A landmark collection of poems from the author of Cider With Rosie has been gathered in one volume for the first time, including a generous selection of previously unseen verses from his archives

‘Laurie never claimed that his experiences were unique,’ say Jessy Lee of her father, Laurie, in the preface to a new collection of previously unpublished poems, ‘but he did have a singular ability to capture, both in poetry and later in prose, the essence of life, love and loss.

Jessy re-encountered Laurie’s talent as a poet when researching for his centenary celebrations in 2014. ‘His archive is held in the vaults of the British Library,’ she says. ‘Laurie was intensely private, and his archive was something I’d previously avoided, but once there I was astonished by what I found: poems, notes, unfinished pieces, lines and verses. It was Laurie’s world. I could smell his study, his hair, his ink even – and I saw clearly why some of his previously unpublished poems should see the light of day.

‘I bathe in Dad’s words. I believe, as did Laurie, that there are no established formulae for interpreting poetry. As with any work of art, it is about your personal response, a gift for you to decide how you want to use it. I only wish that he was still here for us both to talk about his poems now.’

Great British Life: Larch tree. Photo: Getty ImagesLarch tree. Photo: Getty Images

Larch Tree

Oh, larch tree, with scarlet berries

sharpen the morning slender sun

sharpen the thin taste of September

with your aroma of sweet wax and powder delicate.

Fruit is falling in the valley

breaking on the snouts of foxes

breaking on the wooden crosses

where children bury the shattered bird.

Fruit is falling in the city

blowing a woman’s eyes and fingers

across the street among the bones

of boys who could not speak their love.

I watch a starling cut the sky

a dagger through the blood of cold,

and grasses bound by strings of wind

stockade the sobbing fruit among the bees.

Oh, larch tree, with icy hair

your needles thread the thoughts of snow

while in the fields a shivering girl

takes to her breasts the sad ripe apples.

Great British Life: Raven. Photo: Getty ImagesRaven. Photo: Getty Images


November loosens the tongue

like a leaf condemned,

and calls through the sharp blue air

a sad dance and a dread of winter.

The mistletoe reveals a star

in the dark crab-apple,

and chestnuts join their generations

under the spider sheets of cold.

I hear the branches snap their fingers

and solitary grasses crack,

I hear the forest open her dress

and the ravens rattle their icy wings.

I hear the girl beside me rock

the hammock of her blood

and breathe upon the bedroom walls

white dust of Christmas roses.

And I think; do you feel the snow,

love, in your crocus eyes,

do you watch from your trench of slumber

this blue dawn dripping on a thorn?

But she smiles with her warm mouth

in a dream of daisies,

and swings with the streaming birds

to chorus among the chimneys.

Great British Life: Pike. Photo: Getty ImagesPike. Photo: Getty Images


Juniper holds to the moon

a girl adoring a bracelet;

as the hills draw up their knees

they throw off their jasmine girdles.

You are a forest of game,

a thought of nights in procession,

you tread through the bitter fires

of the nasturtium.

I decorate you to a smell of apples,

I divide you among the voices

of owls and cavaliering cocks

and woodpigeons monotonously dry.

I hang lanterns on your mouth

and candles from your passionate crucifix,

and bloody leaves of the virginia

drip with their scarlet oil.

There is a pike in the lake

whose blue teeth eat the midnight stars

piercing the water’s velvet skin

and puncturing your sleep.

I am the pike in your breast,

my eyes of clay revolve the waves

while cirrus roots and lilies grow

between our banks of steep embraces.

Laurie Lee’s Collected Poems is published in hardback by Penguin Classics on October 26, 2023. penguin.co.uk

Great British Life: Laurie Lee's Collected Poems - Penguin Classics