D. M. Thomas is an Internationally known poet and novelist.  His novel of 1981, THE WHITE HOTEL, has become a modern classic, published in 30 languages.  


He has won a Cholmondeley Award for his poetry, and the Orwell Prize for his biography of ‘Alexander Solzhenitsyn, A Century in his Life’.


He is also a much-praised translator of Russian poetry, notably Pushkin and Anna Akhmatova.


Born in Cornwall, he lives there now with his fourth wife.  He has three children.


Read more on his website:






138 x 216mm


92 pages


£9.99 + P&P UK


ISBN 978-1-910834-82-4












Shadow Sonnets


D. M. Thomas



Wyoming with three votes


Wyoming with three votes, among the fewest...

A Guardian writer:  ‘We must hug one another...’

The west coast, with Hawaii state the newest,

Has blasted the racist, pussy-grabbing mother--;


But solid red, America’s heartland, womb.

Beneath the glass dome she was to shatter, dry  

Prune-like Hilary finds it’s her glass tomb.

The last Trump.  Move to Canada or die.


All Hollywood is grieving:  ‘Break, heart, I prithee

Break.’  But it’s the American dream:  prime-

Time Reality straight to the presidency.

‘You’re hired!’ say the poor whites; this is their time.


    ‘Loafe with me on the grass’, and let it be;

    The people spoke; it’s called democracy.



(Shakespeare, no.3)



At my friend’s funeral


At my friend’s funeral I do not muse,

Though sad, on this mysterious universe,

Rather, which mourning woman would enthuse

Me with her charms, if we did not rehearse


Our own deaths.  His granddaughter has a pair

I’d love to get my hands on, shapely gams,

And wears a frock and sheer hose, which is rare

For her; she tugs her skirt, unused to hems.


Her mother, plain but plump, might be alright;

I’ll try amid the wake’s delicious fare:

The flame of lust at funerals burns bright;

A murky corner, find lush pubic hair...


    There’s envy and aggression:  they’ll do well;

    I wish I had his Lucian Freuds to sell.  



(Shakespeare, no.21)



My sister filled her letters


My sister filled her letters with small hearts;

I’d smile, but miss them now that she is dead;

And miss the Tippex layers half-hiding parts

Mildly unsympathetic:  say, if she’d said


Her son’s new partner’s parents were ‘austere’,

It might be read by some all-judging Eye;

Or burkas... a policeman might appear

To warn her laws on hate-crimes could apply.


She loathed the graceless, warring way we live

Today, with gender differences all but gone;

Though she wore pantsuits – hard for me to forgive.

I miss her giggle, her kindness.  I alone


    Survive from the quartet at ‘Beverly’

    Our dad built.  All are buried now in me.



(Shakespeare, no.31)

I start to see


I start to see that sorrows can so weigh

Upon the heart, sorrows with no good end

Conceivable, the hour comes when you say

To a misty female shape, ‘Ah, death, my friend!’


Your body’s a worn-out nag:  time to cry, ‘Whoa!’

At six months old, a choking cough wrenched me

To brief self-consciousness.  I knew, and know,

The light and love around me would always be.


So early something, someone, switched my light on;

The light, now strong, will murk again, then hide

Completely, yet I shan’t be on my own,

There will be women present at my side,


     Living and dead, as I leave even my mind,

     Passion, obsession, music and books behind.



(Shakespeare, no.50)



When I make love


When I make love with a loved woman, I

Need a third person there to play his part,

And for this sin there is no remedy,

It is so grounded inward in my heart.


Desire burns less if she’s entirely mine,

I need a shadow prick within her cunt;

Where love is absent, then just two is fine,

There is no shadow figure as I mount.


I guess where there’s true love it’s less a deed

Than the heart’s search for the propinquity

Of child and parents, all that primal greed.

I drove mum from their bed; in equity


    I seek dad’s burning, virile ghost to raise,

    As sex was meagre in his earthly days.



(Shakespeare, no.62)



Doris was not prepared to pay the earth

i.m. Doris Aldred


Doris was not prepared to pay the earth;

Twelve Tesco Value peach cans in array

Was all we found. She took great glee in dearth;

Crippled, alone, she wore a jumpsuit, grey.


My wife, her daughter, dead, she had small lease

On life; cash to her grandson he’d only spend.

New shoes we bought for her seemed an excess,

Two old, holed vests would see her to her end.


But to explain her stoic way with loss –

Of stories from the blitz she had a store.

I thought her once a baleful albatross,

Yet miss her sour face now she is no more.


    In labour for three days, she had cursed men;

    Expected it through her navel:  ‘We did back then.



(Shakespeare, no.146)

Taking as its inspiration Shakespeare’s great sonnet sequence, ‘Shadow Sonnets’ explores the possibility of using the Shakespearean form, even its rhymes, to create an entirely modern parallel, thematically varied, but with love, passion, woman and relentless time at its heart.



9781910834824 IMG_3794full amend

Rhyme, especially when used in a strict form, is both a constraint and an aid to imagination – the desire to avoid a trite, obvious rhyme can open up an unexpected image or idea.  With this in mind I decided, as an experiment, to take the great sonnet sequence of Shakespeare and use its rhymes, and usually the entire end-words, and attempt to create within that framework my own ‘shadow sonnets’.  They are, compared with the mighty original, ‘an ill-favoured thing, but mine own’.  


Sometimes they echo the theme of the original – my first sonnet is an example of that, about ageing.  My second presents a total departure:  the plea to a beloved young man to procreate has become a musing on the election of President Trump.  I have been guided by what word or image leapt out at me and suggested something from my own experience or feelings.  I interpret the self-imposed rules liberally, changing the grammatical forms and often the sense (so ‘waste’ can become ‘waist’, ‘eye’ can be ‘I’, ‘canopy’, ‘canapé’).  


Shakespeare’s sonnet 111 is an illustration of how this approach aided imagination/ improvisation.  What struck me was this (beautiful) image:  ‘And almost thence my nature is subdued / To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand.’  It reminded me of my Infants school headmistress who taught me, a slow learner, how to read.  (First day at Trewirgie Infants).  ‘The dyer’s hand’ becomes ‘Miss Dyer’s hand’.


I reproduce Shakespeare’s sonnet 2 after my first, its ‘shadow’; thereafter I append the number of the relevant Shakespearean sonnet.

There is no thematic ordering; the poems came as they willed, whether serious or (as in my version of Shakespeare’s soixante neuf or My mistress’ eyes) frivolous.  



Truro, 2018