Limited edition Fine Press publication in collaboration with painter Jake Attree





Ransom, the new collection from Michael Symmons Roberts, is an intense and vivid exploration of liberty and limit, of what it means to be alive, and searches for the possibility of hope in a fallen, wounded world. The poems in Ransom display all the lyrical beauty and metaphysical ambition for which his work is acclaimed, but with a new urgency, a ragged edge to what the Independent described as his ‘dazzling elegance’. At the heart of this new book are three powerful sequences – one set in occupied Paris, one an elegy for his father, and one a meditation on gratitude – that work at the edges of belief and doubt, both mystical and philosophical. The idea of ‘ransom’ is turned and turned again, poem by poem, seen through the lenses of personal grief and loss, cinematic scenes of kidnap and release, narratives of incarnation and atonement. This is a profound and timely book from one of our finest poets.

Awards for Ransom

Poetry Book Society Recommendation

Financial Times Books of 2021 pick

Extract from Ransom


I had in mind your captor
at a hotel desk with an inverse view

(no ocean vista, just bins
and air-con viscera)

tongue out to concentrate,
scissors and glue,

a stack of newspapers
to spell out where and when,

the cost of your release.
Instead, when it came

the note was the start of a song,
single and sustained,

so I put it on repeat,
as I walked, drove, worked, ate,

trying to tease out bird-calls,
timbre of passing cars,

dialects of distant dogs,
to figure where they held you.

When you walked in,
you scared the life out of me.



Clemency – in collaboration with composer James MacMillan – was premiered at the Royal Opera House in London in May 2011. Co-commissioned by the Royal Opera House, Britten Sinfonia, Scottish Opera and Boston Lyric Opera, it sold out its first run at the ROH.

The first production was directed by Katie Mitchell, and designed by Alex Eales. The conductor was Clark Rundell.

Reviews of Clemency

“Equally powerful in narrative and in musical terms, this work seems to have hit the ground running.”

Edward Bhesania, The Stage

“A terrifically intense, focused and inspired musical work.”


Jessica Duchen, The Independent

“Subtly haunting and quietly powerful, it is a parable of God’s will in the world. This is an opera which leaves a lasting effect, and I want to hear it again soon.”

Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph


The Sleeper

Commissioned opera for Welsh National Opera’s ‘Max’ Programme, working with composer Stephen Deazley.



New English translations of the poems in Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’, performed by Mark Padmore. Commissioned by Aldeburgh Festival, London’s South Bank Centre and the Lincoln Centre, New York.

These new translations were performed in 2009 as part of a production devised and directed by Katie Mitchell, under the title ‘One Evening’.

Reviews of Winterreise

One Evening does lend a jolt of immediacy to Winterreise by using English translations of Muller’s German words by the poet Michael Symmons Roberts…. Here is his rendering of the first verse of Der Greise Kopf (The Hoary Head), in which the traveler describes how the frost turned his hair white:

My hair became a shock of salt,
The frost had left me older.
At last I looked the way I felt,
Kind death was at my shoulder.

You could sense a jolt of recognition throughout the theater as this New York audience heard the familiar Schubert songs sung in English.’ Mr Symmons Roberts’ translations deserve to be heard outside this production.”

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

“Padmore sings the songs in an admirable translation by Michael Symmons Roberts. Why don’t more singers do this? We hung on every word, not needing to scan programmes or surtitles.”

Barry Millington, Evening Standard



Written in 2003 for George McPhee’s 40th anniversary as Director of Music at Paisley Abbey in Scotland, this piece sets the first of a trilogy of nativity poems by Michael Symmons Roberts.

Reviews of Chosen

“James MacMillan’s ‘Chosen’, adding to his increasingly compelling body of choral compositions, makes striking use of unison and harmony contrasts, and has a searingly placed climax.”

Terry Blain, BBC Music Magazine



A chamber opera with James MacMillan, a commission by the Britten Sinfonia and Cambridge University. Performed at 2001 Edinburgh Festival, and in Spain and Italy. Broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Re-staged in a new production directed by Katie Mitchell at the Royal Opera House in 2009.

Reviews of Parthenogenesis

“Roberts’ punchy text is engaging, allusive and teasingly ambiguous, while MacMillan’s music adds a tortuous dimension, wracked with turbulent open emotions, and periods of gorgeous serenity.”


Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman

“Michael Symmons Roberts’ thoughtfully imagined poetic libretto spells out the private thoughts of a parthenogenetic mother and her worried guardian angel (Lisa Milne and Christopher Purves, intense and lyrical throughout), enclosed within spoken commentaries by the daughter who knows herself to be her mother’s almost-sister and perfect double (Anastasia Hill) troubled down to rare expressive depths”


David Murray, Financial Times



Sun-Dogs is a setting of a poem by Michael Symmons Roberts. The text is richly allegorical, iconographic with a deep well of symbolism. The metaphors are complex, evoking a range of emotions and images, dark and terrifying one minute, radiant and ecstatic the next.

Reviews of Sun-Dogs

“The music itself was a revelation: a mesmeric blending of traditional and contemporary elements… a choral array of chanting and whispering, of shouting and speaking, of whistling and controlling disparate lines so that they wondrously merged… The co-creator of Sun-Dogs was British poet Michael Symmons Roberts who addresses theological and mythical symbolisms. Dogs, beggars, suns and stars turn into metaphors… The whole settled upon the ears like magic…”

Indiana Herald-Times


The Birds of Rhiannon

This is a through-composed work comprising four sections and lasting about twenty five minutes. The final section is a coda involving a choir and the text is a poem with the same title by Michael Symmons Roberts.

The piece is essentially abstract, but was inspired by a myth from the Mabinogian (a collection of ancient Welsh stories). The Birds of Rhiannon are mystical, angelic presences which appear and sing on the death of Bran – a Fisher King-type figure who sacrifices his life (he is beheaded) for the sake of peace between two warring peoples. In essence the work could be described as being a dramatic concerto for orchestra with a mystical coda for choir.

Reviews of The Birds of Rhiannon

“…boldly coloured music, dramatic confrontations of ideas, a powerful surge of momentum, and instrumental lines that have an independent life but gel as a cohesive texture… MacMillan shares with Rimsky a virtuosity in defining and combining instrumental timbres.”

Daily Telegraph

“MacMillan swiftly segues into the Roberts poem, set with a particularly forthright mythic confidence. The poem itself is brazenly assured: “East means nothing now,/ nor West, no happenstance / of rock can bear the name of Britain”, and as a finale it is unarguably beautiful, a modern hymn that rises sumptuously aloft.”


Robert Stein, Tempo



Co-commissioned by the BBC Proms and the Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus, with the Hilliard Ensemble and the Westminster Cathedral Choir, Quickening sets poetry by Michael Symmons Roberts exploring themes of birth, new life and new impulses.

The work’s three-fold vocal layers juxtapose mysticism and hyper-realism, painting a canvas at one turn intimate and private, at the next epic and celebratory.

Reviews of Quickening

Living Water, with which the work ends, climbs from the glimmering hum of temple bowls to the Mahlerian effulgence of an orchestral and choral climax.”


William Yeoman, Classical Source

“Spine-tingling, soul-stirring concert-hall experiences haven’t exactly been thick on the ground at this festival. So to hear massed Scottish forces hurling out James MacMillan’s sensational Quickening under Garry Walker’s cool-headed direction was thrilling…. Using a richly allusive libretto by Michael Symmons Roberts, it deals with the concept of birth in all its explosive, miraculous, life-changing and occasionally threatening forms.”

Richard Morrison, The Times