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Creatures Great and Small

Collected Poems

Quick Overview

John Berger

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Novelist, draughtsman, film-maker, essayist and critic, John Berger is one of the major European intellectuals of our time. For sixty years he has been challenging the way we see the world and how we think about it, in books like Ways of Seeing, Permanent Red, To the Wedding, A Painter of Our Time, Pig Earth, Once in Europa, Lilac and Flag and G. But although Berger has always written poetry, often smuggling poems inside books like The Seventh Man, The White Bird and Pages of the Wound, this is the first time his poetry has been collected in English.

Collected Poems reflects Berger’s longstanding concerns with art and politics, love and war, history and memory, emigration, immigration and the life of the European peasantry. It includes well-known poems like “The Ladle”, “Village Maternity” and “Death of La Nan M.” as well over twenty previously unpublished poems. From “My Coney” (written in 1952 when Berger was just twenty-six) to “They Are the Last” (written in 2008), Berger the poet demonstrates an enduring commitment to the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. These are perfectly framed still-life images, sensual and plain, delicate sketches of hard lives caught between the provisional quality of language and the permanence of things. John Berger’s Collected Poems reveals its author to be a major poet of our time.


Words I
for Beverly

Down the gorge
                people and blood
In the bracken
          beyond touch
                a dog howled

A head between lips
                the mouth of the world

Her breasts
          like doves
                perch on her ribs

Her child sucks the long
          white thread
                of words to come

Words II

The tongue
           is the spine’s first leaf
forests of language surround it

Like a mole
           the tongue
burrows through the earth of speech

Like a bird
           the tongue
flies in arcs of the written word

The tongue is tethered and alone in its mouth



Pewter pock-marked
moon of the ladle
rising above the mountain
going down into the saucepan
serving generations
dredging what has grown from seed
in the garden
thickened with potato
outliving us all
on the wooden sky
of the kitchen wall

Serving mother
of the steaming pewter breast
veined by the salts
fed to her children
hungry as boars
with the evening earth
engrained around their nails
and bread the brother
serving mother

pour the sky steaming
with the carrot sun
the stars of salt
and the grease of the pig earth
pour the sky steaming
pour soup for our days
pour sleep for the night
pour years for my children

Village Maternity

The mother puts
          the newborn day
                     to her breast

          like skulls
                     are heaped
                               house high

before the blood has been washed
                          from the legs of the sky


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