Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Book of The Green Man

In 1967 the American poet Ronald Johnson turned his attention to the English landscape in his book "The Book of The Green Man". The British poet Christopher Middleton comments in the flyleaf of the book that Johnson "presents an image of England, or to be precise, sundry English scenes, with a vividness and a strangeness . . . (he) has unearthed an England which most people have forgotten."

Here is an excerpt from 'Evocations', the first poem in the 'Spring' chapter of the book.

'Rise and put on your foliage'.

Come, as the Green Knight to Gawain at the beginning
of the new year -

out of his oaken crevice:
lhude sing cuccu!

Move with a spring & vegetable swiftness,
seed-case & burr & tremulous grasses, a grove - vocal in the wind -

('the rustling of the leaves and
the songs of birds denoting his presence there')


('at thes day we in ye
sign call them Green Men, covered with green bones')



  1. That's lovely. Check out Simon Armitage's translation of Gawain & The Green Night if you like this sort of thing.

  2. Great post, Andrea. Unfortunately, this is a book I've yet to find. I've looked for it for some time (and couldn't afford the steep asking prices on Amazon).

    However, there's an excerpt from Evocations in a book that I turn to when gathering ideas for festival celebrations. Great poem!

  3. Glimmung - I will do. I remember reading a little of it years ago. Can't remember who the translator of that version was.

    Jon - glad you enjoyed it :) I saw a copy of this in a second hand bookshop when I was on holiday last summer, but that was before I'd really read much of Johnson's poetry - I don't know why I didn't buy it! Major regrets :( Hopefully another copy turns up - in the meantime at least the library has one!

  4. While we're on the topic of The Green Man...

  5. Just as an aside, I actually bought the copy of the book I mentioned above yesterday! Turns out it was still in the shop 8 months later which was great as it's a first edition and was very reasonably priced. A happy coincidence for sure.