approaching death sideways

I’ve just listened to Alice Oswald reading and discussing the nursery rhyme, There Was a Man of Double Deed – I think you should too:

Guardian Books poetry podcast:

Alice Oswald reads There Was a Man of Double Deed

There was a man of double deed

There was a man of double deed

Who sowed his garden full of seed

When the seed began to grow

‘Twas like a garden full of snow

When the snow began to melt

‘Twas like a ship without a bell

When the ship began to sail

‘Twas like a bird without a tail

When the bird began to fly

‘Twas like an eagle on the sky

When the sky began to roar

‘Twas like a lion at my door

When the door began to crack

‘Twas like a stick across my back

When my back began to smart

‘Twas like a penknife in my heart

When my heart began to bleed

‘Twas death, and death, and death indeed

– Anonymus 


In her commentary, Oswald opens the rhyme up for the listener, pointing out essential features which are easily overlooked by less professional readers – Oswald is seriously professional: “I turn to poetry not for comfort, but for discomfort” … A discomfort which this time was to be found in a nursery-rhyme.

Oswald defines There Was a Man of Double Deed to be an equilateral poem (like a geometrical figure having all sides equal), a poem where every line has equal weight. Equilateral poems, she says, are very difficult to write, but when they are successful, they are full of energy.  “Lines brushing up each other’s edges, like they are still alive, every phrase interrupted by something else”.

And then there is the similes …

Alice Oswald Poetry

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sketcher, reader, writer

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