John Burnside

Quotes
Quote Topics Cited
A forest - the word dates back to the Norman occupancy, when it meant an area set aside for England's violent new masters to hunt boar and deer - is necessarily larger than a wood. It belonged to the king and was a fit place for his recreation.
A mad person isn't someone who sees what isn't there; he's someone who sees what is there but that others can't see. I really believe that.
A man was defined, in my father's circles, by what he could bear, the pain he could shrug off, the warmth or comfort he could deny himself.
A modern arboretum brings us that ancient forest and, with it, a changed apprehension of time, a renewed appreciation of the elegance of natural form and a renewed sense of wonder at the variety of the world we inhabit. Time
All my life, I have been a celebrant of Halloween. For me, it is the most important day of the year, the turning point in the old pagan calendar. Life
Andoya is in a different world, set at the northern edge of Europe in what seems to be a time and weather of its own. Time
Anyone who has ever stopped to watch a hawk in flight will know that this is one of the natural world's most elegant phenomena.
As a child, I read a great many books in which animals and birds played significant roles, not only in the narrative itself, but also in creating the emotional and psychological atmosphere of that narrative - the imaginative furniture, as it were, in which any story unfolds.
As a child, I was always intrigued by the question: what is it that distinguishes a city from a town? Is it size? Population? Location? When I asked grown-ups, the confident answer was that a city has to have a cathedral - which, to a child raised in a devout Catholic setting, made sense.
As a child, I was consumed with a near-obsessive curiosity about what the world felt like for other creatures.
As attractive as it is, the idea that nature can exist beyond our dangerous 'instinct for happiness' is never the whole story. Nature ;Happiness & Unhappiness
Clearly, any well-kept garden will be a source of pleasure in the summer months; in the bleak urban midwinter, however, there are few activities more likely to energise the spirit than a botanical walk.
Every time I write a book, I think how I could be doing it better to please people - a nicer book with nicer characters - but I just can't. Time
For 10 years, I gave away my possessions every year and moved on to a new place.
For a bird, especially for the more musically inventive, song is the defining characteristic, the primary way by which it knows itself and is known by others. To lose its species song is to lose not just its identity but some part of its presence in the world.
For a boy of ten, used to the coal bings and rust-coloured burns of Cowdenbeath, the fields and woodland of Kingswood, with its overgrown but stately avenue of copper-barked sequoias, felt like a local version of paradise.
For the Yupik, all life was continuous, animal with human with 'spirit', and recognising that continuum allowed them to undergo transformations that we, locked into our own disappointingly Cartesian skins, find impossible even to imagine. Life
Given the right information to help them decide, people will opt for conditions that benefit our creaturely neighbours, even where they have no particular interest in larks or cuckoo wasps - because those conditions benefit us.
Growing up, I learnt to think, 'Let's make it a big night tonight, as you never know what's going to happen next.' So now I have enough, I take too much; when I get the chance to have a fine dinner, I will. And it's had an effect on my health. Health, Healthcare & Medicine
Growing up, I lived in a house without art: no picture books on the shelves, no visits to museums, no posters on the bedroom wall. Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
High Alpine meadows, like their near relatives prairie, desert and certain varieties of wetland, teach us to consider the world from a fresh perspective, to open our eyes and take account of what we have missed, reminding us that, in spite of our emphasis on the visual in everyday speech, we see so very little of the world.
Hunted for sport by the rich, then driven from large tracts of its natural habitat by agricultural and housing development, the giant panda deserves better than to be scrubbed from conservation's ledger books through false accounting. Sports & Athletics
I always wanted to be a painter. I loved painting. I went on three different art courses but had no talent whatsoever. Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
I don't like the term 'mental illness.' I'd rather just say 'mad.' Just like I always say 'loony bin,' not 'mental hospital.'
I don't want to suggest that matrimony was necessarily a tragic affair - some of our neighbours' marriages seemed quite functional, if somewhat routine; nevertheless, in the workaday world, it is wedlock that is most likely to offer the occasion for life-threatening disappointment.
I have never understood why so many gardeners favour straight lines and narrow, regulated borders; perhaps they think wildness could work only in a larger space. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
I know that the only reason American landscapes sometimes disappoint me is that, just a century before I was born, the great rivers and prairies and wild forests still existed. And they were sublime.
I love long sentences. My big heroes of fiction writing are Henry James and Proust - people who recognise that life doesn't consist of declarative statements, but rather modifications, qualifications and feelings. Life ;Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
I moved south when I was 11 years old, moved to England. I've lived in all kinds of places, all parts of England.
I realised I'd spent a lot of time in my poetry trying to find a way of talking about that whereof we cannot speak. Time ;Literature, Writers & Writing
I really like to try my hand at everything, and I think it's probably dangerous to let oneself be pigeon-holed, not necessarily by other people, but in one's own mind.
I remember a nightfall from childhood, far from home and off the known track: I'd been walking with some older boys, but they ran off and left me, and as darkness hurried in, I suddenly realised how far from home I was.
I remember how, back in the 1980s, the Scottish Flow Country became an object of bemused controversy as rich celebrities and businessmen from south of the border acquired great tracts of this vast wetland in the far north in order to plant non-native conifer plantations that attract hefty tax breaks.
I remember playing the Mad Hatter in a school play and feeling very comfortable in the character.
I remember when I first encountered anthropocentrism. I was in primary school and, in preparation for our confirmation, the class was learning about the afterlife. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
I think humans have to learn a new way of dwelling on this earth. A way of living with their companions: animals, plants and fish.
I went for a walk in the Arctic Circle without map or compass. Fortunately, I was only lost for hours, not days.
If I tell you a story, you can choose to believe me, or you can question it.
If nature offers no home, then we must make a home one way or another. The only question is how. Nature
I'm an insomniac, so my perfect reader is probably another insomniac.
I'm interested in the way language is used to navigate the world around us.
In many traditions, hawks are sacred: Apollo's messengers for the Greeks, sun symbols for the ancient Egyptians and, in the case of the Lakota Sioux, embodiments of clear vision, speed and single-minded dedication.
In time, we will have to recognise that it is not 'nature' that we need to protect, but ourselves, and we can only do this by abandoning the old, grandiose, profit-seeking schemes so beloved of our masters and learning to till the soil, live to scale, and live within our means. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training ;Time ;Nature
Irrationality interests me more than anything: sometimes it's very dangerous, but it can be incredibly beautiful.
It is common knowledge now that we depend on insects for our continued existence; that, without key pollinators, the human population would collapse in less than a decade. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
It may be a cliche, but cliche or not, I fear the day when the only marsh harriers or peregrines I can look at are in paintings by Joseph Wolf or Bruno Liljefors - and no matter how beautiful those works may be, life is the great thing: life, life, life. Life
It takes a true encounter to realise that real animals, wild animals, have all but passed from our lives.
It's important to have quiet time and isolation. Time
Many of the birds Audubon painted are now extinct, and still we go on killing them, more or less casually, with our pesticides and wires and machinery.
'Moby-Dick' really threw me. I read it when I was 14 and my best friends were books. It changed the way I looked at the world.
My editor, Robin Robertson, is one of this country's finest poets, so I listen to him when he offers advice.
My father was this big, tough guy, almost heroic in proportion to me as a child. It was only later that I saw how fearful he was.
My first book was a car crash. I tried to find all the copies and destroy them.
My poems tend to be more celebratory and lyrical, and the novels so far pretty dark. Poetry doesn't seem to me to be an appropriate tool for exploring that. Literature, Writers & Writing
My second, third and fourth novels were mistakes, essentially.
Once upon a time, forests were repositories of magic for the human race. Time
One day I was talking about what I was going to do next, and just found myself announcing it: 'I'm going to write a book about my father.'
One of the most beautiful objects I have ever seen was a Yupik wolf mask, made in Nunivak in around 1890.
Our ancestors went to the woods to find fuel; they set snares there for birds and gathered nuts and fungi.
People will occasionally ask me if I understand what it's like to be lonely. And the truth is I don't, because for me, solitariness is a blessing, a gift. Me, I get on fine with myself. Truth
Poetry stands or falls by its music. Music, Chants & Rapps ;Literature, Writers & Writing
Sadly, bird illustration has always been an under-appreciated art. Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
Snow isn't just pretty. It also cleanses our world and our senses, not just of the soot and grime of a Fife mining town but also of a kind of weary familiarity, a taken-for-granted quality to which our eyes are all too susceptible.
Sometimes, though only in my most unguarded moments, I can still think of Annette Winters as my first love. At fifteen, she was tall, slender, very dark: an intelligent, sly girl possessed of what I think of now, though I didn't think of then, as a kind of debatable beauty. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
Sometimes, when the wind hits hard and icicles form on the sea cliffs, we can all come together - and at those times, we are at our best.
Thatcherite economic policy was most acutely felt in the coal industry, where tens of thousands of jobs were lost as pits were shut down.
The animal encounter poem is now so distinct a genre that it would be possible to create a full-length anthology from deer encounter poems alone, and many varieties of experience would emerge from such an exercise.
'The Asylum Dance' was written after I'd moved back to Scotland and was a response to moving to my old home area of Fife.
The Botanischer Garten in Berlin has one of Europe's finer winter trails, leading in careful order from glasshouses devoted to African-American and Australian desert species, through a fine collection of tropical plants, and on to the orchid house.
The conventional, and painfully artificial, separation of the human realm from the natural other is bound to perish, albeit over a period of time, until we are obliged to learn how to cultivate our gardens under the most demanding conditions. Time
The fabric of a garden is determined as much by its textures as by its tonal range and architectural flair.
'The Gardener' is more than a marvellous collection of images by a master photographer.
The great pleasure that comes from reading poets such as Mark Doty and Marianne Moore is the realisation that the essential virtues - compassion, wonder, humility, respect for the mysterious - are far from conventionally heroic. Respect
The older I get, the happier my childhood becomes.
The only pleasure in redecorating or moving house comes from stumbling across books that I'd almost forgotten I owned.
The poem builds in my mind and sits there, as if in a register, until the poem, or a piece of a longer poem, is finished enough to write down. I can hold several lines in my head for quite some time, but as soon as they are written down, the register clears, as it were, and I have to work with what is on the paper. Time ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
The son of a Fife mining town sledder of coal-bings, bottle-forager, and picture-house troglodyte, I was decidedly urban and knew little about native fauna, other than the handful of birds I saw on trips to the beach or Sunday walks.
The way I mainly use the Internet is keeping in touch with poets that live far away. My main interest is contemporary American poets and some Spanish language poets, and I keep in touch with their work through either their websites or email. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
The woods were a boon; all too often, the forest offered danger and mystery. Yet it could be liberating. If you entered that wild place on its own terms, you might be accorded wisdom.
There is a red sandy beach in the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia that is unlike any other shore landscape I have ever seen. The world's highest tides wash its shores, and the soft cliffs of Blomidon Provincial Park are constantly crumbling away; whole trees will occasionally slide down to the sea to decay slowly in the wind and brine.
This is a truth that should be repeated like a mantra: to have any chance of a ful - filling life, we require not only clean air and a steady climate, but also an abundance of meadows and woodlands, rivers and oceans, teeming with life and the mass existence of other living creatures. Truth ;Life
Usually, I would mistrust a book if it took that long to write. Usually, if it isn't done in two years, I suspect there's something wrong and throw it away.
We do not need to be heroes to save the world; all we need is humility, a critical view of the commercial and political interests of those who would mislead us into wrongdoing, and a sense of wonder.
What is essential - the one thing that could stop us being coarsened to other lives - is that we feel a great, living wave of animal life all around us, covering the earth. Life
What makes me write is the rhythm of the world around me - the rhythms of the language, of course, but also of the land, the wind, the sky, other lives. Before the words comes the rhythm - that seems to me to be of the essence.
What the flamingo teaches a child, at that subliminal level where animal encounters work, is that gravity is not just a limitation, but also a possible partner in an intriguing, potentially joyful game. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
What we should be doing is saving habitats, not single species, no matter what their cuteness factor.
When I was ten years old, my family left a cold, damp prefab in West Fife and moved to Corby, Northamptonshire, where my father quickly found work at what was then the Stewarts & Lloyds steelworks. Families, Children & Parenting ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
When you have a child, you think about your personal history and what you offer them as a larger narrative, and I realised I knew nothing about my father's circumstances other than what he'd told me. History
With all the goodwill and local initiative in the world, we are not about to rewild anything until we change our way of thinking about our place in the creaturely world.
With each passing decade, history becomes less real for us, less immediate and essential to our way of life, and so, like 'green' nature, more of a commodity or an advertising gimmick. Life ;Nature ;History
With fiction, I tend to get to my desk and start writing. Poetry I write in my head, often while walking, so that my poems have an organic quality, hopefully. Literature, Writers & Writing
With human beings it could be argued that all music-making is, in essence, grounded in improvisation.
Worldwide, enormous areas of peatland are still being lost to agricultural development, drainage schemes, overgrazing, and exploitation-based infrastructure development projects such as roads, electricity pylons, telephone masts and gas pipelines.
You can't sit down and decide what you want to write about.