The Lizard – inspires literature

 Mullion Cove


One of the great things about being a geographer is that it is an inherently interdisciplinary subject. Being a geographer is like having a passport and living in an intellectual world where there are no visa restrictions: you can roam wherever you please. My particular geographical interests have been shaped by a lifelong interest in and love of English literature. In fact, my first degree combined the two.

Just recently I was asked by the poet Alyson Hallett ( to write the introduction to a new collection of poetry inspired by and written on the Lizard with fellow poet Penelope Shuttle. It is called LZRD. As Alyson describes the collection, "just two women poets having adventures on the Lizard, and writing poems based on that - often in storms when the sea has been wild, just giving ourselves over to that jut of land".

I can't wait for the collection to come out and it got me thinking about how the Lizard has inspired other writers. The Lizard has enjoyed famous literary visitors such as Rupert Brooke and Oscar Wilde. Of his visit in 1909, Brooke wrote "Cornwall was full of heat and tropical flowers: and all day I bathed in great creamy breakers of surf, or lay in the sun to dry (in April!) and all night argued with a philosopher, an economist and a writer. Ho we put the world to rights!” Frenchman's Creek, the setting for Daphne DuMaurier's novel of the same name (1941) lies on the Lizard side of the Helford. It's hard to know if John Harris (1820-1884), the son of a miner from Bolenowe, near Camborne, had visited the Lizard when he wrote a poem entitled ‘The Cornish Chough’, but the opening lines are evocative for anyone who has stood on a Lizard cliff and watched a chough take to the wing:

Where not a sound is heard
But the white waves, O bird,
And slippery rocks fling back the vanquish’d sea,
Thou soarest in thy pride,
Not heeding storms or tide;
In Freedom’s temple nothing is more free.

Sense of place also lies at the heart of Alyson's creative endeavours through which she asks questions such as how do we understand human nature in relation to other natures and how do we appreciate the relationship between what's inside of us and what's outside? These are questions familiar to cultural geographers but being in and exploring a place with a poetic eye brings a fresh perspective and new insights into the character of the Lizard, its history, and landscape as well as enabling deeper musing about people their relationship with place. Here is the poem Dear Serpentine by Alyson Hallett from the collection LZRD, due out later this year:

Dear Serpentine,

what made you come to the Lizard,
you who are unlike all others in Cornwall,

no kith or kin in Britain? What made you
leave brothers in the Antigorio Valley,

sisters on Mount Olympus, countless aunts
and uncles in Quebec? Dearest,

was your course determined by earthquakes
or the most common thirst of all,

the need to move? Adored by Aztecs, named
for your likeness to snake's skin, some say

you blaze through the spine like fire.
Dear Serpentine, you set off with no boots,

no boat, no friends - and here we are
sunning and swimming on your migrant shores.

Published: April 2017

Author: Professor Catherine Leyshon (nee Brace) (Centre for Geography, Environment, and Society, University of Exeter)