David Harsent

David Harsent’s most recent collections are Fire Songs and Salt.

Poem: ‘From ‘At the Window’’

David Harsent, 23 September 2021

How this pale dawn light floods in from the skyline.How it seems almost at times to fail as if it mightfall back to midnight’s deep blue-black: as if it should.I am given over to dreams that say what’s mine is mine.

I dreamt I was at this window and here I am:not dreaming, or so I think, though something stays.Dream has its flow, pain its own song to sing.

Rain sets a long graze on...

Poem: ‘From Loss

David Harsent, 7 March 2019


This room now: papers and books: a long drift over tablesover chairs to the floor. She said: ‘You’ll find him hereup to his arse in the tar-pits of poetry: find him lostin some landscape of the mind: the mind’s perfect drearsalt-marsh-as-moonscape-as-snowscape-as-white-over-whitewhich is limitless from skyline to skyline.’ She said: ‘Thereare ghosts here that...

Thirteen Poems from ‘Salt’

David Harsent, 20 October 2016

Her sudden, silent prayer was commonplace: to betray but do no harm, to admix guilt with love and that way get the best of it, to let each salty lie roll on her tongue, to gamble with heartbreak, to give an account of herself that would seem most like herself.


There’s a shadow in from under the door. Can you see it yet: shadow of slow-onset, contagion’s mission-creep....

Poem: ‘Pain’

David Harsent, 3 July 2014

Let’s say a gallery. Let’s say ill weather. Let’s say you’ve movedfrom L’Arbre de Fluides to La Fenêtre. Let’s say you’re not Marie,not one of the Corps de Dame. Let’s say you’ve been better loved.Let’s say that one of these, for sure, is what you came to see.


Red and black. Heart and hand. Sand and salt. You make a note.The...

Poem: ‘Fire: a song for Mistress Askew

David Harsent, 19 December 2013

fythynesse, rust, menstrue, swylle, mannys durt, adders egges, the brede of lyes …...

Two poems after Yannis Ritsos

David Harsent, 27 September 2012

from ‘Agamemnon’

The city was still smouldering end to end. We buried the dead, then, at twilight, went down to the beach and set tables for the victory feast. When Helen lifted her glass, the bracelets rattled on her wrist. ‘Listen to that,’ she said, ‘I must be dead.’

At once a piercing white light shone out from her mouth and all within its range was...

Poem: ‘The Queen Bee Canticles’

David Harsent, 6 January 2011

for Christopher Penfold

The Queen and the Philosopher

Sun on the sea running white, sun on white walls, yes, on the thick shoulders of the fishermen as they fanned their nets, sun

as an engine, a trapdoor, a compass, Democritus in his cell the window framing sea and sky, blue climbing on blue, a glaze

shaken by the heat, as she drifted in and held heavy in the thickening air. It was this: a...

Four Poems

David Harsent, 12 March 2009

The Hammock

Your book is Summer by Edith Wharton. A smell off the garden of something becoming inedible. Between sleeping and waking, no real difference at all.

There’s music in this, there would have to be: a swell of strings and bells becoming inaudible, note by note, before you latch on to it . . . The girl

in the story won’t prosper, that’s easy enough to tell....

Poem: ‘The Garden Goddess’

David Harsent, 29 January 2009

Out by the woodpile at 3 a.m., knock-kneed and shitfaced, lost in your own backyard, you pour a libation that comes straight from the dregs and she drinks it.

Or you stand at a sinkful of broken this and that wide-eyed and with nary a hint of what’s next, as she goes by with her Tesco bags and a fifth of gin in her pocket.

She keeps unholy hours. There’s a chance you’ll see...

Poem: ‘Rota Fortuna’

David Harsent, 24 April 2008

Dawn darkness is a bare blue light and there’s a sound coming at you, most likely brought on the wind from a hillside forest or nicked off the skim of the sea . . .

So you’re humming that long, slow note as you broach the day, and the dogs of dawn are all one voice as you step down from your home sweet home, your tour de folie,

and before you get to the other side of the...

Two Poems

David Harsent, 22 June 2006


After Yannis Ritsos

Small squares on the move, merging, pulling apart, building bricks unbuilding, a city of windows inside a city of windows, everything hanging on two right-angles, free-standing, out of whack but somehow holding, somehow safe you decide at the very moment they crack and start to collapse (in utter silence) all of a heap where three fleabitten dogs set off at an...

Three Poems from ‘Marriage’

David Harsent, 26 November 1998

But arrive like this: a sudden shadow on the washed-out fleur-de-lis that paper the breakfast room; a form half-hidden

by some other form, the angle of a door, perhaps, unless I think to make it a shutter, half-open, by which I leave you a single

arm, single eye, single breast, a single link of the scallop- and-anchor motif on your sun-top, except that I can’t quite get it at this...

Poem: ‘By Sennen’

David Harsent, 4 June 1998

After a painting by Jeremy LeGrice

… in London, of course you are, landlocked in your kitchen, but just a step, after all, from the door into the hall, and then just a step from the door into the street where the cabbie is more than happy to wait by the slip-road that takes you out through the wrecked hulks of tower blocks, happy to stop- start-stop in the backed- up traffic, its...

Poem: ‘The Makers’

David Harsent, 19 September 1996

It was pride and nothing else made me lift my head from the spit and sawdust of The Prospect of Oblivion, on my cheek a dark naevus that married

a knobby knot in the planking. How long I’d been down and out was anybody’s guess; I’d guess an hour or more by the state of my suit, a foul rag-bag,

by the state of my hair, a patty-cake, of my own ripe keck, unless it was the keck...

Poem: ‘Coverack’

David Harsent, 6 October 1994

The trick was to keep things normal, or so I thought, and what better than this – the sea on one hand, a hillside of fern and furze on the other, the tumulus on Lowland Point as a marker? Everything there was part of the fair-weather future I’d picked out for myself; I could number the gulls and masts, I’d shifted the wind, and just as you might expect I expected a man in a...

Venisti tandem

Denis Donoghue, 7 February 1985

A year or two ago, Geoffrey Hartman urged literary critics to declare their independence. They should not regard criticism as an activity secondary to the literature it addressed, but as an art...

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