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Phoebe Hesketh

A poem is a painting

Some questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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The poet compares a painting on canvas to a poem. They are both similar forms of art but, where one uses the brush and the knife to paint a picture on canvas, the other uses the mind to paint a picture in the mind.


Phoebe Hesketh (nee Rayner) was born in 1909 in Preston (Lancashire). Her father was an early radiologist, whereas her mother was a violinist.

She attended Dagfield School at Birkdale near Southport, then Cheltenham Ladies' College although leaving school at 17 to nurse her mother who was terminally ill. Teachers noticed and fostered her poetic talent.

She would marry Aubrey Hesketh when she was 22 years old. He was the director of a Bolton spinning mill, wealthy enough to allow her the time to focus on writing poetry. Indeed, eight years later her first collection was published - which she called Poems - although she would later question some of this work as being "juvenile".

During World War II Hesketh edited the women's page of the Bolton Evening News. In 1948 came her second volume of poetry - Lean Forward, Spring! - which won her literary acclaim. She would go on to produce sixteen books of poetry.

After the war she did some freelance lecturing and teaching of poetry. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1956, and a Fellow of the University of Central Lancashire in 1990.

For almost all of her life she lived in Lancashire, a landscape frequently described in her poetry and in her prose books. Indeed, she is most renowned for her poems depicting nature. Critics often compared her to Emily Bronte.

She died in February 2005. She was then 96 years of age.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"A poem is a painting that is not seen;
A painting is a poem that is not heard."
  • Would you agree with this statement. Why? Why not? (10)

[Need help?]

"A painting in the mind.
Without palette and brush
it mixes words into images."
  • What is a "palette"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • What would the palette be in the case of creating poetry? (2)

[Need help?]

  • How does the poet compare painting and poetry in these lines? (4)

[Need help?]

"The mind's edge sharpens the knife
slashing the canvas with savage rocks"
  • What is the purpose of "the knife" in paintings? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What does the poet mean when she says "the mind's edge"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What does the poet mean when she says, "slashing the canvas"? (4)

[Need help?]

"twisting trees and limbs into tortuous shapes
as Van Gogh did
or bewitched by movement's grace,
captures the opalescent skirts
of Degas' ballet dancers."
  • How does the poet compare the art of Van Gogh and Degas? (4)

[Need help?]

  • How would such a comparison be made in poetry? (4)

[Need help?]

"But words on the page
as paint on canvas
are fixed.
It's in the spaces between
the poem is quickened."
  • The poet says that words on the page and paint on the canvas are "fixed". What then is it that "quickens" or gives life to poetry? (4)

[Need help?]

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