Came the Lightening Hear Olivia Harrison’s poems for her late husband George

Collages by Alia Wilhelm
Collages by Alia Wilhelm

George Harrison died in November 2001. This year, in 2022, his wife Olivia Harrison released “Came the Lightening, Twenty Poems for George”, a book of poetry written by her, for and about him. They are beautiful, raw, honest and powerful messages of love, nature, and grief. For this feature, we asked Olivia to venture into their beloved garden at home to record a handful of these poems, with the sounds of nature as accompaniment. Liv Siddall spoke to Olivia about the words that grew out of her grieving process and the garden they shared. 

Scroll down to listen to some of the poems, turned into artworks by Alia Wilhelm.

Many people throughout history have attempted to bottle the indescribable emotions that grief can provoke. Most often, those feelings are expressed through art or the written word, by artists and writers attempting to blindly nail down this immeasurably powerful, elusive emotion using the tools they have at their disposal. The interesting thing about the results is their diversity. Grief is so subjective. Despite it being a universally-felt emotion, the way we feel it, and what we can create from it, are unique to us.

Musician, activist and songwriter George Harrison died in November 2001. This year, in 2022, his wife Olivia Harrison released “Came The Lightening, Twenty Poems for George”, a poetry collection written by Olivia, for and about her late husband. There’s a quote in the foreword of this book by Martin Scorcese—the creator of George Harrison documentary “Living in the Material World” (2011)—which says: “How could Olivia give form to her memories of a life shared with her beloved George Harrison, now gone twenty years? She might have done an oral history or a memoir. Instead, she composed a work of poetic autobiography.”

The poems are raw, honest, moving and refreshingly candid works. Not over-thought or overdone. Just messages from Olivia, to George, recounting memories and working to understand and digest the deep love they had for one another. Famously, George’s other love was his garden at home, the plants and landscape of which creep into so many of Olivia’s poems about him.

Olivia Harrison in the garden. Photo by Mary McCartney
Olivia Harrison in the garden. Photo by Mary McCartney

After his death, Olivia continued to live in the house they shared together, confronted with the garden they had built together on a daily basis. At the start, that was difficult. “I threw rocks at the lake and scared all the fish…you're just angry and hurt and you're grieving. I wasn't mad at the garden. I was just bewildered,” she says. “And then I started working on the garden on my own. All that energy went into the garden and came back to me in those poems.”

To celebrate the book, we asked Olivia to choose and recite three poems from its pages, and to record them in her and George’s garden. She recorded them at different times of day, sometimes as early as 4:30am, in order to catch the dawn chorus as a complimentary backing vocalists. “It was very different to read them in the garden at daybreak, it was fun running around in my pajamas looking for birds,” Olivia says. “Nearly the whole book is set in the garden. Almost all of it is connected to nature.”

Listen to some of Olivia’s poems for George, recorded in his garden, below.

Listen to Tuum Corpus
Photo by Sue Flood
Listen to Her or Me
Photo by Marcus Tomlinson
Listen to Without Hummingbirds