The Green Book of Poetry

Frontier Publishing, 1993.

GBOP (2)


An anthology of poems from around the world, in defense of nature – and in the long run, of humanity too. A commentary links the poems, which include translations from over thirty different languages. Many classic translations are included, as well as over eighty new translations by the editor.

Available, in hardback or paperback, from:

Frontier Publishing, Windetts, Kirstead, Norfolk NR15 1BR, U.K.
Tel 01508 558174 Fax 01508 550194
Hardback £14.99. Paperback, £7.99.
E-MAIL Frontier Publishing


‘A book for our time’ – Kenneth Baker, The Weekend Telegraph. Click here for full review.

‘A book for us all’ – Septimus Waugh, The Literary Review. Click here for full review

‘This book should be open on everyone’s kitchen table’ – Mark Evans, Village Voice.

‘The book I have most admired this year’ – Nicholas Mosley, Daily Telegraph.

‘A rather special new book’ – Michael Viney, The Irish Times.

‘An original and ambitious project’ – Wanda Barford, Jewish Chronicle.

‘Much enjoyed and admired’ – Raymond Carr, The Spectator.

‘… a skillfully woven combination of editorial narrative and poetry delivering a powerful and refreshingly inspirational message’ – Jake Summers, European Bookseller.

‘…an original compilation of over two hundred poems from all around the world, loosely linked by the theme of survival for humankind and the planet, with perceptive and helpful commentary by Mosley throughout. The poets may not all be familiar but their work is both inspiring and beautiful – a rare find’ – Vicki Hird, in ‘Earth Matters’.

‘Brilliant and idiosyncratic; entirely fascinating.’ Polly Devlin, in ‘The Week’ .

From a personal letter from Brendan Kennelly, poet and Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin:
‘When James Joyce was leaving Ireland, he said he wanted “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”; Your anthology is a brave and gallant effort to re-animate the dying conscience of twentieth century humanity – all of us. I believe, quite simply, (and believe it more and more as I read your book) that you’ve produced one of the best anthologies ever.’


1992, the world; rivers stinking of effluent, poison waste diffuse in the air, the rain itself become poison;
Trees dying, the soil a sterile holding bank for chemicals; cities, like giant cankers, thriving, their millions mostly poor and hungry, their tendrils stretching to the far corners of the earth, draining the land of life;
The earth’s riches are plundered for greed then turned to garbage. Man’s domination of the earth is all but complete, and some would say almost over.
Amidst all this it’s hard to feel good about being human. The bright visions of our ancestors have turned to dust, or worse, in our hands. The question is not “Is Nature worth preserving?” but “Is humanity worth preserving?”.
This book is an argument for “yes”. It’s a record of the human spirit seeking out what is good, railing at what is bad, wanting to find harmony; trying to create something in that image which we are all born with, and which goes under much-abused names like god, love and truth. The poetry here finds beauty in that image, and ugliness in its destruction. That is why it is a book of ‘green’ poetry.

The first poem:

Yes to the Earth

So radiant in certain mornings’ light
With its roses and its cypress trees
Is Earth, or with its grain and olives;

So suddenly it is radiant on the soul,
Which stands then alone and forgetful
Though just a moment earlier the soul
Wept bloody tears or dwelt in bitterness;

So radiant in certain mornings’ light
Is Earth, and in its silence so expressive,
This wondrous lump rolling in its skies;
Beautiful, tragic in solitude, yet smiling,

That the soul, unasked, replies
“Yes” replies, “Yes” to the Earth,
To the indifferent Earth, “Yes!”,

Even though next instant skies
Should darken, roses too, and cypresses,
Or the effort of life grow heavier still,
The act of breathing even more heroic,

“Yes” replies the battered soul to Earth,
So radiant in the light of certain mornings
Beautiful above all things, and human hope.

(Sibilla Aleramo, Italian, 1876-1960.)


All is Vanity

Whichever way we look, only vanity on earth.
What one man builds today, another destroys tomorrow.
The land where cities stand will soon again be meadows;
On them, peasant children, playing among the flocks.
Blooms, luxurious now, are soon trodden down;
What boasts defiantly now is just tomorrow’s ash.
Nothing on earth can last; not of stone or bronze.
Should fortune shine today, hardships soon will thunder.
The fame of lofty deeds vanishes like a dream,
Can Time’s plaything, Man, be expected then to last?
Ah! What is everything dear to us, everything we value
But wretched triviality; like shadow, dust, and wind,
Like a flower in a meadow found once but never more.
Yet – not a single person wants to think on the eternal.

(Gryphius, German, 1616-1664, tr. I.M.)

[The poet Gongora uses images of imminent mortality to urge his friend Licio to take life seriously.]

On Life’s Deceptive Brevity

Solicitous, the swift arrow speeds
Towards its destined mark, in which it bites;
Silent in the mute sand, the chariot
Turns in victory round the winning post;
Yet swifter, and more secretly, our life
Hurries us to our end. For those that doubt –
Beasts bereft of reason though they be –
Day by day the sun is a warning comet.
Has Carthage learned this, Licio, yet you doubt?
You live dangerously, Licio, persisting
In chasing shadows and holding to deceptions.
The hours will hardly forgive you your folly;
The hours, which are filing away at the days,
The days, which are gnawing away at the years.

(Gongora, Spanish, 1561-1625, tr. I.M.)

[Baudelaire relishes mortality, which mocks the pretensions of humanity that disgust him.]

The Lid

Wherever he may go, on land or sea,
Under a climate of flame or a white sky,
Be he a servant of Jesus, or courtier of Venus,
A beggar lost in darkness or glittering Croesus,

City- or country-dweller, vagrant or in a chair,
Whether his little brain is active or slow, –
Everywhere man submits to the terror of mystery,
And looks above him only with trembling eye.

Above him, the Heavens! – the wall of his stifling tomb,
A ceiling lit by a comic opera’s glare
Where each buffoon stomps the blood-soaked earth;

Terror of the libertine, hope of the mad hermit;
The Sky! Blackened lid of the great stew-pot
Where humanity boils, imperceptible and vast!

(Baudelaire, French, 1821-67, tr. I.M.)

[Another contemplation of mortality, this time from Tao Yuan-Ming.]

So long since I’ve enjoyed the hills and ponds,
the boundless pleasures of woods and fields –
I take my sons and nephews in hand;
parting brushwood, we walk through the tangled site of a village,
strolling among the knolls and grave mounds,
lingering lingering where people lived long ago.
Here and there are traces of their wells and cooking ranges,
rotting stumps of mulberry and bamboo still remaining.
We asked someone gathering firewood,
“Where are all these people now?”
The wood gatherer turned to us and said,
“They’re dead and gone, none of them left!”
In one generation both court and city change –
be assured, that’s no idle saying.
Man’s life is a phantom affair,
and he returns at last to the empty void.

(Tao Yuan Ming, Chinese, 372-427, tr. Burton Watson.)

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    The anthology was widely praised on publication and continues to be a bestseller for Frontier Publishing.

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