Explore the complete works of John Bradburne

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ines for today

of John Bradburne

July 21
Except the Lord His watch doth keep
The watchman waketh but in vain:
Save for His Shepherdess of sheep
Our Shepherd had not reached the plain.
Greensleaves, June 1974

of John Bradburne

This site makes available the entire literary output of John Bradburne - or, at least, as much as has so far come to light. It consists primarily of poetry, but in 2022 all surviving prose letters, postcards, and other items of a domestic character (mainly letters to his mother) were added, at the request of the John Bradburne Memorial Society. This was to meet the growing interest in 'John Bradburne the man' - as distinct from 'John Bradburne the poet' - which accompanied the movement for his beatification.

The corpus contains a few poems dating from as early as 1945, but the vast majority were written between 1968 and 1979. Some of the material is handwritten, but most of the poems are in typescript, often in a stencilled or photocopied form. Only a handful were published in his lifetime, mainly in the Rhodesian Catholic monthly Shield. Scans of the original manuscripts and typescripts were added to the database in 2019.

As John Bradburne preferred to write in verse, he sent letter-poems to many people, so it is likely that there are more of these lying in drawers and attics around the world. He would also write fragments of poems in the margins of the books he was reading, and many of these have not yet been found or transcribed. If you have a poem or letter of his in your possession, therefore, or encounter one in an unexpected place, please check the corpus to see if we already have it. If not, we would very much welcome a copy - or the original - in the interests of making the Bradburne corpus as complete as possible.

The site contains 5997 items as of June 2023, including several pieces entirely in prose - mainly letters, diary accounts, cross-references, and editorial summaries and indexes of the audio recordings and longer poems. The poetic items include those where there is a mixture of verse and prose, as in several letters. The verse amounts to 174,970 lines - see Editorial Conventions for further information about the line-count, and also about the images. These totals continue to grow: a group of previously unknown poems were brought to light in January 2022, another in November 2022, another in January 2023, and further extracts in March and June 2023: these are listed on the About the Poetry page. 


the editor

The corpus has been compiled and edited by the British linguistics author and reference-book editor David Crystal: see His first encounter with John Bradburne was in the early 1990s, as he recounts:

‘I left the full-time university world in 1984, and came back to Holyhead - where I was brought up - to carry on a career as a home-based writer and editor. We bought a house near the centre of town from people we knew - parents of a lad, Kevin Jones, who had been in my year in primary school. Eventually, we met Kevin once again: a professional cabaret musician now, widely known by his professional name of Casey Jones. Kevin would call in to the house, from time to time, to renew his memories of his old family home, and one day he brought out of his pocket an airmail letter, and asked me ‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’ It was a letter from John Bradburne to Kevin, written entirely in poetry.

It appeared that Kevin worked as a teacher in missionary settings in East Africa during the late 1960s, and when he and his friends had some time off they would travel around the southern parts of the continent. On one of these trips, they all had their money and passports stolen, so they hitch-hiked back to their base relying on the help of missionary centres along the way. And at Archbishop’s House in Salisbury Kevin first met John Bradburne and Father John Dove. Some time later, he was in the area again, but went down with a bout of malaria, and was looked after by - John Bradburne. They had a shared interest in music, and after Kevin left Africa they corresponded a few times.

I had never seen anything like the poem-letter that Kevin showed me. And then I asked the question which today seems rather naive: ‘Is there any more around like that?’ Kevin put me in touch with Celia Brigstocke, and not long afterwards a large case arrived filled with manuscripts. If they were placed in a pile, they would have reached my waist. The rest is history.’

A book about the poetry was published in 2018: My Life in Words: the Poetry and Thought of John Bradburne. It is available either through the John Bradburne Memorial Society, or direct from David's website, either as a hard copy or as an e-book.



All rights, including copyright, in the poems contained in and the general content of the pages of this website are owned or controlled for these purposes by The John Bradburne Memorial Society (‘the Society’).

In accessing these web pages, you agree that you may only use or download the content for your own personal non-commercial use.

You are not permitted to copy, download, store (in any form), transmit, show or play in public, adapt or change in any way the poems or other content of these web pages for any other purpose whatsoever without the prior written permission of the Society. For further information, please contact the administrator, Kate Macpherson, at P O Box 32, Leominster, Herefordshire HR6 0YB.

uy Books

of John Bradburne

Several selections of John Bradburne’s
writing are available in book form. These
can be purchased from the John Bradburne
Memorial Society at
first international John Bradburne conference


The first international conference on the life, poetry, and thought of John Bradburne, was held in the Great Hall of the Università per Stranieri di Perugia on 30 March 2017. It was a truly international occasion, with speakers from Italy, France, Spain, South Africa, and the UK, and an attendance that included academics from several university departments, as well as representatives of the Catholic Church in Italy. Many university students were also present, testifying to the way the story of John Bradburne holds an appeal for young people. A photographic exhibition in the corridor outside the Great Hall presented a pictorial history of his life, 'From the Lake District to Zimbabwe', and various books about his life and work were on display. The languages of the conference were English and Italian, and there was simultaneous translation throughout..

The conference was opened by the university rector, Giovanni Paciullo, with other welcoming statements from the head of the department of human and social sciences, Sandra Covino, and members of the organizing committee, including the president of the committee, Renato Tomei, assistant professor of English at the university. The idea for such an event arose in 2015, during an academic visit to Perugia by Professor David Crystal, at the invitation of Rosanna Masiola, Professor of English and Translation at the university. The motivation was to make John Bradburne's writing available to a wider audience in Italy and elsewhere through the medium of translation; and, as this had not previously been attempted, it was felt that a first step would be to explore the issues involved through an academic conference. Perugia seemed to be the obvious location, for it is close to Assisi – a region through which John Bradburne walked on one of his several journeys around Italy, and which he often refers to in his writing. He knew Perugia well.

The primary aim of the conference was to acknowledge the way his poetry and thought has attracted increasing interest around the world, and to provide the first opportunity for translators of the poems to present their work and to discuss the issues that arise in handling such a challenging oeuvre. In the afternoon session, called (after the title of one of the poems) 'A Ring-a-ring of Rosary', participants heard one poem, 'Saint Francis’, read in several European and African languages - Italian (Prof. Rosanna Masiola), French (Prof. Didier Rance), Spanish (Prof. Dianella Gambini), Amharic (Prof. Renato Tomei), and Xhosa and Afrikaans (Prof. Rajendra Chetty). The event, chaired by Prof. Enrico Terrinoni, resulted in an illuminating discussion of the way each of the translators had gone about the task they had set themselves.

Although the main focus of the conference was on the poetry as literature, each speaker adopted a broader perspective, placing the poems in the context of John Bradburne's life and the turbulent times he encountered in mid-20th-century Rhodesia, where most of his writing took place. The main contributions in the morning reflected the title of the conference: 'John Bradburne: Poet, Mystic, and Martyr'. David Crystal, author of the forthcoming (2017) A Life Made of Words: the Poetry and Thought of John Bradburne, gave an account of the evolution of the poetry and its main features and themes, and drew attention to Bradburne's status as 'the most prolific poet in the English language'. Didier Rance, author of a biography of Bradburne, Le vagabond de Dieu, whose English translation appears in September 2017, reflected on the nature of the mysticism that permeated Bradburne's life, and how it was manifested in his writing on creation, and especially in the way bees played such an important role in his life and thought. Prof. Marco Impagliazzo placed Bradburne within the context of Christian martyrdom, drawing attention to the way his death can be seen as a significant moment in the 'ecumenism of blood' experienced in Africa during the 20th century, which he described as the most violent of all centuries. Prof. Daniele Piccini added a further perspective by exploring the nature of Franciscan poetics in the writing of Jacopone da Todi and John Bradburne.

An additional dimension was provided by two personal encounters. As part of his talk, David Crystal explained how he had come to be involved in editing the online database of poetry - the result of a chance meeting with a friend from his home town, who had met John Bradburne while travelling in Africa, and been cared for by him after falling ill with malaria. That friend, Kevin Jones, universally known as Casey (from his initials K C Jones), had received a verse letter from John, which he showed to David, sparking his interest. Kevin was present at the conference, and told his story, which was greatly appreciated by the audience, as he was the only person in the room who had actually met the subject of the conference.

A second personal perspective took the form of a welcoming letter from Celia Brigstocke, John Bradburne's niece, who looks after the John Bradburne Memorial Society. She was unable to attend the conference, so the letter was read on her behalf by Hilary Crystal. It gave a brief history of the Society and its current work in Mtemwa, along with childhood reminiscences, reference to some of the reported cures that have taken place since his death, and her hopes for progress in his Cause for beatification.

Although the Cause was not part of the remit of the conference, a groundswell of opinion emerged that this event could play its part in developing a climate which would help promote that progress. The outcome was the 'Perugia Statement', which was signed by many of the participants. This read as follows:

The first International Conference on the life, poetry, and thought of John Bradburne, poet, mystic, martyr, and father to the lepers, was held at the Universitá per Stranieri di Perugia on 30 March 2017.  As speakers and attendees at this conference, we firmly believe that the cause for his canonization should proceed at the earliest opportunity, especially in the light of his roles as a model for young people, the poor and marginalised, and the care of those with devastating diseases.

Further support was affirmed in a statement read out by Amilcare Conti, secretary of the Archdiocese of Perugia, on behalf of the Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, Archbishop of Perugia and Città della Pieve. Prof Impagliazzo is also President of the Community of Saint'Egidio, founded in Rome in 1968 by Andrea Riccardi - a community of lay people spread throughout the world, dedicated to evangelisation, charity, and peace. Its main reference point is Franciscanism, which was also the lodestar of John Bradburne, a Third Order Franciscan, and whose desire to be buried in the Franciscan habit led to the first of the many special events that followed his death.

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