So, today, it rains.  I am loving listening to the sound of it fall o the dry ground, the coolness, freshness, even the greyness of the sky and the newly soft light.

While waiting for the rain, my mind turned back to this poem.  I wrote it a couple of years ago, and so the raspberries in the pictures, this year’s crop, are healthier than the ones described below.  Water has been on my mind as I’ve been working on my  new book   on John’s gospel – water poured out as an offering, water to wash the eyes of the one born blind, water the bubbles up within you, so you are never thirsty again.  That gets closer to the other kinds of thirst here, in this poem.  There are many things we can be thirsty for.


The breeze stirs the raspberry patch,
the leaves with crisp yellow edges
rustle under their net,
and under them
are deep red fruits, dusted grey,
The colour of blood spilled
not today, or yesterday,
but months ago.

They are strong,
an intense sharpness.
They have lost their sweetness.
Yet, even so, the blackbird balances
on the net,  reaching down
with a hard yellow beak.

The ground beneath is grey, too, and
fissured like the fruit.
The heat rises, stillness falls on the ground
like thin shadows.
This thirst, this longing for rain,
grows stronger.
Joy, and gentleness,
love and lovingkindness.
Presence and peace.
These I long for.
I need them like flowing water.
Come like the rain.
Come to us like rain.





Seeds – such extraordinary, tiny, dots of potential, each one full of flowers.  I tend to let the plants I love run to seed, and then I have handfuls of treasure to bury in the ground, for the seed must fall to the ground to grow.  In this case, the ground is the small and unpromising strip of land beyond my boundary, by the road.  It does no harm, that I can see, to sow here, and it carries the possibility of  something beautiful happening where there was little beauty before.

The difficulty with planting wild seeds in wild places is that they are unlikely to grow.  As such, they can seem more like signs of disillusion and futility than of hope.  I was wondering whether we can engage in acts of hope, of planting, of goodness and joy, for their own sake, and then, simply be delighted when something beautiful comes of it.  I sow and I forget that I sow, but, nonetheless,  I now have a few small flowers of campion, scabious and harebell growing where none grew before.

The sun and the rain are beyond my power, but the sowing is entirely within it..



The seeds are ripening now –
bluebells and red campion,
scabious and harebells –
in this space, this enclosed
garden space

So I offer them to friends,
and I cut the ripe stalks down
and gather them in my hands,
carrying them like so many
ceremonial flags –
my colours.

I take them to the thin strip
of ground beyond my flint wall,
making cars slow for me
as I scatter in this hot,
unpromising soil.
Yet, nonetheless,
I am filling it up with seeds,
slowly, year on year,
colours blazing in my mind.

Most will not take,
but the seeds are there,
and the ground is there,
and so what is there to do
but to sow, freely,
not expecting return,
amazed and laughing
when they grow.





Pigeon update: and today, just a few moments ago, they fledged!




Andrea Skevington


Poems can tell stories – I hope this one does – stories which seem to have a meaning beyond the events.  This is a story from the past week or so in my garden –  one of the many that unfold daily.  The story of a pigeons’ nest I uncovered.

As I began writing, I thought of the dilemma we all face as humans sharing their home with other creatures – how to live lightly, how to nurture and care for all who share our little bit of land.  As a large and powerful creature in this world, I have responsibility. I wrote about feeling like a giant in my own garden in Pulling up trees. In this instance, I had not seen the parent birds going in and out of this shrub. I thought I knew where all the nests were. I thought I had left it late enough…

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Poems can tell stories – I hope this one does – stories which seem to have a meaning beyond the events.  This is a story from the past week or so in my garden –  one of the many that unfold daily.  The story of a pigeons’ nest I uncovered.

As I began writing, I thought of the dilemma we all face as humans sharing their home with other creatures – how to live lightly, how to nurture and care for all who share our little bit of land.  As a large and powerful creature in this world, I have responsibility. I wrote about feeling like a giant in my own garden in Pulling up trees. In this instance, I had not seen the parent birds going in and out of this shrub. I thought I knew where all the nests were. I thought I had left it late enough. I was mistaken..

As the days passed, I cheered the two youngsters on as they adapted to their new situation – a nest with a view.  Their mother just carried on caring for them, a little nervously at first, protecting them from rain, feeding them, sheltering them from the midday sun, even though they were now exposed to the crows, and the buzzard, that fly overhead.  Without that care, they would not have survived.  With it, they are thriving still, despite my unintentional assault on their home. No one in this family is giving up.

When I speak positively of their new, open situation, of course that is not about the birds, but about me.  The birds are better off hidden.  I was beginning to think of how we, when faced with hard change, can raise our eyes, and find courage and hope in even an unaccustomed view.
The world is full of parables.



I leave things wild.
I plant flowers the bees
and butterflies
Ground cover
covers the ground,
and frogs and newts
rest in the shade.

So, this is not what should happen
when my window is crowded with leaves
and I wait till high summer
till the birds are quiet
to cut
hard and deep.
the ratcheted loppers
slice through wood.

I stop

As I see those two strange
black creatures,
yellow feathered,
shaking in their nest.
I step back, as quietly as I can,
shaking too,
a destroyer of their world.

Inside, I close the curtain,
peep around to see
the mother bird nestles them,
tends and feeds them.

They thrive and grow
in this newly open nest,
small strange dinosaurs,
now fledglings
stretching their wings,
seeing all that space
all that light
in which to rise,
and fly.






photographer unknown

The River Deben near my home – a place where I walk as many days as I can – ebbs and flows through my thoughts and my writing.  It is tidal here, edged with mud and reeds, and it is rich with life.  There is always something to see, if you look.

In this case, I did not see the heron my walking by the quiet creek disturbed, not until it took off, anyway.  I thought of how attentive I need to be, and sometimes am, as a writer.  How I need to be open to what is going on around me, to notice and to receive.  In the poem I talk of hunting for words, as the heron for fish – but it is not just the bright silver words, it is also being alert for meaning, for truth, for connection.  The words do not feel like mine, always, they do feel like something caught, overheard, given – even when they are wrestled with later, honed and rearranged until they better match what it is that I experienced.  Then, I set them free.



The heron takes off –
ragged, heavy, a smudged
mud-grey, a shadow-grey
I had not seen it there

Its feathers, pointed reed-leaves,
its legs, thin in the wind reed-stems
its downbeats long and laboured,
straining, slow, like my August walking.

This is how it would have been, though,
before: still and silent in the reeds,
hidden, waiting for the moment
to spear one bright silver fish,
a swift stab of that powerful beak,
then back to silence, stillness.

As my path shimmers in the heat,
the soles of my feet hot through my shoes,
I think that is where I too would be,
hidden in cool reed-shadows,
in stillness, quietness, watching for
bright silver words to dart by,
catching them with my mouth.

But then I look up, and see those
long black flight-feathers finally bite
the air, and the heron, neck doubled back,
soars high, at last, over reedbed,
over river, its down-arched wings
wide over the earth.


And, a short extract from the first chapter of Prayers and Verses


Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly.
Till, taught by such we see
Beyond all creatures, thee
And harken to thy tender word
And hear its “Fear not; it is I”.
Christina Rosetti 1830-94


O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.
Basil the Great c330-379


He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772–1834

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overflowing flowers.jpg


Hurry.  I am ill suited to it – especially as the days grow hot.  I wrote this poem as a kind of rebellion against the feeling that my time was constrained, not my own, running away from me while I seemed to have none of it for the important things.

So I snatched time, and wrote.  As I wrote, as I paid attention to what was around me, I felt the time slow.  I felt myself breathe again. I felt the hard shells of the seconds soften, crack, and open like the seeds in the ground – become things of infinite possibility again.  I realised that, although my home is not the manor described in the poem, there are ways in which it is.  I can inhabit my days as if they were timeless, spacious, connected.  By slowing, by paying attention, by breathing, I found what I needed.  Most of all, though, for me, it is by writing.  Writing freely, writing the moment before me, is a kind of contemplation. It can become a kind of prayer.
I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s great advice –

Pay attention   Be astonished   Tell about it.

This poem was highly commended for the Crabbe Memorial Prize.
You can listen to it here



There is little time –
flowers run to seed so fast under
this strong sun, this dry blue sky,
their leaves curling crisply, blanching.
Their hurry towards death unsettles me
as their stems rattle brown, poppyseeds
pouring through my fingers, tiny and dark,
pouring away like hard-shelled seconds.

I want to inhabit each day slowly, quietly,
as if it were an ancient manor among gentle lands,
with warm red brick thick with years,
that smells of fires, and of rosepetals
as they overflow cracked china bowls,
where time hangs in the spaces between
each tick of the clock, and open doors
let in the endless songs of trees.

There, I could think – uncurl fresh leaves,
as time shimmers like the deep pool, full of lilies,
where the bright dragonfly waits, and waits.

The Well


Photographer unknown



The grounds of Otley Hall, Suffok, under snow-clouds

This is one of those strange poems that seemed to emerge from somewhere unexpected,  unknown.  I had been thinking about the way it’s so hard to look at things without getting in the way, and changing them in the looking.  How when we look at things our own shadow falls on them, and they are different as a result.  This poem came, in the mysterious way they sometimes do.

It starts where I  intended to start, with how we see, but then it seems to have its own ideas about where to go next.  We move on to light and water, a move which surprised me as I was writing it, but decided to go with it and see what happened.  Always best to do that, I find….and then, we were soon hauling up life-giving water from dark and unexpected places, finding coolness and goodness and satisfaction that quenches our thirsts, even when we least expect it.
Sometimes, we don’t need to understand.  Sometimes, we need to cast a bucket into the deep.

You can listen to the poem here

The Well

You look down, and notice the darkness,
what seems like a deep emptiness.
And perhaps, at first, that is all you see.
Look harder.  There is a faint flash
of sky, reflected, glimmering darkly
as your shadow falls across it.

If you could stand back a little,
stand back and let your shadow
fall elsewhere, for a while,
you would notice how the sun
is alive in the darkness.  Bouncing
and scattering brightness over moss
that covers the wall of the well,
living for  such moments of light.

Yes, it seems dark to you,
and indeed, dark it is, but why not
cast down a bucket anyway?
Keeping hold of the rope as it
grows slack and weightless in
the depth of the fall.

It will splash, and bob awhile, and slip
heavily under the water you do not see,
and you will feel the tension in the rope changing.

Haul up the bucket, slopping and dripping
and running over those green plants,
and drink deep of the cool, clear water,
shining at last in the bright midday light.

And you will find that you carry the
sweet taste of that water with you,
like honey on your tongue, your lips.
It could last your whole life.  Be
your whole life. Drink now. Drink again.


It was only after writing the poem that I realised I was drawing on the imagery of this story, of water and wells and thirst and shadows., a snippet of which follows:

From The Bible Story Retold
You can listen to the story here


It was hot when the woman went to get water from the well, near her home town of Sychar in Samaria.  As she drew near, she saw a Jewish man sitting there, in the shade.  She hesitated a moment, nervous of this stranger.  For the Jews and Samaritans had been enemies for centuries, since the time of the exile.  “But,” she thought, “I must have water,” and she carried on walking to the well.

The man was Jesus.  He had left Jerusalem and was making his way back to Galilee.  His disciples were buying food, leaving him to rest from the burning sun. He looked up at the woman.
“Will you give me a drink?” he asked, with a thirsty smile.   Jews and Samaritans never ate or drank together: it was against all the laws and customs.
You, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan for a drink?” She was so startled she nearly dropped her water jug.
“If you knew who I was, you’d ask me, and I would give you real, life-giving water!”
“How can you get water?  You have nothing to hold it in!”
“If you drink from the well, you’ll be thirsty again.  If you drink the water I offer, it will become like a clear spring within you, bubbling over with eternal life!”
“Sir, I would like that water!”  she replied.


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