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damsons in poetry and prose

This section appears in the Guide to Damsons. Updated here 18th July 2012.

From Shakespeare to Seamus Heaney, damsons have inspired.....

In his poem Damson (published in The Spirit Level, 1996) Seamus Heaney writes:

The smell of damsons simmering in a pot
Jam ladled thick and steaming down the sunlight


In Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, lines 24 and 25:

Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try


Sheila Glen Bishop’s poem Susan Making Damson Jam was published in 1992 in her book Snailshells or Butterflies. It appeared as The Daily Poem in The Independent on 13 June 1994 but is not on The Independent’s website.


See the poem Damson Fair by Pam Wells, which is about Market Drayton’s Damson Fair.



Katherine Mansfield wrote :


“The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody's fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.”



Old Damson Face is the 6th poem in the book Old Damson Face – poems 1934-1974 (1975) by English poet Bernard Gutteridge (1916-1985).


Gina Wilson’s poem To My Neighbour’s Husband is all about damsons:

Your gift of damsons took me by surprise.
I kept them heaped in a bowl for a day or two
and was drawn, time and again, to my kitchen’s edge
by the pull of their darkness, veiled in bloom.

See the full text of this poem on the Poetry Magazines website.


Edward Thomas 1878 -1917

Up In The Wind, contains:

To taste whatever luxury he can
In having North Downs clear behind, South clear before,
And being midway between two railway lines,
Far out of sight or sound of them? There are
Some houses - down the by-lanes; and a few
Are visible - when their damsons are in bloom.

Old Man,1914, includes the lines:

And I can only wonder how much hereafter
She will remember, with that bitter scent,
Of garden rows, and ancient damson-trees

In November 1915, Edward Thomas was posted to Hare Hall Camp, near Romford in Essex, where he served as a map-reading instructor for officers.  During that month, he wrote three poems, including There's Nothing Like the Sun, which includes:


The south wall warms me:  November has begun,
Yet never shone the sun as fair as now
While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough
With spangles of the morning's storm drop down
Because the starling shakes it, whistling what
Once swallows sang.  



This selection of four below - poets’ names in plum colour - can be found at http://www.inspirationalstories.com/poems/t/about-damsons/


William Henry Davies

Welsh poet 1871 – 1940

Rich Days

With mellow pears that cheat our teeth,
Which melt that tongues may suck them in;
With blue-black damsons, yellow plums,
Now sweet and soft from stone to skin;
And woodnuts rich, to make us go
Into the loneliest lanes we know.


Henry Baker

English author 1734 -1766

Love’s Progress, 4th para

Cream, Butter, Cheese, and such like Fare,
The luscious Grape, and juicy Pear,
And purple Mulberry was there;
With Damsons glossy from the Tree,
And Honey from the Virgin Bee.


Robert Graves

English poet 1895-1985

The General Elliott, para 4 

Raised high above the hayseed world
He smokes his painted pipe,
And now surveys the orchard ways,
The damsons clustering ripe.


William Henry Davies

Welsh poet 1871-1940

The Bird of Paradise, para 5


"I asked her would she like some grapes,
Som damsons ripe and sweet;
A custard made with new-laid eggs,
Or tender fowl to eat.


In Shakespeare’s Henry VI part 2, Simpcox to Gloucester, explaining how he fell out of a tree and became lame:

Alas, good master, my wife desired some damsons
And made me climb, with danger of my life



Chaucer described a garden with ‘ploumes and bulaces’ in 1369, and in The Romaunt of the Rose wrote:


Cherys, of which many oon fayre is,
Notes, alleys, and bolas,
That for to seen it was solas.

[where bolas means bullace]



In Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood :


The jams, as being of a less masculine temperament, and as wearing curlpapers, announced themselves in feminine caligraphy, like a soft whisper, to be Raspberry, Gooseberry, Apricot, Plum, Damson, Apple, and Peach.



In The Mill on the Floss George Eliot wrote:


It struck him as a pitiable irregularity in other women if they did not roll up their table-napkins with the same tightness and emphasis as Mrs. Glegg did, if their pastry had a less leathery consistence, and their damson cheese a less venerable hardness than hers; nay, even the peculiar combination of grocery and druglike odors in Mrs. Glegg's private cupboard impressed him as the only right thing in the way of cupboard smells.


In Adam Bede, the same author wrote:


Michaelmas was come, with its fragrant basketfuls of purple damsons, and its paler purple daisies, and its lads and lasses leaving or seeking service and winding along between the yellow hedges, with their bundles under their arms.


And in Brother Jacob, she wrote:


And all the while Penny was imagining the circumstances under which Mr Freely would make her an offer: perhaps down by the row of damson-trees, when they were in the garden before tea; perhaps by letter - in which case, how would the letter begin?



In The House of Seven Gables, his gothic novel of 1851, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote:


The white double rose-bush had evidently been propped up anew against the house since the commencement of the season; and a pear-tree and three damson-trees, which, except a row of currant-bushes, constituted the only varieties of fruit, bore marks of the recent amputation of several superfluous or defective limbs.



Sir Francis Bacon wrote, in 1625, in The Essays, Of Gardens:


In April follow the double white violet; the wallflower; the stock-gilliflower; the cowslip; flowerdelices, and lilies of all natures; rosemary-flowers; the tulippa; the double peony; the pale daffodil; the French honeysuckle; the cherry-tree in blossom; the damson and plum-trees in blossom; the white thorn in leaf; the lilac-tree.


In her novel Shirley (1849), Ch 33 Martin's tactics, Charlotte Bronte wrote:

There was pastry upon a dish; he selected an apricot puff and a damson tart.

In his poem The Ladybird John Clare (1793 - 1864) wrote

Just now up in the bowl o' the damson tree you passed the gold
lichen and got to the grey
Ladybird ladybird where can you be You climb up the tulips
and then fly away
You crept up the flowers while I plucked them just now
And crept to the top and then flew from the flowers
O sleep not so high as the damson tree bough
but come from the dew i' the eldern tree bowers

In Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders, Suke Damson is a hoydenish (wild & boisterous) buxom village maiden - her name is 'unusually loaded even for Hardy : the juicy plum is ripe for Fitzpier's plucking' [Landscape and Gender in the Novels of Bronte, Eliot and Hardy, by Eithne Henson].

In Drinking with Dickens (1988) Cedric Dickens - great great grandson of Charles - includes recipes of drinks mentioned in all of Dickens' books, including Damson Gin. You can see the Dickens Damson Gin recipe on the
Allotment website.

Mary Webb (1881 – 1927), romantic novelist and poet, set much of her work in the Shropshire countryside she knew so well – a true damson county.


In the poem The Plain in Autumn:


A solemn land of long-fulfilled desires
Is this, and year by year the self-same fires
Burn in the trees. The untarnished colours keep
The sweetness of the young earth's infant sleep:
Beyond the plain, beneath the evening star,
The burnished hills like stately peacocks are.
Great storms march out. The flocks across the grass
Make their low plaint while the swift shadows pass:
Memoried deep in Hybla, the wild bee
Sings in the purple-fruited damson tree:
And, darkly sweet as Ruth, the dairy-maid
By the lean, laughing shepherd is waylaid.


In the last verse of the poem The Watcher:

And some in every orchard-close,
Who pruned the cherry and the rose,
And waited for the damson sweet,
And plodded through the brittle wheat.

In her 1924 novel Precious Bane:

So there it was with the other things and six pots of damson cheese, and Pussy in a basket.


Tell me summat fresh, girl -- new, strange things. Now if you could say that the leaves be all fallen this day of June, and my damsons ripe for market; or that the mere hath dried; or that man lusteth no more to hurt his love; or that Jancis looketh no more at her own face in Plash Pool, there would be telling, yes!


In 1954 HE Bates wrote, in his short story Love in a Wych Elm:

In summer damsons and pears fell into the deep grass and no one picked them up. A sense of honeyed rotting quietness spread under the lurching trees, and was compressed and shut in by a high boundary line of old, tapering wych-elms.



Welsh poet Owen Sheers

My Grandfathers Garden, published in his collection The Blue Book in 2000, contains:

Where I crouched on the shed’s corrugate roof,
touching ripe damsons, which fell into the lap
of my stretched T-shirt.

Where, entering the hollow socket of the shed,
I hear damsons tap the roof,
telling me there is no one to catch them.

In Enid Byton's Five Fall Into Adventure (1950), the ragamuffin girl beats Dick in a game of spitting damson stones:

‘What do you mean, throwing those stones at us?’ demanded George.

‘I wasn’t throwing them,’ said the girl.

‘Don’t tell lies,’ said George scornfully. ‘You know you were.’

‘l wasn’t. I was just spitting them,’ said the awful girl. ‘Watch!’ She slipped a stone into her mouth, took a deep breath and then spat out the stone. It flew straight at George and hit her sharply and squarely on the nose. George looked so extremely surprised that Dick and Julian roared with laughter.

‘Bet I can spit stones farther than any of you,’ said the ragamuffin. ‘Have some of my damsons and see.’

‘Right!’ said Dick promptly. ‘If you win I’ll buy you an ice-cream. If I do, you can clear off from here and not bother us any more. See?’

‘Yes,’ said the girl, and her eyes gleamed and danced. ‘But I shall win!’

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