Seamus Heaney 1939-2013

Seamus Heaney was a great fan of our programme and a dear friend.  He died ten years ago, in August 2013.

‘The Railway Children’ was one of the first poems we displayed on tube cars almost 40 years ago, in January 1986.

The Railway Children, Seamus Heaney ' When we climbed the slopes of the cutting We were eye-level with the white cups Of the telegraph poles and the sizzling wires.' '

Listen to Seamus Heaney reading ‘The Railway Children’ in a recording from The Poetry Archive

Celebrating Pride

Hour by Carol Ann Duffy

Hour, Carol Ann Duffy ‘Love’s time’s beggar, but even a single hour, bright as a dropped coin, makes love rich. We find an hour together, spend it not on flowers or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch.’

Celebrating Windrush 75

A Dream of Leavin by James Berry

A dream of leavin, James Berry ' Man, so used to notn, this is a dream I couldn't dream of dreamin so - I scare I might wake up. One day I would be Englan bound! A travel would have me on sea not chained down below, every tick of clock, but free, man! Free like tourist! Never see me coulda touch world of Englan - when from all accounts I hear that is where all we prosperity end up. I was always in a dream of leavin. My half-finished house was on land where work-laden ancestors' bones lay. The old plantation land still stretch-out down to the sea, giving grazing to cattle.'

This summer Poems on the Underground marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush in Britain, bringing men, women and children from the Caribbean to help rebuild a war-ravaged country.

British poetry has gained immeasurably from the contribution of Caribbean and Black British voices of the most eloquent, wide-ranging and diverse kinds, reaching the widest possible audience. We are happy to join the Windrush 75 network in celebrating our common humanity.

From June 19th through July, London Underground and Overground cars will feature poets with close Caribbean and British links

Look out for our new set of Summer poems on London Underground and Overground trains from June 19th.

You can see our new poems for Summer 2023 here

James Berry, ‘Sea-Song One’ from Windrush Songs, in The Story I Am In: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2011)

John Agard‘Windrush Child’ (for Vince Reid, the youngest passenger on the Windrush, then aged 13), from Alternative Anthem (Bloodaxe Books 2009)  

Benjamin ZephaniahThe London Breed from Too Black, Too Strong (Bloodaxe Books  2001)

Louise Bennett, Colonization in Reverse’ from Jamaica Labrish (1966) 

Kei Miller, ‘The only thing far away’ from There Is an Anger that Moves (Carcanet 2007)

Grace NicholsBourda’ from Passport to Here and There (Bloodaxe Books 2020)

Poems on the Underground Celebrates World Poetry Day

A huge thank you to the poets who have recorded poems for Poems on the Underground to celebrate World Poetry Day.

You can hear all the recordings here World Poetry Day Recordings

Paula Meehan, Irish poet and playwright, reads her poem ‘Seed’, perfect for this time of year

Seed by Paula Meehan 'The first warm day of spring and I step out into the garden from the gloom of a house where hope had died to tally the storm damage, to seek what may have survived. And finding some forgotten lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn holding in their fingers a raindrop each like a peace offering, or a promise, I am suddenly grateful and would offer a prayer if I believed in God. But not believing, I bless the power of seed, its casual, useful persistence, and bless the power of sun, its conspiracy with the underground, and thank my stars the winter’s ended.'

Seed read by Paula Meehan

Truth by Geoffrey Chaucer ' Flee from the press and dwell with truthfulness; Let what you have suffice though it be small. For greed brings hate and climbing trickiness; Fame means envy and wiles blind us all. Enjoy no more than what is right for thee. Rule yourself well if you would others rule, And sure it is that truth shall set you free. Fle fro the prees, & dwelle with sothefastnesse. Suffyce thin owen thing though it be smal. For horde hath hate & clymbyng tykelnesse – Press hath envye & wile blent overal. Savour no more thanne thee bihove schal. Reule wel thyselfe that other folk canst rede, And trouthe shal delyvere it is no drede. British Library MS 10340 by permission of The British Library Board

Poetry offers hope and a voice to speak in difficult times.

I Sing of Change by Niyi Osundare

I Sing of Change Niyi Osundare I sing of the beauty of Athens without its slaves Of a world free of kings and queens and other remnants of an arbitrary past

You took away all the oceans and all the room by Osip Mandelstam

You took away all the oceans and all the room, Osip Mandelstam ' You took away all the oceans and all the room. You gave me my shoe-size in earth with bars around it.'

’25 February 1944′ by the poet Primo Levi  translated by Eleonora Chiavetta

25 February 1944 Primo Levi tr. Eleonora Chiavetta ' I wish I could believe in something beyond, Beyond the death that has undone you. I wish I could tell of the strength With which we longed then, Already drowned, To walk together once again Free under the sun.'
dreamer, Jean Binta Breeze 'roun a rocky corner by de sea seat up pon a drif wood yuh can fine she gazin cross de water a stick eena her han tryin to trace a future in de san'

Jean Binta Breeze RIP

A Picture for Tiantian’s fifth birthday by Bei Dao translated by Bonnie S. McDougal and Chen Maiping

A Picture for Tiantian's fifth birthday by Bei Dao (b. 1949)Translated by Bonnie S. McDougall and Chen Maiping 'A Picture for Tiantian's fifth birthday Morning arrives in a sleeveless dress apples tumble all over the earth my daughter is drawing a picture how vast is a five-year-old sky your name has two windows one opens towards a sun with no clock-hands the other opens towards your father who has become a hedgehog in exile taking with him a few unintelligible characters and a bright red apple he has left your painting how vast is a five-year-old sky' Tiantian, the nickname given to the poet's daughter, is written with two characters which look like a pair of windows. Written in exile after Tienanmen Square Reprinted from Old Snow (Anvil, 1992)

Poems on the Underground has been offering poetry to London’s tube travellers for thirty five years. You can read some of our favourite poems here, displayed in their original posters. We shall be regularly adding more poems from our collection, verses new and old, familiar and unfamiliar, serious and comic. We hope you will enjoy poems which have entertained millions of London commuters, inspiring similar programmes across the world.

You can see our new poems for Summer 2023 here

You can see our New Poems for Spring 2023 here

New Poems on the Underground February 2023

As we mark the 160th anniversary of London Underground, a new set of Poems on the Underground went live on London Underground and Overground cars on Monday 27 February 2023, for four weeks.

Londoners were greeted by a favourite Shakespearean heroine, Perdita, as she welcomes the flowers of spring: ‘Daffodils, that come before the swallow dares, and take the winds of March with beauty’ – from The Winter’s Tale.

Chaucer appeared alongside Shakespeare in his ballad Truth (‘Flee from the press and dwell with truthfulness’) – as relevant today as it was in the 14th century.

Four poets new to the tube were also featured, in poems of love, separation and exile:

            What I know of the sea by İlhan Sami Çomak , a Kurdish poet writing from a Turkish prison, where he has been held for 29 years. His poems are translated by Caroline Stockford. ‘What I know of love is so little!  Yet I’m constantly thinking of you!’

            Bond by Diana Anphimiadi, a Georgian poet of Greek ancestry, translated by Natalia Bukia-Peters and Jean Sprackland: ‘When I leave, your words follow – you are mine! You know I’ll always come back.’

            For My Wife, Reading in Bed by the Scottish poet John Glenday: ‘What else do we have but words and their absences / to bind and unfasten the knotwork of the heart?’

            [Clearance] by the Zambian-born British poet Kayo Chingonyi, a light-hearted take on dispossession: ‘What need have we for these ornaments, old textbooks, the wedding dress you never wore?’

Our New Poems for Autumn 2022 were on London Underground trains in November.

You can see our new set of poems for autumn 2022 here

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, 

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

We are delighted to offer tube travellers a new autumn set of poems  on the theme of our interconnectedness to the natural world, to our families and to the wider world

The poems circulated on London Underground and Overground trains for 4 weeks from November 7th.

To end our celebration of the bicentenary of Shelley’s death, we feature the first stanza of his greatest poem Ode to the West Wind.

Included too are Jackie Kay’s warm tribute to her parents as they set off for yet another anti-war protest  and poems by four poets new to our programme, Jo Clement, Romalyn Ante, Kerry Shawn Keys and Cyril Wong

You can see our new set of poems for Summer 2022 here

‘My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings:                                                                                 

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

We are delighted to offer tube travellers a new summer set of poems.

The poems circulated on London Underground and Overground trains for 4 weeks from July 18th.

Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias, inspired by the Egyptian ruins at the British Museum, marks the bicentenary of the poet’s death on July 8th, 1822, aged 29.

Our international theme continues with famous lines by the 17th century Dean of St Pauls, John Donne: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself…’

Also featured: ‘Caterpillar’ by Guillaume Apollinaire, in a new version by the British poet and translator Robert Chandler.

An extract from War of the Beasts and the Animals by the dissident Russian poet Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale.  

Ditches’ by the Irish poet Jessica Traynor.

Dei Miracole’ by the popular poet, playwright and broadcaster Lemn Sissay.

Our first set of poems in 2022 was circulating on Underground and Overground trains through February and March, with poems on love, music, and the coming of spring by Sasha Dugdale, Derek Walcott, Grace Nichols, Martin Bell and Raymond Antrobus.

We also introduced our year-long celebration of the bicentenary of the death of the Romantic poet P B Shelley with the last stanza of his Ode to the West Wind, with famous lines which resonate powerfully at this time: ‘O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’

You can see our new set of poems for Spring 2022 here

A new set of poems circled London Underground trains throughout November 2021. Poems by the Scottish makar Jackie Kay and the distinguished Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson celebrate the enduring value of our closest human relationships. And well-loved poems by Keats and Hopkins, alongside new poems by Laurel Prizewinners Seán Hewitt and Sean Borodale, remind us of the glory and fragility of the natural world.

You can see our Autumn 2021 set of Poems on the Underground here

Our recent set of poems by an international range of poets was on London Underground cars throughout the summer of 2021

You can see our Summer 2021 set of Poems on the Underground here

In 2021 we also marked the bicentenary of London’s much -loved poet, John Keats, with a special display of posters at Hampstead Station and London Bridge Station

You can see our Poems to Celebrate Keats here

Listen to our World Poetry Day Recordings

You can download a copy of our Black History Month Leaflet here

You can download a copy of our London Poems on the Underground leaflet here

You can download a copy of our World Poems Leaflet here

You can see our War Poems on the Underground leaflet here

You can see our February Poems on the Underground leaflet here