Proposal for a Survey

Fleur Adcock


Another poem about a Norfolk church,

a neolithic circle, Hadrian's Wall?

Histories and prehistories: indexes

and bibliographies can't list them all.

A map of Poets' England from the air

could show not only who and when but where.


Aerial photogrammetry's the thing,

using some form of infra-red technique.

Stones that have been so fervently described

surely retain some heat. They needn't speak:

the cunning camera ranging in its flight

will chart their higher temperatures as light.


We'll see the favoured regions all lit up -

the Thames a fiery vein, Cornwall a glow,

Tintagel like an incandescent stud,

most of East Anglia sparkling like Heathrow;

and Shropshire luminous among the best,

with Offa's Dyke in diamonds to the west.


The Lake District will be itself a lake

of patchy brilliance poured along the vales,

with somewhat lesser splashes to the east

across Northumbria and the Yorkshire dales.

Cities and churches, villages and lanes,

will gleam in sparks and streaks and radiant stains.


The lens, of course, will not discriminate

between the venerable and the new;

Stonehenge and Avebury may catch the eye

but Liverpool will have its aura too.

As well as Canterbury there'll be Leeds

and Hull criss-crossed with nets of glittering beads.


Nor will the cool machine be influenced

by literary fashion to reject

any on grounds of quality or taste:

intensity is all it will detect,

mapping in light, for better or for worse,

whatever has been written of in verse.


The dreariness of eighteenth-century odes

will not disqualify a crag, a park,

a country residence; nor will the rant

of satirists leave London in the dark.

All will shine forth. But limits there must be:

borders will not be crossed, nor will the sea.


Let Scotland, Wales and Ireland chart themselves,

as they'd prefer. For us, there's just one doubt:

that medieval England may be dimmed

by age, and all that's earlier blotted out.

X-rays might help. But surely ardent rhyme

will, as it's always claimed, outshine mere time?


By its own power the influence will rise

from sites and settlements deep underground

of those who sang about them while they stood.

Pale phosphorescent glimmers will be found

of epics chanted to pre-Roman tunes

and poems in, instead of about, runes.


In this magical poem, Fleur Adcock imagines the landscape illuminated by poetry - the very mission of Poetry Atlas. What the poet imagined here, is now possible thanks to today's technology.