The Chosen Fruit

apples – a world of poetic choice

Bloody Ploughman, Poor Man’s Profit, Lorna Doone, Peasgood’s Nonsuch, Hoary Morning, Duck’s Bill, Clearheart, Lemon Queen, King of the Pippins, Calville Blanc D’hiver, Bess Pool, Peggy’s Pride, Rhode Island Greening, Royal Snow, Sunburn, Telstar, Winter Gem

There is a wealth of poetry in the form of an apple. Apple names evocatively hold each fruit in a poetry of its own making. Their names point to genealogy and descriptively hint at their discovery, flavour, appearance or locale. Some have complex stories behind them – ‘Bloody Ploughman (1883) is blood red (inside and out), heavily ribbed and reputedly takes its name from its Scottish roots and a ploughman who was caught stealing estate apples and then shot by a game-keeper. His wife threw out the bag of apples he stole which then seeded to form this variety. Hoary Morning is a Somerset variety (1819) – large with bold red stripes over greenish yellow with a deep bloom like hoarfrost.

In literature the apple is often a microcosm of our own existence – often mapping the seasons, the taste of youth, the ripening of age. Apples have been there to comfort in The Song of Solomon and to guide in W B Yeats’ ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus. Tennyson’s imagined Avalon is ‘deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns’ while John Philips’ georgic poem ‘Cyder (1708) though drawing on classical mythic themes has many factual local allusions to Herefordshire and its strong apple growing and cider-making history.

In conjunction with this year’s National Poetry Day theme of ‘Choice’ – Apples & People is marking and celebrating the apple’s diversity by releasing two poetic interpretations of the fruit – a collaboration between artist and poet Alec Finlay and author and forager Tamara Colchester and an archive recording of author Laurie Lee’s Apples‘.

Another Variety of Cultures (originally commissioned by Jupiter Artland, 2016) by Alec Finlay takes as its setting a Devon orchard in August 2021. Tamara Colchester reads and records Alec’s original poem at dawn having slept the night under the orchard’s canopy. The poem explores the full ‘rounded history’ of the apple and draws us into its culture, folklore and diversity – exploring the idea of an orchard being an ‘archive of locality’.

even in the glens and corries
there are scattered crab apples
planted by shepherds

Tamara’s reading takes us to the heart of the orchard, with apples falling about her and the newness of an early morning in both her voice and its environment. This collaboration with her friend Alec Finlay also references Tamara’s own current body of work ‘Sleeping with Trees’.

Tamara Colchester reads ‘Another Variety of Cultures’ by Alec Finlay

The original art work ‘A Variety of Cultures’ began in 2016 as a newly planted orchard of fifty-five trees, each a different UK variety. Each tree has a ladder which originally marked the sapling, now an invitation into the trees to observe the fruit and growth which will continually change.

‘That’s part of it’ Alec has said, ‘the work extends in time. Also, it’s about the coming together of all varieties and all cultures.  And they have wonderfully evocative names. Surprisingly perhaps, given our climate, Scotland alone boasts 16 apple varieties, among them the Lass O’Gowrie, the White Paradise and the Bloody Ploughman. There is a poetry here, etched on the little metal labels tied to the trees’.

Laurie Lee’s poem ‘Apples’ (1985) holds both the micro and the macro at its core – the ‘apples’ rounded worlds’ and the ‘polestar’ of the flower alongside the details of the apple’s habitat where the fruit falls and the ‘bent worm enters in’. Lee is also known for his novel ‘Cider with Rosie’ (1959), a memoir and coming of age novel which recounts his childhood memories of growing up in Slad, Gloucestershire. The chapter ‘First Bite of the Apple’ recounts the first pangs of love whilst drinking cider in a hay wagon with Rosie Burdock, symbolically echoing Adam and Eve’s loss of innocence and the fall.

Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie’s burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again…

Laurie Lee reading ‘Apples’

Recording used by permission of the BBC


Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers,
the rind mapped with its crimson stain.

The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.

They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.

In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.

I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole.

Laurie Lee

Reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Ltd London on behalf of the Estate of Laurie Lee. Copyright  © The Estate of Laurie Lee 1985