Coleshill is an idiosyncratic version of Auden’s ‘Thanksgiving for a Habitat’, a loving evocation and transformation of the Wiltshire village and landscape where Fiona Sampson feels most at home. Her poems celebrate walks on English earth loaded with flora and fauna, which are also walks on air, moving between memory and desire, often signposted by historical or theological markers. A phrase from St Augustine, ‘securus judicat orbis terrarum’ (‘the verdict of the world is conclusive’) – which for Newman enshrined ungainsayable Catholic truth – stands as epigraph to ‘The Corn Versicles’, where the pathway through ripening corn becomes a metaphor for life’s pathway. A shot bird ‘now starred/with bloody flowers’ soars and then stumbles out of the air at Badbury Clumps, the mythical site of Arthur’s siege of Mons Badonicus, where shadows pass as ancient violence passed; the poem closes on another bird climbing the air to freedom – or to another death. There is no sentimentality in her work, but an inclusive understanding.
Coleshill itself is her version of Samuel Palmer’s Shoreham. Its washing lines – ‘the unreasonable brightness/of the peg, the sheet, the line that tethers/the sheet between sky and mud’ – and its ‘standing shadows/that could be cattle’ are as solid in their shimmering as Palmer’s apple tree. This glancing painterliness