John Burnside

John Burnside teaches at St Andrews. His poetry collections include Feast Days (1992), The Asylum Dance (2000) and Black Cat Bone (2011), which won both the Forward Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize. He has also written several novels, two collections of short stories and three books of memoir, parts of which were first published in the LRB.

Poem: ‘Apostasy’

John Burnside, 12 May 2022

Psalm 139:23

At one time,when there might have been a God,everything vaguelyconvent, dovesand serpents in the Treeof Knowledge, gospelwhispered down the galleriesof rain,

I would have been awake for almostnothing in this perishable world,only a drift of rose, or cardamine,along the backroad home, wind in the trees,the angel half-revealed, improbable,lighting the hedge like a flamein the greenof...

Two Poems

John Burnside, 1 July 2021


(In memoriam J.P.)

Morning in lockdown. Shadows in the yard,Quink-blue and graduallyshifting, like those eels we used to seeabove the weir, thickwhipcords of lustand instinct, surgingheadlong through the mystery of grass.Forty years on, but all I have to dois close my eyes to see youcycling to Cherry Hinton in that dust-greyskirt you used to wear, the dawn lightfollowing the river back to...

Poem: ‘The Night Ferry’

John Burnside, 17 December 2020

Had I been less prepared, I would have leftin springtime, when the plum tree in the yardwas still in bloom,the windows open after months of snow,one magpie in the roadand then another.

I could have slipped away, late afternoon,while everyone was busy somewhere else,the fish van at the corner, childrendawdling home from schoolin twos and threes, a porch lightlit against the dusk on Tollbooth...

Three Poems

John Burnside, 12 September 2019

Whoso List to Hunt

Small comfort to be had in mea culpa, damp afternoons, just shy of saccharin, a boyhood in the rain rescripted as a child’s compendium of minor sins. No subtlety of eyes around my bed; no whispered blame, no frost-fall in the blood, but later, when I lay me down to sleep and all the lamps burn out across the yards, I come home to the sadness of the creatures: our...

Poem: ‘At Notre Dame de Reims’

John Burnside, 4 April 2019

the snake is a snake;

but the toad has a human face, in the hidden gallery under the roof, where the masons

practised their art, away from the bishops and kings.

We’ve seen this much before (in Salisbury, say, or that chapel above the Esk

at Rosslyn): a refuge for the pagan in the chill

of Christendom, a Green Man in the fabric of the stone; a running

boar; the sacred hare; or else


What He Could Bear: A Brutal Childhood

Hilary Mantel, 9 March 2006

The lie is told to a man he meets on the road; it is America, fall, the mid-1990s, when he stops to pick up a hitch-hiker in Upper New York State. It is almost the day of the dead, and he is tired,...

Read More

War against the Grown-Ups

John Redmond, 21 August 1997

A recent newspaper story told of a young man who went to hospital, seeking attention for stomach pains. Expecting to find some sort of cyst, the doctors opened him up. What they removed instead...

Read More

Uncertainties of the Poet

Nicolas Tredell, 25 June 1992

‘Fin de siècle’: the term suggests a dilution and dispersal of the cultural, social and political energies of a century, an uneasy time of uncertainties as a new era waits to be...

Read More

Imagining the Suburbs

Stan Smith, 9 January 1992

Whole systems of thought have been founded on the French language’s inability to distinguish differing from deferring. Perhaps Napoleon is to blame (‘Not tonight, Josephine’)....

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences