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freedom of expression

tessa ransford


Tessa Ransford was a poet and an activist who campaigned for peace her whole life.

She was the founder of the Scottish Poetry Library and the School of Poets and the editor of Lines Review.

Born in India in 1938 she moved to the UK at six years old and to Scotland at the age of ten.

She attended the University of Edinburgh, where she studied philosophy and German literature.

After marrying in 1959, she moved to Pakistan where her husband served as a missionary. She returned to Scotland in the late 1960s.

In the 1970s and early 80s she published three books of poetry, then turned her attention to setting up the poetry library.

In January 1984, the first library opened in Edinburgh's historic Tweeddale Court.

Tessa steered the library through its first 15 years, overseeing its move to purpose-built premises in the Canongate before her retirement in 1999.

She was awarded the OBE for services to the Scottish Poetry Library in 2000.

But despite this recognition, she refused to slow down and continued with her work and her activism, fighting for freedom of expression as president of Scottish PEN and being a prime mover in the growth of pamphlet poetry in Scotland. She was a firm believer in multi-culturalism and collaborated with Palestinian poet Iyad Hayatleh in A Rug of A Thousand Colours, which explored the two poets' personal responses to the Five Pillars of Islam. Each poet translates the other's work so that the poems are presented in English and in Arabic. 

An inspirational woman, known for her sense of fun and her kindness, she was above all a very fine poet, whose words and spirit will live on long after she is gone.


Let it not be said that I am indifferent to the consequences of immediate emancipation. I am indeed indifferent to them. I despise them wholly as put into competition with the demands which are made by outraged humanity for justice.
             Dr Andrew Thomson (1759-1831) minister of St George's, Edinburgh, a passionate philanthropist who advocated in 1830 the immediate abolition of slavery, regardless of the costs.

Let it not be said
                       that I am indifferent
to the slavery abolished two centuries ago
or the pleas made then by impassioned Scots -
such as Andrew Thomson aged seventy-two -
despite the threat of a total collapse
in the world's economy - and their own discomfort

Let it not be said
                       that I am indifferent
to the arms trade that enslaves the world
manufactures war for the tools of war
to be sold as foundation for western wealth
our comforts, our freedoms, our cutting edge science
our democracy and hypocrisy

Let it be said
                 that I am indifferent
Indifferent to any consequence
of the end of war and the arms trade
I despise them wholly when compared
with the widespread, outraged demand
for justice by humans among us


Let it be said
                  through our knowledge economy
the networked consciousness of our species
our collective conscience, our international intolerance
of money from death             let it be said


regardless of cost, of cost to our lifestyle
of cost to our comfort, of cost to our tribe
of cost to our cars, of cost to our pride
it shall be abolished now, the arms trade, now
regardless of cost


Dove Tales members who knew Tessa and her work have added their tributes. Click on their pictures below to read them:

Chrys Salt

Poem for Tessa

Tom Hubbard poet writer academic

Tom Hubbard essay on Tessa in Tweeddale

A.C.Clarke, poet

A.C.Clarke on Tessa Ransford's poetry



She laughs in the hayfield, sixteen, slight,
over her shoulder a chestnut plait,
broad-brimmed hat
and long skirt,
summer, hay day, August heat,
1918, peace not yet.

The huge hayrake is twice her size,
the hands that wield it, like lilies;
death the news,
her brother dies.

While girls all yearn for armistice
the hay falls scythed about their knees.

To learn more about Tessa Ransford and her work, please click on her websites:

Images of Tessa Ransford by Mike Knowles

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