The Breaking Hour, Kevin Crossley-Holland (London: Enitharmon Press, 2015)


‘Wyde in this world wondres to hear.’   (Boyhood)

It was by chance that I met Kevin Crossley-Holland, as he was one of the English speaking authors the Morges Book Festival lined up last year.   We got talking and somehow zoomed in on the stories of things – he pointed me to some lines that resonated.

This pierced coin,
is it an affirmation of Empire,
a talisman, a love token, or simply
the difference between a full stomach
and going to bed hungry? (Lifelines)

Love-knot, dovetail, harvest bow:
they’ve waited all their lives for you
and wish you everything they want.   (Translations)

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The Breaking Hour is a beautiful tapestry of poems, full of human appreciation and subtlety, in limpid English drawing on deep pools of Anglo-Saxon, reflected in the cover design. It has vivid imagery (‘the glacier’s blue teeth’ – Harald in Byzantium) and arresting lines: ‘No, I never commune with my ancestors before breakfast’ (Communion). But above all, a capacity to capture moments of wonder and the emotions they unlock, reminding us that there may be ‘no distance between actual and numinous’ (Boyhood).

‘Sheer wonder it has happened again
– the same geese, these same acres –
and, crick-necked on our doorsteps,
the sudden surge of wild longings?’

(Six Norfolk Poems – Wintering Grounds)

How many thousands of years have men stood and watched great birds migrate overhead.

So when inclement winters vex the plain
With piercing frost or thick-descending rain,
To warmer seas the cranes embodied fly,
With noise, and order, through the midway sky.

(Homer, Iliad, book III, trans. Alexander Pope)

I have also been gently rocked by the almost palindrome balance of one poem’s title: Fledgling Maybe, Maybe Winged.  Sometimes one can feel fledgling flight-poised while other times being full-winged air-borne.  It reminds me also of a family of condors, the young one standing on a pinnacle unsure whether to launch into the beckoning void. One of his parents nudged him off the edge and, hurled into emptiness, his rip-cord instincts effortlessly unfurled wings into perfect planing.

A lovely book which should be slipped into a briefcase on a business trip – it will keep you grounded in the things that matter, or will help you recalibrate after a boring, pointless or otherwise frustrating meeting.   Or just take it in your rucksack on your next hike or bike ride; fine reading atop a munro or under a cedar’s spreading branches.


‘Attentive as a heron.’

If you’ve been in the sights of a heron’s alert and beady gaze, as he picks his way delicately through mud or field, you will feel how apt this is.   This lovely phrase deserves to step quietly and elegantly into common usage.

Source: Kevin Crossley-Holland, ‘The Remit of Love’, The Breaking Hour (London: Enitharmon Press, 2015), p. 17


‘Sails blue as promises, pink as flamingos / and green and bitter as kelp.’

Three in one, a sentence dense with colourful metaphor.  I have no idea of the shade of blue that describes promises, nor did I ever think of promises in terms of colour, let alone blue.   Pink as flamingos, I had come across, but I also like the ‘green and bitter as kelp’.

Source: Kevin Crossley-Holland, ‘Harald in Byzantium’, The Breaking Hour (London: Enitharmon Press, 2015), p. 33




‘Rain as fine as stitching, petit point, silk samplers.’

You can feel this rain steadily, gently, saturating the ground, a rain that makes everything bloom.

Source: Kevin Crossley-Holland, ‘September’, The Breaking Hour (London: Enitharmon Press, 2015), p. 55

Dark-eyed dome

A beautiful depiction of the great dome of Hagia Sophia.

Source: Kevin Crossley-Holland, ‘In Hagia Sophia’.

Frosty-grey arrowheads

I see these lying on frost-covered ground, landing where the hunter missed his mark.

Source: Kevin Crossley-Holland, ‘Wintering Grounds’

Rock-jawed dogmatists

May you be ever free from encounters with such…

Source: Kevin Crossley-Holland, ‘Fledgling Maybe, Maybe Winged’


An old fashioned term for a song-thrush; a machine for continuously spinning cotton or wool.


A large knife with a single-edged blade, found among Anglo-Saxon grave goods, used for hunting and fighting.


Jolting or bouncing, an apparently neat melding of both words.

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