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After exploring our hearts and eyes in previous programmes, Michael Symmons Roberts devotes his attention to our lungs and the precious breath they bring.

The poet Michael Symmons Roberts completes his trilogy of programmes reflecting on parts of the human anatomy. After hearts and eyes, he focuses this time on our lungs and the fragile breath they bring.

He explains, "As a bodily metaphor, breath is one of the most pervasive and subtle we have and, for me, it's always been one of the most potent."

Reflecting on childhood memories of his grandad's asthma and emphysema and his own encounter with double pneumonia as a teenager, Michael has built an understanding of the breath as a gift and something not to be taken for granted. Breathing is also central to spiritual practices as in the traditional use of the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God" as we breathe in, and the second part, "have mercy on me, a sinner", as we breathe out".

Through the poetry of Keats, Mark O'Brien and Denise Levertov and the music of The Hollies, Florence and the Machine and Puccini, Michael concludes that "breathing is a delicate matter. And if breath is what we receive from our creator, it is in some sense the gift of life itself."

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4.

30 minutes

Last on

Sun 20 May 2018 23:30

Music Played

  • The Hollies

    The Air That I Breathe

    • Hollies.
    • Polydor.
  • Florence + the Machine

    Between Two Lungs

    • Between Two Lungs.
    • Universal Island Records.
  • Richard Reed Parry

    Quartet for Heart and Breath

    Performer: yMusic.
    • Richard Reed Parry: Music for Heart and Breath.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
  • Robert Philip Goodenough

    Psalm 150: O Praise God In His Holiness

    Performer: King’s College Choir, Cambridge & Sir David Willcocks.
    • England my England.
    • EMI Classics.
  • Giacomo Puccini

    La Bohème, Act 1: "Your tiny hand is frozen" (Che Gelida Manina)

    Performer: David Hughes, City of Birmingham Symphony & Louis Frémaux.
    • Louis Frémaux: The Complete CBSO Recordings.
    • Warner Classics.
  • Lucy Parham

    Un Sospiro (A Sigh)

    Performer: Franz Liszt.
    • Liszt: Classical Piano.
    • U-5.


Title: The Lung Wash

Author: Michael Symmons Roberts

Publisher: Cape


Title: King Lear

Author: William Shakespeare

Publisher:  Oxford University Press


Title: Genesis Verse 2, 1-7 (King James Bible)

Publisher: HarperCollins


Title: Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Author: Isabella Beeton

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing


Title: But Beautiful

Author: Geoff Dyer

Publisher: Canongate Books


Title: The Jesus Prayer

Author: Kallistos Ware

Publisher: Catholic Truth Society


Title: Bright Star

Author: John Keats

Publisher: Penguin Classics


Title: Breathing

Author: Mark O'Brien

Publisher: Lemonade Factory Press


Title: Invocation

Author: Denise Levertov

Publisher: Poetry Magazine