, Costa Coffee, Bold Street, Liverpool, 7.30pm.  She is also supporting Paul Durcan at The Bluecoat Centre, School Lane, Liverpool, Wednesday October 15th, 2008 and is ‘coming soon’ on http://poetrypf.co.uk, a directory of modern poets, where you will be able to read some of her work and discover her favourite poetry links.

Featured Poem: George Herbert, ‘The Flower’

Issue 30 of The Reader magazine has rejuvenation as its theme and takes its title “I live and write” from George Herbert’s poem, ‘The Flower’, described by S. T. Coleridge as ‘a delicious poem’. Here it is in full for your enjoyment:

The Flower

How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an houre;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell,
We say amisse,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.

O that I once past changing were;
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at heav’n, growing and groaning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-showre,
My sinnes and I joining together;

But while I grow to a straight line;
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can finde and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

–George Herbert


Have you voted in our Richard and Judy Classics reader poll? If not you can do so here.

And did you know that you can now download The Reader magazine issue 29 for free? Visit the downloads page here.

Featured Poem: Emily Dickinson, ‘With a flower’

Emily Dickinson is one of the most popular and well known American poets, but also among the most difficult to understand. Her poetry has an attractive simplicity and despite the clear-headed way with which she addresses subjects like death, there is also a softness in her work. This poem, ‘With a flower’ is among her best known. Flowers are often used by poets as symbols of the fragility of love, or life, but here Dickinson writes–as she does so often–at one remove. Not only is the supposed lover unaware of the writer’s presence hiding ‘within my flower’ but the flower dying in the vase is just that. Dickinson’s realism is such that the lover is unsuspecting and the loneliness not quite even that:

I hide myself within my flower,
That wearing on your breast,
You, unsuspecting, wear me too —
And angels know the rest.

I hide myself within my flower,
That, fading from your vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me
Almost a loneliness.

Posted by Chris Routledge