Fiona Sampson

© Ekaterina Voskresenskaya

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the poet

 Leading British poet Fiona Sampson has been published in 38 languages and received a number of international awards. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the English Association and the Wordsworth Trust, Fiona has 29 books to her name, and was awarded an MBE for Services to Literature. She is Emeritus Professor of Poetry, University of Roehampton, has served on the Council of the Royal Society of Literature, and is a Trustee of the Royal Literary Fund. Other honours include the Cholmondeley Award and Hawthornden Fellowship, as well as various national Book of the Year selections. Most recently, Fiona's Come Down was awarded Wales Poetry Book of the Year 2021. Fiona has also been a broadcaster and critic, editor of Poetry Review, and acclaimed biographer of both Mary Shelley and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

the poems

At Lechlade

00:00 / 01:41

                        The church was full of dead bees

                        somehow a swarm had gathered

                        high inside a transept window

                        back and forth the bees flew

                        through the crossing their too low

                        wrong note like a moan

                        the building held as if holding

                        itself moaning as it held

                        the condemned bees passing

                        to and fro in air

                        that hung sacred etcetera

                        between pillars but could not

                        save them

                                       bees are angels too

                        who will save us if we let them

                        but now they flew uselessly

                        offering themselves brown

                        gifts in air above our heads

                        and dead in the house of death

                        on pews and on the red tiles

                        of the aisle

                                       at the welcome

                        table the steward refused

                        to let us call the bee man

                        we must wait till they’re all dead

                        she said and I’ve always wondered

                        why she wanted to deal death

                        to the living bees in

                        the gold church what fury

                        or what loss would make you kill

                        the life-givers the velvet

                        singers in plain sight knowing

                        no-one quite would dare stop you

                        knowing we are obedient

                        and that she could close the church

                        against the life that comes flying

                        in by accident

                                              as words

                        do sometimes or a truth

                        glimpsed in the high evening air

Coming Of Age

00:00 / 01:08

                        In the beginning the waters covered

                        the earth but before that earth

                        was fire surely the air made fire turn

                        to water air made water-fire like

                        the Northern Lights flaming green and gold

                        and blue through your iris in the beginning

                        was like a game of scissors paper

                        stone and I could not decide which

                        to trust cold fists poking from anorak

                        sleeves or paper blowing against

                        the chain-link fence long mornings

                        when maybe our teachers were bored

                        too but we were igneous then

                        we must have been cooling already for

                        steam covered the sky the sea the sun

                        when it settled on the window glass

                        and still the sea was always at the foot

                        of our day like a beginning

                        like coming into language like

                        God in the hymn books setting breakers

                        of blue fire across the horizon

At Mukito

For Jaan Kaplinski

00:00 / 01:13

                        What’s here now when I come

                        like Jaan’s sheep like Sappho’s lamb

                        stepping down into the valley

                        as the bright evening light

                        slips and pools beside a wall

                        along the water with the gnats

                        and water-skimmers bright and dark

                        falling across the stepping shoulders

                        of the careful beast so quiet

                        so inevitable little

                        lamb of death calling the poet

                        home although he called you first


                        into the clearing with the pond

                        the long-armed well the barn swallows


                        and in the dark the nightingales

                        sing inexhaustibly

                        about the forest going on

                        forever beyond the fence rail

                        as poets do singing in darkness

                        up among the wooden beams

                        of habitation while the lamb

                        comes to lie down at the threshold

                        comes gently to your feet

                        Jaan I didn’t call him here

Publishing credits

All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb