*** DEBUG END ***

Collected Poems by Rowan Williams

26 November 2021

Rachel Mann responds to a poetry collection

FAMOUSLY, Robert Graves claimed that poetry was a kind of “stored magic”. Rowan Williams’s Collected Poems — which unites his two Carcanet collections with Headwaters (2008), as well as his translations and a handsome sheaf of new poems — reveals a poet attentive to language’s precise and disconcerting magic.

These poems model the rich creative attentiveness shown by the best kind of reader and interpreter — a reader of visual art as well as of human beings, even those whom one might mark down as “counterfoils”. Of one such counterfoil, Nietzsche, he writes, “his breath, at the end, the sound Of footsteps on broken glass”.

This kindness becomes deep pathos and solidarity when he writes of friends (his poem for Gillian Rose, “Winterreise”, is a quiet triumph). In Williams’s hands, a poem — whether in response to a visit to a refugee camp, or a meeting with children from Nagasaki — becomes a way to treat tenderly with the incommensurate or dreadful. His sequence written for the 60th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, “The Shortest Day”, is heartbreakingly restrained: “Nobody knows that this Is the shortest day. Midwinter.”

His writing is not unrelentingly sombre. Recent poems note the almost absurdist strain placed on life under the pandemic’s restrictions. In a section of his Easter 2020 poem “Noli me tangere”, he writes: “I could have said, Don’t touch Me; never mind the doctrine Mandating your distance.”

By his own account, Williams would wish to be “a poet for whom religious things mattered intensely”. This handsome, electrically charged collection confirms the truth of his aspiration.

Canon Rachel Mann is Area Dean of Bury and Rossendale, Assistant Curate of St Mary’s, Bury, and a Visiting Fellow of Manchester Met University.


Collected Poems
Rowan Williams
Carcanet £15.99
Church Times Bookshop £14.39

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)