26 November - Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) Jul 14, 2008 22:06:41 GMT 2
Post by moira on Jul 14, 2008 22:06:41 GMT 2
Charlotte Mew (1869-1928)
I So Liked Spring
I so liked Spring last year
Because you were here; -
The thrushes too -
Because it was these you so liked to hear -
I so liked you.
This year's a dfferent thing, -
I'll not think of you,
But I'll like Spring because it is simply Spring
As the thrushes do.
I remember rooms that have had their part
In the steady slowing down of the heart.
The room in Paris, the room at Geneva,
The little damp room with the seaweed smell,
And that ceaseless maddening sound of the tide -
Rooms where for good or for ill - things died.
But there is the room where we (two) lie dead,
Though every morning we seem to wake and might just as
well seem to sleep again
As we shall somewhere in the other quieter, dustier bed
Out there in the sun - in the rain.
Ne Me Tangito
This man. . .would have known who and what manner
of woman this is: for she is, a sinner. S. Luke vii 39[/size]
Odd, You should fear the touch,
The first that I was ever ready to let go,
I that have not cared much
For any toy I could not break and throw
To the four winds when I had done with it. You need not fear the touch,
Blindest of all the things that I have cared for very much
In the whole gay, unbearable, amazing show.
True--for a moment--no, dull heart, you were too small,
Thinking to hide the ugly doubt behind that hurried puzzled little smile:
Only the shade, was it, you saw? But still the shade of something vile:
Oddest of all!
I will tell you this. Last night, in sleep,
Walking through April fields I heard the far-off bleat of sheep
And from the trees about the farm, not very high,
A flight of pigeons fluttered up into an early evening mackerel sky.
Someone stood by and it was you:
About us both a great wind blew.
My breast was bared
But sheltered by my hair
I found you, suddenly, lying there,
Tugging with tiny fingers at my heart, no more afraid:
The weakest thing, the most divine
That ever yet was mine,
Something that I had strangely made,
So that it seemed--
The child for which I had not looked or ever cared,
Of whom, before, I had never dreamed.
Please you, excuse me, good five-o'clock people,
I've lost my last hatful of words,
And my heart's in the wood up above the church steeple,
I'd rather have tea with the birds.
Gay Kate's stolen kisses, poor Barnaby's scars,
John's losses and Mary's gains,
Oh! what do they matter, my dears, to the stars
Or the glow worms in the lanes!
I'd rather lie under the tall elm trees,
With old rooks talking loud overhead,
To watch a red squirrel run over my knees,
Very still on my brackeny bed
And wonder what feathers the wrens will be taking
For lining their nests next Spring;
Or why the tossed shaows of boughs in a great wind shaking
is such a lovely thing.
She was born in Bloomsbury, London, the daughter of an architect, Frederick Mew, who designed Hampstead town hall. He died early in her career. Her mother is described as an invalid (a common Victorian designation). Three of her four brothers died in childhood, and this early experience of mortality haunted her. At 10 she was sent to Gower Street school for girls, run by Lucy Harrison, a suffragette who had a deep passion (it's said) for women's poetry.
In the 1880s her brother had a mental breakdown and was confined in an institution where he died of pneumonia; her sister too was confined for life in an institution in the Isle of Wight. This left Charlotte, one sister, and the mother. The social stigma of mental illness was another daily burden.
A holiday in Brittany with four other women is recorded in 1901. This was the first of many trips to France, and an occasion for poetry writing. Mew is said to have revelled "in the open road" of travel; she went to plays, to the Casino, just loved riding atop buses across the countryside, made friends with market women and fishermen. Back in London she started contributing stories and poems to the Yellow Book under the pseudonym Charles Catty.
She fell in love twice, the first time with Ella D'Arcy (1902 she visited D'Arcy in Paris) and May Sinclair .
By 47 she had published her first volume of poems, The Farmer's Bride (1916) but is also described as a "reclusive spinster." Harold and Alido Monro of the Poetry Bookshop helped her. She had trouble getting publishers to publish some of her poetry; for example, a compositor would not set "Madeleine in Church" as blaspehmous. An incident is told of Munro visiting Charlotte and her sister, Anne, and helping them kill an ailing parrot, with Charlotte sitting and talking about poems she said she had written but never were found.
As a result of the publication of Farmer's Bride she was invited by Hardy to his house, but she didn't make a good impression socially as she chattered (she showed "nervousness" and "pent-up loneliness'). Nonetheless, Hardy called her the "best living woman poet" (however I don't know what he thought of women's poetry). Florence befriended her and the women would meet in London. Sydney Cockerell, director of Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, took her to lunch, organized meetings and she met Walter de La Mare who was impressed by her vivid story-telling, and she stuck by a strong friendship with Kate Cockerell, an illustrator who kept a lock of Elizabeth Siddal's hair as a relic.
1923 the mother died and Charlotte was awarded a small pension from the Civil List. However, when her sister, Anne, died, Charlotte's "thin defenses" began to crack, and she began to imagine her sister was buried alive. An attempt was made to persuade her to instituionalize herself. Whew. She resisted that. But she did have to enter a nursing home, where she killed
herself by swallowing a bottle of Lysol. She was buried next to her sister.
On her poetry, according to Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds (from which much of the above, though not all, is taken) Mew was one of the "great original voices" in women's poetry of the 19th century. Her innovation lies in the dramatic monologue which she uses for social criticism, and in her hands is "a sinuous and flexible form through which to convey the movements of erotic fantasy:" "she can stretch the rhythms of her lines from short to long," imitating mechanisms of desire. She "had a sure and brilliant ear for metre." The idea of miscommunication is a frequent motif.
The poems I chose show a love of trees, quiet ordinary life moments that count (I like the one with the thrush especially), and melancholy. She writes about London and the Isle of Wight.
Books on her:
1997 edition hardback published by Viking.
Charlotte Mew and her Friends
a biography by Penelope Fitzgerald
published in 1984 by Collins.
Charlotte Mew collected poetry and prose
edited with an introduction by Val Warner,
published 1981 by Carcanet Press
and a smaller version of this book published by Fyfield Books (no date).
There is a novel where someone imagines she had an affair with Hardy:
a normalizing book where she is given a more dramatic and supposed happier life.
Thank you, Ellen; Charlotte Mew is one of my favorites (the poems of hers I love best are the super-dramatic/melodramatic monologues you mention -- there's a wonderful one about a changeling, another about a young man standing at his ebloved's graveside...). I have that Fitzgerald biography and I think it's excellent.
Thanks for this Ellen, Charlotte Mew has a place in my heart and I think of her every time I see a London street tree being cut down. She couldn't bear to see them destroyed and neither can I. She is a writer whose life you have to wince away from, with so little joy and then the terrible agonising end. It was good to read so many of her poems.
Thank you for the kind appreciation, Angela. The poems I quoted were poems Judy had put on the list.
I'll try to remember and on Tuesday scan in some more (different kinds) of poems by Mew in the Leighton and Reynolds' anthology from which I took most of the biographical information.
One person on Wompo thanked me and said she loved Mew. She praised the Fitzgerald biography, and said she loves the dramatic monologues for just the reasons Leighton and Reynolds cited.
I'm absolutely delighted that you chose Charlotte Mew!
She's one of my all-time favorites, and much neglected, in my opinion. I know "Madeline in Church" would be too long to include, but it's a poem I admire immensely.
Thanks for your work,
Gail W. . .
Reading Sexton's "The Wedding Night" and Ellen's question (see below) about representations of the wedding night (and the lack thereof) made me think instantly of this poem by Charlotte Mew (1869-1928), who also died at her own hand. I'd never heard of her or this poem before 2 days ago. (Apologies if Ellen or anyone else has done a foremother posting on Mew during the year or so that I've been on the list!) I stumbled onto both in search of women poets who wrote dramatic monologues from the male perspective in the late 1800s or early 1900s. This poem deals (directly and yet indirectly) with the wedding night impact on a young bride -- from the perspective of her husband. I really like it, from her convincing use of vernacular language to the compelling outburst of passion at the end, that only increased my sympathy for the "poor maid." Thought I'd share it. If anyone out there knows of other poems that belong in the category I've described, I'd love to be pointed toward them. Thanks in advance!
Thanks, Evie, for sharing this gorgeous, heart-rending poem. The scene at the end, with the stairs separating the two people made me think of Frost's poem "Home Burial" with all the action taking place on the stairs, and also the recent movie "Sweet
Land", where the tension between the couple is symbolized by their movement up and down the stairs. I bet there are many more examples of stairs in art serving as a symbol/location for a relationship.
The Farmer's Bride
by Charlotte Mew
Three Summers since I chose a maid,
Too young maybe -- but more's to do
At harvest-time than bide and woo.
When us was wed she turned afraid
Of love and me and all things human;
Like the shut of a winter's day.
Her smile went out, and 'twasn't a woman --
More like a little, frightened fay.
One night, in the Fall, she runned away.
"Out 'mong the sheep, her be," they said,
'Should properly have been abed;
But sure enough she wasn't there
Lying awake with her wide brown stare.
So over seven-acre field and up-along across the down
We chased her, flying like a hare
Before our lanterns. To Church-Town
All in a shiver and a scare
We caught her, fetched home at last
And turned the key upon her, fast.
She does the work about the house
As well as most, but like a mouse:
Happy enough to chat and play
With birds and rabbits and such as they,
So long as men-folk stay away.
"Not near, not near!" her eyes beseech
When one of us comes within reach.
The women say that beasts in stall
Look round like children at her call.
I've hardly heard her speak at all.
Shy as a leveret, swift as he,
Straight and slight as a young larch tree,
Sweet as the first wild violets, she,
To her wild self. But what to me?
The short days shorten and the oaks are brown,
The blue smoke rises to the low gray sky,
One leaf in the still air falls slowly down,
A magpie's spotted feathers lie
On the black earth spread white with rime,
The berries redden up to Christmas-time.
What's Christmas-time without there be
Some other in the house than we!
She sleeps up in the attic there
Alone, poor maid. 'Tis but a stair
Betwixt us. Oh, my God! -- the down,
The soft young down of her; the brown,
The brown of her -- her eyes, her hair, her hair!
-- Do check out our own Diane Lockward's essay in
the current Umbrella about this very poem!