Saturday, November 27, 2010

Neglected Poets: Charlotte Mew

The poetry of Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) was admired by some of the best poets of her day:  Thomas Hardy, Walter de la Mare, and Siegfried Sassoon (among others) all praised her.  Because of her difficult financial  circumstances, in 1923 Hardy, de la Mare, and John Masefield successfully petitioned for her to receive a Civil List Pension.  Their petition to the Prime Minister read, in part:  "As she is a poet, writing poetry of a rare kind, she may not be widely known for many years.  We feel that it would be a wise and gracious act, worthy of a great people, to give to this rare spirit the means of doing her work until the work can appraise and reward it." 

                                 Rooms

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 some day in the other dustier quieter bed
   Out there -- in the sun -- in the rain.

                                                           Paul Nash
                               "Riviera Window, Cros de Cagnes" (1926)

                              Afternoon Tea

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 shadow of boughs in a great wind shaking
   Is such a lovely thing.

Charlotte Mew, Complete Poems (edited by John Newton) (Penguin 2000).

                                   Paul Nash, "Mimosa Wood" (1926)

6 comments:

Tim Kendall said...

Steve --- you and I have the same taste in poetry! Charlotte Mew was a genius, and her marginalization has been an ongoing scandal. I think that 'Madeleine in Church' is one of the last century's greatest poems. 'Rooms', which you quote, is a wonder, as is 'Fame'. I admit that I'm not so sure about 'Afternoon Tea'...

betty said...

Beautiful poems. Thank you for acquainting me with Charlotte Mew.

Stephen Pentz said...

Tim: as ever, it is a pleasure to hear from you. I was aware of your fondness for Mew, having read your fine posts about her in 'War Poetry' (http://war-poets.blogspot.com).

I agree that 'Afternoon Tea' is not in the same league as 'Rooms.' As you have noted on your blog, it is wrong to characterize her as a 'Victorian poet', but 'Afternoon Tea' does seem to show a bit of that era (as well as a bit of the Georgians), doesn't it?

Thank you very much for the reference to 'Madeleine in Church.' As you know, many of her best poems are lengthy, and, thus, difficult to present in this format -- in addition to 'Madeleine,' I am thinking of (for instance) 'On the Road to the Sea', 'The Fete,' and 'Ken.'

As always, thank you, Tim.

Stephen Pentz said...

Betty: thank you very much for visiting and for commenting. I am delighted that you like the poems. As I have said before, my quixotic goal in starting this blog was to share things that I like with others in the hope that they might enjoy some of those things as well. Comments such as yours are extremely gratifying.

Again, thank you.

kinnareads said...

Oh, beautiful poems. I've never heard of Charlotte Mew. It's baffles me how some fantastic poets are pushed into obscurity. Going to look Mew up. Thank you.

Stephen Pentz said...

kinnareads: thank you very much for visiting and commenting again. I'm pleased that I was able to introduce you to Charlotte Mew. Yes, it is a shame that certain poets seem to disappear, isn't it? But it is up to us to keep them alive, even in a small way.

Thank you again.