Fiona Sampson is a writer and poet who has published twenty-seven books and been translated into thirty-seven languages. She’s been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for Services to Literature and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Fellow of the English Association and Fellow of the Wordsworth Trust. She is the Professor of Poetry at Roehampton University; and also a critic, librettist and editor. Prizes include the Newdigate Prize, Cholmondeley Award,Hawthornden Fellowship, and various honours from Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales, the Society of Authors, the Poetry Book Society and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and international awards in the US, India, Macedonia and Bosnia. She’s also held a number of international fellowships. Her biography, In Search of Mary Shelley (2018), has been internationally critically acclaimed and shortlisted for the Biographers Club Slightly Foxed Prize. Her forthcoming poetry collection is Come Down (Little, Brown, 2020).


DANTE’S CAVE                     

                VelikeDoline, Skocjan


Finally I came

to the end of the world

to a limestone cliff

falling in pale steps                                           


and far below a pool

somehow out of myth                                        

proving that there

was nothing but the rock


to hold me up to raise me

into that clear air

where crows were looping where the eye  

of God was gold


and inattentive then

I saw the end is air

and falling it is clean                                        

and lovely it is blue.






Are you listening you are

listening to the world

you think but you hear yourself

over and over the dark tongue


of world its hidden places                                                               

under trees beyond the lights

darkness falling from your feet

so deep you could fall through it


forever and how loud world

is with night in the trees

like a roost of parakeets rising

the dark tongue of world


rising up through you as you

fall dear self dear

lonely self falling silently

mouthing through sound





These days are still                                                                            

cold the line of feeling

working its way thinly

up as we might touch

a pulse almost to life

or make the heart inside

an egg echo itself or                                          

hear ants under the trees

raising secret cities



What you pray for

hardly seems

to matter when

the valley holds

light with such

care any-

way is this

so fragile this –  

truth is it

or something like it –


here but also                                                                       

somehow not

it waits behind

all this for

its turn to speak

through each tree

and fence post –

and since you’re here

also to speak                                                                       

through you



There are still


and the trees                                       

clamber uphill                                                    

again this morning

to labour is

to prayeven

when the clenched buds

of the pear tree

cannot help

themselves the valley

plunges on

miming morning –

Confucians say

observance is

all there is –

and when we show

our hands are empty

something seems

to disappear some

light be lost                                                         

between the trees



Dry season

in the heart

you have to pray

although you can’t


but still the valves

of the magnolia


themselves upward




the ghost tree pours

upward raising

and raising itself                                

wild ducks fly                                                      



with lifted voices

and the white

flowers crowd

out of branches

that are holding

dark air up


everything is                                                        

and knows it is –

wild equinox

balancing light                                   

with the









Blue and black

the Virgin sits

in her high



she does not

regard us her

regard is drawn

back from us


far back

among the centuries

where she comes

from and where


she is going                                                         


she is travelling                                                  

past us and away                                               


ancient star

flying so slowly                                  

we do not                                             

see her move




suppose she


uncoiled her serpent’s

arms or let


that black mask

fall could she

move among us

then or what


would be broken

and fired again

what understanding

newly perfected








high and far

very high

and far like

the disappearing


note of wind

shrilling between

glass comes

the tone the sweet


stone rings

when you knock

the saint’s open





Lady in your

ark of rock

you who wear

the white rock


as a wedding

gown Lady


and personal


we carry you

in the eye’s


like a mote


or like a beam

that drowning we

could cling to –                                                   

Lady stronger                                                                      


than time stronger than                                    

light we see you                                                  


and everywhere                                                                  












Now everything

begins to move

and everything stays                                                         

where it is

each ash tree

and each hummock

shifts against                                                                      

itself even

the grass shifts

and the electric

lapwings cry

change change

because the common

melts and flows

even the earth                                     

flows like thawing

ice how lost

the senses are

in this disturbance

here it comes                                                                                                       

again the new

electric cry

change change

as it moves past us



FRANKENSTEIN’S GOLEM                                                  



Who is this

moving swiftly

through darkness                                               

in a landscape                                                                                                    

not yet given

form by daylight                                 

slipping shapeless                                                                             

as a shadow

through the dark

and unknown places

wearing night

next to his skin                                                   

wearing a pelt                                                     

of pine and stone                                                                               

who is this

atoms seething

on his skin

who passes                                          

through the dark

where he was buried

and from which  

he was lifted                                                        

not by love           

by power alone

lifted from death

and forced to pass

again through his own

dying who

slips away

between rocks (as



the dark) who is this

on the mountain                                                                 

where morning     s

break along rocks                                              

orange pink                                         


light new                                                                              

and tenderly wrought?












Snow falls and fills a valley

and under its white roof

a sleeper dreams snow is falling

secretly for her alone

on and on in darkness                                      

it falls like something speaking

noiselessly into silence


something that’s all alone

in silence can’t hear

itself can’t feel grass or stones

or the small branches it conceals

even in the sleeper’s dreams

falling snow cannot feel                                                   

the world it longs to touch                                                               


and misses falling through its own

cold embrace on and on

in the dark the sleeper dreams

snow is falling on her pillow

as wide wet words the night

speaks about itself snow

speaking the words for night






We who are to come

to whom you owe this field

these trees this changing sky

to whom you owe these walls


that have comforted you

that will comfort us

because you made them                   

to be a shelter for us                         


although we need no shelter                                            

having the field the trees

the changing sky to move

around us in their great


circuit we who come

out of that time when all

changing things will have their rest

we bless you                                                        


our parents wandering

the valley as if you

have just arrived as if

you understand nothing.  







In the morning air                                              

voices fill and empty

beside the barn under

the walnut trees                  

one continual linked pouring                                          

the way arcades go                                            

linking and pouring linked                               

and poured their speech is one

continual discourse

raising hands to gesture

speaking on and on                                           

in the shade under

the cypress trees they do not

know the morning or the evening

when it comes

they only know this speaking                          

that rises and falls

in them like song.







Sometimes it’s just the daily bread

of thought just the visible                                

being itself (a cup of coffee

carried to a window seat


where varnished woodwork shines                

in the morning light) sometimes                     

small things reveal to you                                

how you’re alive and how you live


sometimes there’s no remission                     

no trumpet no voice of God

in Levantine splendour only

this blur of steam like a breath


and the word lying below it

waiting to be spoken you can’t

quite make it out what is it                                              

humming all day out of hearing.







See how they sleep first he turns

away and then she turns

after him or now she turns

her back and he follows


rolled by an imperative

deeper than sleep                                               

he rolls over like a wave                                                   

that turns itself over          


sleepily with the sea’s deep                             

breathing with its rhythm                                                 

pulsing far out from land pulsing far                                            

down in the dark                                


where creatures not yet formed are forming

where like half-made beasts                                                                                                            

his dreams swim among hers where

she hears his breathing far


above her nearer to the light

nearer to the white-topped

waves the white-peaked sheets his arm

is thrown across her now


as she floats upward drawing him

out of deep tides crossing                

their legs once more as morning lies

motionless to the horizon.                                               







What is bear and what

is the dancing man

inside the bear skin what sweat

and what stink of tallow                                                   


hang between the man

and the old skin he wears

inside which the man dies

as bear is reborn                                                                                                                                


why does man put on

bear why raise him

again from darkness raise doubt

out of the dark                                    


and who dances whom                                                     

when like a hand

dipped in a wound the fear

is danced over and over?













You wake and find yourself

dreaming you walk

an avenue of trees

whose canopies


stir with the vagueness of dream

it seems

as though the time to come

must be a wind


stirring the leaves coming

from far away

in the west where a coast

shimmers vaguely


with surf shimmering like leaves

their white froth

spends itself



all this is very far


and you are very small

the air is deep


and you are far down in its valley


the pale dust path walking

against the wind.





















On summer evenings                                                         

air thickens – and settles,

dust dropping onto shelves of books

silently – settles.

These evenings

lift from the pages of books,                                            

or out of dreams.


Write your name in the dust                                            

that blooms on a polished table,                                    

fleet wild pollen.                                                                                                

Dusk’s a wide, blue table

and we’re numberless as the settling dust –                                                                

little souls, barbed like pollen                                                        

with selfish, unassuageable dreams.                            




The early dark thrums with wings,                                                                 

shadows scud between headlights.                                                

A window at the road’s end gleams                                                                

like a gaze: too long, misplaced.


He changes shape.  The autumn nights

permit this, with their mint of smells,                                                                                           

the ash-and-damp notes of a dream

you remember, blurred as wings                                                                    


flurrying into a windscreen:                                                                            

huge eyes, blackened by the lights –                                                              

because sometimes he’s an owl. Or he’s a swan,                                        

or Caucasian male, clean-shaven, age unknown,


or this plumed and gleaming angel                                                                

at the door, with his knife.



HAWTHORN MILK                                               



Thorn-lily runs beside the fields                                     

to meet the sky


where the smell of rain-water and salt

is like an opening;


chalice or drain, its mouth soft

and wet –


This smell is meat,

not hawthorn –


the animal that turns and turns nearby                                        

is not the sea


You were a breast                                                               

where I drank rusty milk                   

that made me yours


The rust peeled from your hands

and stained my skin

like ochre, like blood


When you died

my skin turned black

When we danced the macabre


your skin turned white                      

as the flowers of a Northern spring,

and I was your milk hope


The taste of blood in milk

is like rust  The smell of death

is like hawthorn blossom                 


Hawthorn stars the sky,

black against daylight

Its odour

is close and creaturely at night


How is it drugs                                    

can give the skin                                                 

this deathly perfume

of hawthorn?


Familiar dark head

crowned with bright hawthorn –

your fear

is so lightly, so darkly worn