Gillian Spraggs

In the depths of your heart
a broad land,
in the heart of the land
a bright river,
in the curve of the river
a square city,
above the city
a golden sun,
the rising sun.
Sun, city, river, land
in your heart,
in the depths of your heart.

These poems and translations have mostly been published before in magazines and anthologies. As a poet, I am often drawn to very ancient forms of poetry: charms, riddles, gnomic verses.

As a translator, I have dabbled in several languages, but chiefly stick to the ones I learned at school: Latin, French, and ancient Greek. The translations here are all of poems, with a single exception.

The poet most generously represented is Sappho. There are also several translations from the French of poems by the neglected Anglo-­American poet ‘Renée Vivien’ (Pauline Tarn, 1877–1909).

The only prose piece is a translation of the remarkable Debate Between Pippin and Alcuin, by Alcuin of York (c. 735–804), a Latin dialogue by the English-born adviser of the Emperor Charlemagne. I am not sure it has ever been fully translated before. At any rate, there seems to be no other translation on the web.

Photo credit: Ruth Singer photograph: Gillian Spraggs

Some of these translations were made for the anthology Love Shook My Senses: Lesbian Love Poems, which I edited for The Women’s Press in 1998. Copies of the book are available from, where you can also read some of the poems.

Reviewing the book for the Times Educational Supplement, Siân Hughes said: ‘It’s unfortunate that this book will probably end up in a corner of a bookshop labelled “gay interest” when it is, above all, a book about women by those who know what they are talking about.’ Alison Hennegan ranked it third on the list of the Top Ten Lesbian Books which she compiled for the Guardian website.

The leaves that hung but never grew

I enjoyed editing the anthology. Nowadays I keep a commonplace book on LiveJournal, The leaves that hung but never grew. Here I post passages from my reading that intrigue, delight or amuse me, or otherwise catch my attention. Sometimes I post new translations there.

Why do I call it ‘The leaves that hung but never grew’? The phrase has haunted me for years, ever since I encountered it as the title of a Gypsy folk-tale. There the leaves are a quest object and a girl is sent to find them. But it is never explained what they are. It seems to me that the phrase is a riddle, and I love traditional riddles. I think I have found the answer, or at least an answer; if you want a clue, study this picture.

Outlaws and highwaymen

thumbnail of book cover: Outlaws and HighwaymenMy Outlaws and Highwaymen website contains stories, ballads, letters and other documents illustrating the social and cultural history of the English highway robber.

It was designed to accompany my book Outlaws and Highwaymen. The cult of the robber in England from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century (Pimlico, 2001).

In a review on the Crimeculture website, Lee Horsley described Outlaws and Highwaymen as ‘a patient and scholarly but also an exceptionally lively, often witty analysis of the evolution of the highwayman in the modern imagination’. The book is currently out of print, but there are plans to make it available again.

I have also written the pamphlet Cutpurses, Highwaymen, Burglars: The professional thief 1558-1660 for the Living History Reference Series published by Stuart Press, who specialise in publications for historical re-enactors. I am not a re-enactor but I share their fascination with the flavour of life as it was lived in the past. Cutpurses, Highwaymen, Burglars describes the techniques used by thieves and robbers in Elizabethan and early Stuart England.

I sometimes give talks and lectures on highwaymen and other topics related to the history of crime. Watch my Outlaws and Highwaymen site for details, or email me if you would like to discuss my coming to give a talk to your institution or group.

Writing course

London’s V&A Museum recently commissioned Deborah Tyler-Bennett and myself to write a self-study course in creative writing for the adult learning resources section of their website.

Other web projects

I sometimes undertake commissions to provide web content. Here are three of my favourites from among the web projects I’ve done. They were all commissioned for the schooLMAte section of London Metropolitan Archives’ Learning Zone:

About me

I was born in 1952 and brought up in Greater London near Harrow-on-the-Hill. I went to grammar school and then to Girton College, Cambridge, where I read English. In 1980 I completed a Ph.D thesis on rogues and vagabonds in Tudor and early Stuart literature.

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© Gillian Spraggs, 2006
page added to site on 20 February, 2006 | last modified 3 August, 2009