Thursday, February 18, 2016



by Fleur Adcock

Literally thin-skinned, I suppose, my face
catches the wind off the snow-line and flushes
with a flush that will never wholly settle. Well:
that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young for ever, to pass.

I was never a Pre-Raphaelite beauty,
nor anything but pretty enough to satisfy
men who need to be seen with passable women.
But now that I am in love with a place
which doesn’t care how I look, or if I’m happy,

happy is how I look, and that’s all.
My hair will turn grey in any case,
my nails chip and lake, my waist thicken,
and the years work all their usual changes.
If my face is to be weather-beaten as well

that’s little enough lost, a fair bargain
for a year among lakes and fells, when simply
to look out of my window at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors and to what
my soul may wear over its new complexion.

The contemporary New Zealand poet Fleur Adcock is renowned for her poems dwelling on themes of place, human relationships and everyday activities, but frequently with a dark twist given to the mundane events she writes about. Disarmingly conversational in style, they are remarkable for their psychological insight and their unsentimental, mischievously casual view of personal relationships.
The poem starts with the sudden onset of a blush on an otherwise aging face when a snowy cold wind caresses her face and the resultant momentary gush of youthfulness. The poet is aware that it is not going to sustain and her wish to preserve physical beauty is a futile exercise. The progressive, but inevitable, decline of her corporeal charm is an irreversible reality. The poet is so enamoured by the beauty of the places she visits that she is least concerned about her eroding physical beauty. She concludes that the enthralling view of nature from her window makes her indifferent to mirror as it is this enduring beauty outside that adds a new complexion to her soul.
Fleur Adcock teaches us something about true beauty and grace in this poem. Our vanity often conspires against our authenticity and blocks the Inner light in us. For the poet, it is the beauty of the place that awakens the Inner light and offers a remedy for her regressive charm. She thereby portrays an astonishing picture of a life that is possible, a life of wholeness, in which we can truly be what we are. The grace that Adcock unlocks is overwhelmingly appealing to the cosmetically driven man or woman exuding metropolitan vanity. Beauty around us has the power to flood our being and uplift us to the transcendent realm.
Like the poet, we can become “indifferent to mirrors”, to what our souls wear to the outside. Maybe we should forget what we cannot control and find that grace to live a life that is nourishing and fulfilling.

 ( Credits: Poems 1960-2000 by Fleur Adcock (Bloodaxe Books, 2000)


  1. This text is the bowdlerised version mispublished by Roger Housden in one of his Ten Poems anthologies. Please remove all credits and references to Fleur Adcock on your web page, since Adcock did not write the text you have presented here, or replace it with the correct text and credit it to Poems 1960-2000 by Fleur Adcock (Bloodaxe Books, 2000). You can find the correct text on the web page noted below and can easily copy and paste it from there. Yours, Neil Astley, Editor, Bloodaxe Books

    1. Apologize fo my late reply. Thanks for pointing out the inaccuracies. Text has been corrected and credited to Bloodaxe Books

  2. rights@bloodaxebooks.comOctober 31, 2016 at 2:11:00 AM PDT

    Please remove this highly inaccurate version of the book. We are the publishers of Fleur Adcock and she hates this 'chinese whispers' version of her work. Correct version is here
    Dr. S. H. Fairless-Aitken (Bloodaxe Books)