Dear Reader,

The book you are holding came about in a rather different way to most others. It was funded directly by readers through a new website: Unbound. Unbound is the creation of three writers. We started the company because we believed there had to be a better deal for both writers and readers. On the Unbound website, authors share the ideas for the books they want to write directly with readers. If enough of you support the book by pledging for it in advance, we produce a beautifully bound special subscribers’ edition and distribute a regular edition and e-book wherever books are sold, in shops and online.

This new way of publishing is actually a very old idea (Samuel Johnson funded his dictionary this way). We’re just using the internet to build each writer a network of patrons. At the back of this book, you’ll find the names of all the people who made it happen.

Publishing in this way means readers are no longer just passive consumers of the books they buy, and authors are free to write the books they really want. They get a much fairer return too – half the profits their books generate, rather than a tiny percentage of the cover price.

If you’re not yet a subscriber, we hope that you’ll want to join our publishing revolution and have your name listed in one of our books in the future. To get you started, here is a £5 discount on your first pledge. Just visit, make your pledge and type SHEPHERD5 in the promo code box when you check out.

Thank you for your support,


Dan, Justin and John

Founders, Unbound




The Genius of Shakespeare

The Cure for Love

The Song of the Earth

John Clare: A Biography

Soul of the Age

English Literature: A Very Short Introduction

Being Shakespeare: A One-Man Play for Simon Callow

Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life

For Ian Huish



Slow Reading


The Swans on Our Lake

The Man Who Had Not Written a Poem for Years

The Quad from Our Window


Tang Variations

Arboreal Cousin



Andelle Valley

Easter Snow on Dartmoor



Spirit of Place

The Shepherd’s Hut



Laforgue’s Image

Three Kisses from the Greek Anthology

Titania and the Neuroscientist

Found in France


The Rose Cure

After Victor Hugo



For a Funeral


Letter to Diana

Five Stages

Moments of Exequy

The Memory Bank

Lochbroom Elegy


The First Modern Man


She Gave Him Eyes

A Broken Sonnet for John Clare

The Thought-Crow

The Elocutionary Disappearance of Stéphane Mallarmé

His Master’s Voice


Advice to a Young Man



About the Author

About the Illustrator


Special Thanks



Slow Reading

Take time for each word,

Give room to white space,

Listen for the beat,

Tune to the weather,

Rekindle memory,

Life-scape and heart-leap.

Know that poetry

is not of the world:

It is in the worth

of the words to you,

Patient reader, open

to the spirit of slow.


All royalties from this book will be donated to the work of ReLit, a foundation devoted to slow reading as a form of stress relief.



The Swans on Our Lake

The diet of swans is mainly vegetarian:

pondweed, stonewort and widgeon grass,

sea arrow, salt marsh and eelgrass,

club-rush, milfoil and green algae.

But they occasionally indulge

in tadpole and mollusc.

Sometimes you see one fold its leg upon its back

to adjust body temperature,

rather as an elephant’s ear

absorbs the heat of the sun.

They sleep standing on one leg

or afloat with head tucked under wing.

The ungentlemanly behaviour depicted in the story of Leda

is uncharacteristic:

they mate for life and know the meaning of grief.

Some bereaved swans stay alone for the rest of their lives

while others take flight and rejoin their flock.

The other myth is true:

when they lie dying

they breathe their only song,

a long, low honk as air vacates their lungs.

They are said to be loyal servants of the queen.


The Man Who Had Not Written a Poem for Years

As the sand trickled through his fingers

The boy looked at the sea.

Spume flecks near, tanker hulks far.

The race was on.

All the sails working with the wind:

White, striped and zig-zag.

His heart racing, he ran along the sand.

As the sand trickled through the glass

The man looked at the lake.

Weir rustle near, bending tree far.

The words were flowing.

All his mind was working with the muse:

Poem, prose and letter.

His heart leaping, he was the boy again.


The Quad from Our Window

Forward and back

following string and peg

he mows the ancient quad