A Zuihitsu on Various Walks

May is National Walking Month. In celebration, poet Ellora Sutton wrote a creative response to her springtime walks in London and Hampshire, both places that Jane Austen also loved to walk in. The form is a zuihitsu - an ancient Japanese poetic form, blending fragments of prose, poetry and quotation.

I walk, my mother walked. It’s how the women in my family exert their soft power – in turns and strides.




Yesterday I walked nine miles through London for a friend’s book launch, and noticed almost nothing –


a girl blowing bubbles into the sky

over her flat’s walkway, brown brick

protecting her from the sky, the street beneath.

A sign in a jeweller’s window saying FEED THE BIRDS,

another: by appointment only.

Bloomsbury Square. Cheapside. Brick Lane.

Churros, the smell and sound of them –

Pret A Manger, Pret A Manger, Pret A Manger.

Wisteria spilling like champagne and music

from windows; Sophie Ellis-Bextor, twice.

A sign on a tree telling us to enjoy the trees,

they won’t be here forever.




A flâneuse is a woman who walks for the sake of walking, not to go anywhere in particular but to be somewhere. To wander, and wonder.


The male equivalent of the flâneuse is the flâneur. Some people say it’s impossible for there to be a female version of the flâneur because it requires anonymity, and a woman is incapable of passing unseen.




How often have I, as a young woman, been told not to go walking (alone) in a certain place, or at a certain time?


she really looked

almost wild




I watch an elderly man in a blue-and-white striped shirt, reading on a park bench. His paperback is yellowed and floppy. A crow struts through the daisies and buttercups; the grass barely signifies. When the crow gets closer to him, the man reads out loud.


I’m too far away to hear individual words, receive only their mouth-feel.


Despite my hefty copy of BURN IT DOWN! Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution, the man comes over. As so often happens, he has mistaken my noticing for a desire to be noticed. He has mistaken me for a student, which also happens often – I think it’s the way I look around at things, and my glasses, the omnipresence of books and notebooks, even here, on this picnic table.


He asks what I’m studying, if he can buy me a coffee from the nearby kiosk.


she had carefully avoided every companion on her rambles


He has a kind face. I decline the coffee, but talk to him a while anyway. I tell him that I’m writing about walking, and also about Jane Austen and walking. I don’t tell him that, up until a few minutes ago, that meant writing about him. Yesterday he went walking in Winchester, and saw Jane Austen’s grave.


This is our common ground, this public garden.




When I am walking, or wandering, I am edgeless. I am winged. I could be anywhere, anywhen.




a beautiful walk

home by Moonlight




My favourite memory is a field.

There was a snail, and no clouds.

He said he loved the way I looked

at that snail, how I’d spotted it

amongst all that tall grass.


her fine eyes were brightened

by the exercise




We pass through the ceaseless clink of gnats, emerge






Walking by the pond, I stop to smell the wild garlic

bruised by the sun’s need to hold everything close.


It falls on either side of the path, like after a wedding,

and the light through the trees make me feel ancient –

that goose blocking my way might really be a god,

a goddess, a personification of something lost or something returning.




Truthfully, I don’t know which I prefer –

the smell of wild garlic

or the smell of garlic bread.




I walk from the public gardens to the bookshop where my name hangs in a blue plaque above the bar. I pass through so many smells, and I smell all of them, I feel like a hound. The pizza places – Domino’s, Papa John’s, Caprino’s – are just waking up. Windows are being cleaned.


I drink the coolest, crispest glass of Diet Coke ever. They give it to me in a wine glass full of ice. Women of all ages are eating cake and reading. We can be unseen here, and together.


A companionable state of disappearance.




My feet ache in their boots. I can feel the red of city-walking in my thighs, the chafe and refusal to give.

such desperate walkers


It’s in my body. I have never been so in my body.




As we cross Paper Mill Lane to the train station, I notice a snail in the road, peeling and unpeeling itself along the tarmac.


It’s early, but already hot. There are cars, yes, rush-hour dregs, but not close, not yet.


I have time.


Gently as picking a blackberry, I pick the snail up by its shell and ferry it over to a community planter on the other side.


My companion calls me reckless, says my life is worth more than a snail.


Yes, I think, but what would my life be worth if I didn’t save the snail?

Notes: This is based on recent walks in and around places Jane Austen herself walked, both urban and rural — London, Alton, and Chawton. “she really looked almost wild” and “her fine eyes were brightened by the exercise” are taken from Pride and Prejudice. “she had carefully avoided every companion on her rambles” is taken from Sense and Sensibility. “a beautiful walk home by Moonlight” is quoted from a letter Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra, dated 8th September 1816.  “ceaseless clink” is from Persuasion, describing the city-sounds of Bath: “the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newspapermen, muffin-men and milkmen, and the ceaseless clink of pattens” – pattens were a kind of raised overshoe that women could wear when walking in inclement weather. “such desperate walkers” is quoted from a letter from Jane to Cassandra, dated 30th November 1800 – the “desperate walkers” in question are Jane and her friend Martha Lloyd.

A zuihitsu is an ancient Japanese poetic form, blending fragments of prose, poetry and quotation. Each fragment can be read as its own individual poem. I like to think of them as being a little bit collages, or photo albums, or quilts – or maybe even small, written cities.


Ellora Sutton is a Hampshire-based prize-winning poet, as well as being the Creative Engagement Officer at Jane Austen’s House. Her work has been published in The Poetry Review, The North, Propel, Oxford Poetry, and Berlin Lit, amongst others; she is also the poetry reviewer for Mslexia. She was the Poetry Book Society’s Spring 2023 Pamphlet Choice with antonyms for burial (Fourteen Poems), and her latest pamphlet, Artisanal Slush, was recently published by Verve Poetry Press.