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The Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize 2021 Shortlist

The Garden of Earthly Delights


Stephanie Saunders


The Medieval ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’

includes mythical creatures, big fish and birds

and a gyre of livestock, and crowds of thin, pale,

naked people, tangled in an awkward orgy,

which also involves fruit and surreal objects,

the meaning of which is lost to us.

This is shown in a cryptic triptych, flanked by

a panel with Adam and Eve and God, in Eden

(pre-serpent) on the left, with more fantastic

shapes and creatures.

Hell, on the other side, depicts severed ears,

darkness, demons, fire, instruments of music

and torture and a pale self-portrait of

the artist, Hieronymus Bosch, peering out

from behind a shell-limb-branch-thing.


Five hundred years on, our modern earthly delights

would be just as incomprehensible to him:

symbols of wealth, status, power, fashion, sport,

conspicuous consumption, mass media

entertainment, luxury cars, travel, lifestyle.

The orgies would be more explicit,

maybe with less fruit.

The creation panel an abstract painting,

an expression of the ‘Big Bang’.

On the right, the panel depicting hell, would be

a problem. People nowadays create their own.



STEPHANIE SAUNDERS has written poems which tend to be humorous or satirical from her schooldays. She has had poems published in various publications and has featured at the McGregor Poetry festival. Her two collections of poems are The Last Fly of the Day and Placebos. Her other interests include art and the outdoors.


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