Publication date: December 2017
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From one of the world’s leading experts on poetry, a collection of poems

Jonathan Bate is one of the world’s best-known literary scholars, renowned for his work on Shakespeare and on the poetry of nature. The biographer of John Clare and Ted Hughes, he also writes poetry himself, saying “I don’t think you should set yourself up as an expert on anything without having a go at it yourself.” Together with his wife, the author Paula Byrne, he has recently established ReLit, a small charitable foundation devoted to the idea that slow, meditative reading – especially of poetry – can be an invaluable form of stress relief in our busy world.

By absorbing ourselves in the images of a poem, slowing to its beat, and allowing our mind to rest in the pause of a line-ending, to clear itself in the white space of the page around the poem, we can calm ourselves, even as we find echoes of our own experience of beautiful places, strong feelings and moments that lift the human spirit. This collection will introduce you to the diet of swans, the quest for inner peace in ancient Chinese poetry, the English seaside and the summer Mediterranean, a rose garden and a snow-covered moor. It will remind you what it is like to fall in love and to say goodbye to love. Here are poems of memory and of mourning, quick-fire thoughts and longer meditations inspired by the great poets of the past. All author royalties will be donated to the work of ReLit.

Jonathan Bate studied at Cambridge and Harvard universities. Well known as a biographer, critic, broadcaster and scholar, he is Provost of Worcester College and Professor of English Literature in the University of Oxford. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company, broadcasts regularly for the BBC, and has held visiting posts at Yale and UCLA. In the Queen's 80th Birthday Honours, he was awarded a CBE for his services to Higher Education and in 2015 he became the youngest person to have been Knighted for services to literary scholarship.

His creative works include a novel, The Cure for Love, and Being Shakespeare, a one-man play for Simon Callow, which toured nationally and played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe prior to three West End runs and a transfer to New York and Chicago. He was consultant curator for Staging the World, the British Museum’s major Shakespeare exhibition for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Jonathan Bate’s many publications include The Genius of Shakespeare, described by Sir Peter Hall as “the best modern book on Shakespeare”; a biography of the poet John Clare that won Britain's two oldest literary awards, the Hawthornden Prize and the James Tait Black Prize; and, most recently, a biography of Ted Hughes that was runner-up for the Samuel Johnson Prize and, in the USA, winner of the Biographers International Organization award for the best Arts and Literature biography of 2015. He is married to the writer Paula Byrne, and they have three children.


The diet of swans is mainly vegetarian:
pondweed, stonewort and wigeon grass,
sea arrow, salt marsh and eel grass,
club rush, milfoil and green algae.
But they occasionally indulge
in tadpole and mollusc.

Sometimes you see one fold its leg upon its back
to adjust body temperature,
rather as an elephant’s ear absorbs
the heat of the sun.
They sleep standing on one leg
or afloat with head tucked under wing.

The ungentlemanly behaviour depicted in the story of Leda
is uncharacteristic:
they mate for life and know the meaning of grief.
Some bereaved swans stay alone for the rest of their lives
while others take flight and rejoin their flock.

The other myth is true:
when they lie dying
they breathe their only song,
a long low honk as air vacates their lungs.

They are said to be loyal servants of the queen.


Thanks to you all!

Monday, 20 November 2017

I'm so delighted that the book is now out, adorned with Emma Bridgewater's wonderful drawings. Thank you again to everyone who made it possible - and extra thanks to those who have already written to me with kind words and interesting thoughts about the poems. Next comes the "trade" edition, going into the bookshops on 30 November - but with slightly less fine paper and without those richly coloured…

Illustrations by Emma Bridgewater

Monday, 16 January 2017

Caravan black white 2

"Why don't you ask Emma Bridgewater to illustrate it?"

That was the inspired question of my teenage son, Tom, who has become a bit of a poetry connoisseur. He held up the selected poems of Stevie Smith that he was reading, to show me an example of how simple little drawings can elegantly complement a volume of poems. Imagery is vital to poetry, so it is not surprising that there is a long and distinguished…

White Space & the Art of Slow

Friday, 11 November 2016

What’s the difference between poetry and prose? That’s a question I sometimes ask my students. I’d say there are three answers – and rhyme is not one of them (consider how much of Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth is written in unrhymed iambic pentameters, known as blank verse).

The first answer is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s: on the evening of 12 July 1827, during a wide-ranging conversation that…

Teachers & Models

Monday, 31 October 2016

My Afterword in The Shepherd's Hut begins: "Like many people, I began writing poetry as a teenager – usually when in love, or repining with unrequited love, or trying to restore a broken heart." As you can imagine, those poems were really really terrible. It took a poet-teacher to make me begin to find a truer voice of feeling. Paradoxically, that came through listening to other people's voices. Those…

On the Shoulders of Giants

Friday, 21 October 2016

There was a debate in the eighteenth century about the extent to which Shakespeare was an "original genius" and the degree to which he relied on - or at least read - his predecessors. "Shakespeare wanted [lacked] art", said his grumpy contemporary Ben Jonson. "Warbling his native wood-notes wild", trilled John Milton in the next generation, implicitly contrasting his own deep classical learning with…

The Pleasures of Revision

Saturday, 15 October 2016


I remember writing my one-man play about Shakespeare for the actor Simon Callow: I banged out the first draft in two weeks flat and he said it was perfect. But we then spent two years rewriting it eighteen times over. It wasn't perfect: a first draft never is. On a smaller scale, something similar happens with poems. Writing my biography of Ted Hughes, I'd often find ten different manuscripts versions…

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