Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Poetry
15 September 2021

The NS Poem: Hymn to the Subjunctive

A new poem by John Burnside.

By John Burnside

Even where nothing exists, it still occurs:
a bird I remember from childhood, maybe a wren,
or a sedge warbler perched on a reed
at the edge of the meadows.
Close to invisible now, my shadow wakes
to juniper and new snow in an empty
garden, fox-prints
trailing off to what might be
infinity, across the blank of lawn:           
and there I am, or would be, if I were,
a lost boy, raised on figs and simnel cake,
bright as a penny, perfect in Latin grammar,
the one who lives to tell another tale
entirely, something pure, like hieroglyphics.

John Burnside is a Scottish author and the New Statesman’s nature columnist. His latest poetry collection is “Learning to Sleep” (Jonathan Cape)

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How automation can help telecoms companies unlock their growth potential
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better
Feel confident gifting tech to your children this Christmas

This article appears in the 15 Sep 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Fateful Chancellor