UA FANTHORPE (1929-2009) was an English poet.

Her skill and emotional intelligence transformed women's poetry in Britain.

She spent her earliest years in Kent. She attended St Anne's College Oxford afterwards becoming a teacher and ultimately Head of English at Cheltenham Ladies' College.

However, she only began writing when she turned her back on her teaching career to become a receptionist at a psychiatric hospital where her observation of the "strange specialness" of the patients provided the inspiration for her first book, Side Effects.

Since that relatively late start, Fanthorpe was prolific, producing 9 full-length collections, including the Forward Prize-nominated Safe as Houses and the Poetry Book Society Recommendation Consequences.

She was awarded a CBE in 2001 and the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003.





As mute as monks, tidy as bachelors,

They manicure their little plots of earth.

Pop music from the council house estate

Counterpoints with the Sunday-morning bells,

But neither siren voice has power for these

Drab solitary men who spend their time

Kneeling, or fetching water, soberly,

Or walking softly down a row of beans.


Like drill-sergeants, they measure their recruits.

The infant sprig receives the proper space

The manly fullgrown cauliflower will need.

And all must toe the line here; stem and leaf,

As well as root, obey the rule of string.

Domesticated tilth aligns itself

In sweet conformity; but head in air

Soars the unruly loveliness of beans.


They visit hidden places of the earth

When tenderly with fork and hand they grope

To lift potatoes, and the round, flushed globes

Tumble like pearls out of the moving soil.

They share strange intuitions, know how much

Patience and energy and sense of poise

It takes to be an onion; and they share

The subtle benediction of beans.


They see the casual holiness that spreads

Along obedient furrows. Cabbages

Unfurl their veined and rounded fans in joy,

And buds of sprouts rejoice along their stalks.

The ferny tops of carrots, stout red stems

Of beetroot, zany sunflowers with blond hair

And bloodshot faces; shine like seraphim



Chimneys: colder.

Flightpaths: busier.

Driver: Christmas (F)

Still baffled by postcodes.

Children: more

And stay up later.

Presents: heavier.

Pay: frozen.

Mission in spite

Of all this

Accomplished –




He lives in a world of small recalcitrant

Things in bottles, with tacky labels. He was always

A man who did-it-himself.


Now his hands shamble among clues

He left for himself when he saw better,

And small things distress: I've lost the hammer.


Lifelong adjuster of environments,

Lord once of shed, garage and garden,

Each with its proper complement of tackle,


World authority on twelve different

Sorts of glue, connoisseur of nuts

And bolts, not good with daughters


But a dab hand with the Black and Decker,

Self-demoted in your nineties to washing-up

After supper, and missing crusted streaks


Of food on plates; have you forgotten

The jokes you no longer tell, as you forget

If you've smoked your timetabled cigarette?


Now television has no power to arouse

Your surliness; your wife could replace on the walls

Those pictures of disinherited children,


And you wouldn't know. Now you ramble

In your talk around London districts, fretting

At how to find your way from Holborn to Soho,

And where is Drury Lane? Old man, old man,

So obdurate in your contracted world,

Living in almost-dark, I can see you,

You said to me, but only as a cloud.

When I left, you tried not to cry. I love

Your helplessness, you who hate being helpless.


Let me find your hammer. Let me

Walk with you to Drury Lane. I am only a cloud.

Under the long flat fingers of the beans.   

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