Book Review: The Lost Words, Robert MacFarlane & Jackie Morris

Book Review: The Lost Words, Robert MacFarlane (author) and Jackie Morris (illustrator)

The Lost Words

Poetry: The Lost Words, Robert MacFarlane & Jackie Morris

A hank of rope in the late hot sun; a curl
of bark; a six, an eight:
For adder is as adder basks.

When a recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was released, someone noticed that about forty words from nature had been eliminated, replaced with words from technology. The justification was simple: children are no longer using those words because they are no longer spending time outside. So, words like “adder” and “heather” and “dandelion” no longer matter to children, but words like “blog” and “broadband” and “voicemail” are valuable.

Rather than simply complain, writer Robert MacFarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris decided to try some magic. They wrote a “spell book.” MacFarlane wrote twenty poems using words that were “lost” to the dictionary. Morris then illustrated those poems with lovely paintings that bring the words to life. Their hope is to introduce some of the missing words to a new generation, and hopefully to inspire some of them to go out and enjoy those things for themselves.

The poems are anagrams of the words, so they vary in length. The shortest is “ivy,”
I am ivy, a real high flyer
Via bark and stone I scale tree and spire
You call me ground cover; I say sky-wire.

Kids and adults alike will love the beautiful illustrations, and MacFarlane’s poems do work a spell on the reader. He is a lover of words and the poems show his love and appreciation for language and for the outdoors. Whether the book of spells works its magic on the makers of dictionaries remains to be seen, but it definitely captured this reader’s heart.

This book could be a children’s book, though my library has cataloged it in the adult section. They are also not wrong. Both children and adults will enjoy the whimsical and lyrical poems as well as the lush paintings that accompany them. I am glad that I found The Lost Words.

Also see Book Review: Landmarks, Robert MacFarland

The Lost Words

Book Review: The Lost Words, Robert MacFarland & Jackie Morris

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Poetry: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was best known for her elegiac, almost spiritual poems about nature and common things. In this collection she focuses on those very things, writing poems about her dog Percy, about thrushes and jays and foxes, mists and mountains. The result is a new appreciation of these things we might see every day, but seen instead through the eyes of an uncommon observer.


Oliver’s view of nature is both intimate and impersonal. The first poem in this collection says, “I go down to the shore in the morning…and I say, oh, I am miserable,/what shall–/what should I do? And the sea says/in its lovely voice;/Excuse me, I have work to do.” She feels close enough to talk to the sea personally. “I am miserable.” “What should I do.” And not to say the sea doesn’t listen or doesn’t care. The sea responds. But the response is simply, “I have work to do.” It isn’t rude, it isn’t demeaning. The sea is the sea, and it has its sea things to do.


In another poem, “Good-Bye Fox,” the fox tells her very matter-of-factly, “You fuss over life with your clever words, mulling and chewing on its meaning, while we just live it.” Again, intimate, a conversation with a fox. And impersonal, “You fuss over life…we just live it.” To make the point more firmly, the fox later repeats, “You fuss, we live.” Not a diss on the poet, simply an impersonal statement of fact. Nature does its thing, and our fussing does not much matter to it.


Mary Oliver’s poems are lovely. They speak to the heart, to the spirit, reminding us of what is around us all the time. Appreciating nature may seem simple conceptually. If we actually did more of it, we might find that it is not simple at all. A Thousand Mornings was published only a few years ago, but it speaks with the timeless elegance of nature itself.

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver