Who thinks of June's first rose to-day?
Only some child, perhaps, with shining eyes and rough bright hair will
reach it down
In a green sunny lane, to us almost as far away
As are the fearless stars from these veiled lamps of town.
What's little June to a great broken world with eyes gone dim
From too much looking on the face of grief, the face of dread?
Or what's the broken world to June and him
Of the small eager hand, the shining eyes, the rough bright head?
Charlotte Mew, The Rambling Sailor (1929). The second line is a single line, but does not appear as such due to margin limitations.
The phrases "What's little June to a great broken world" and "what's the broken world to June" are marvelous in and of themselves. But the transformation that takes place during the movement from the first phrase to the second and onward to the close of the poem is remarkable.
John Linnell, "The Windmill" (1844)
As I have noted before, Thomas Hardy was a great admirer of Charlotte Mew's poetry. He, along with John Masefield and Walter de la Mare, took the initiative to obtain a Civil List Pension for her due to her lack of financial resources. After learning that she had been awarded the Pension, she wrote a letter to Hardy thanking him for his efforts. The letter reads, in part:
"It seems so generous -- unreasonable -- when -- from head to feet . . . I know myself to be unworthy of it. I owe it to the amazing kindness of friends to most of whom I am practically a stranger -- and to the weight of great names -- with yours coming first. I am told that I ought to be proud that you should have spoken for me -- indeed I ought -- But pride -- in that sense -- with me (I hope you will understand) -- is a sort of surprise and confusion -- a humbling but a touching thing. What I do feel is gratitude and entire unworthiness. And you will believe that I thank you from my heart."
Letter from Charlotte Mew to Thomas Hardy (January 1, 1924), in Betty Falkenberg, "A Letter from Charlotte Mew," PN Review, Volume 32, Number 3 (2006).
John Linnell, "Reapers, Noonday Rest" (1865)
There are interesting parallels between the final two lines of Mew's "June, 1915" and Hardy's "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'." Hardy's poem was first published in January of 1916. However, it was written (according to the date appended to it by Hardy) in 1915. Thus, Mew and Hardy were thinking similar thoughts, and putting them to paper, in the same dispiriting year. And both of them were able to pull off a difficult-to-achieve trick: placing things into a timeless perspective without slighting the ghastliness of what was currently taking place, and without abandoning empathy for those who were immediately affected by that ghastliness.
In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'
Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War's annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.
Thomas Hardy, Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917).
John Linnell, "Harvest Home, Sunset: The Last Load" (1853)