Sunday, February 12, 2012

"On, On Let Us Skate Past The Sleeping Willows Dusted With Snow"

Over the past few posts I have inadvertently stumbled into a sort of contemplation of Life and Fate from a cosmic perspective.  It all began innocently enough with Christina Rossetti's "Love hath a name of Death." From there, one thing led to another.

A return to Earth is in order.  Perhaps an ice-skating excursion with Charlotte Mew (following our earlier excursions with Edmund Blunden and A. S. J. Tessimond) will do the trick.  Although, come to think of it, Mew is not exactly the jolly, happy-go-lucky ice-skating type . . .

                             Eliot Hodgkin, "Six Cape Gooseberries" (1954)

                              Smile, Death

Smile, Death, see I smile as I come to you
Straight from the road and the moor that I leave behind,
Nothing on earth to me was like this wind-blown space,
Nothing was like the road, but at the end there was a vision or a face
               And the eyes were not always kind.

    Smile, Death, as you fasten the blades to my feet for me,
On, on let us skate past the sleeping willows dusted with snow;
Fast, fast down the frozen stream, with the moor and the road and the
  vision behind,
    (Show me your face, why the eyes are kind!)
And we will not speak of life or believe in it or remember it as we go.

Charlotte Mew, The Rambling Sailor (1929).  Please note that line 8 is a single line, but the length limitations of this format do not permit it to appear as a single line.  The other (somewhat idiosyncratic) line indentations are Mew's own.

                    Eliot Hodgkin, "Feathers and Hyacinth Heads" (1962)

In a note to the poem, John Newton (the editor and annotator of Mew's Complete Poems) states:  "This poem and 'Moorland Night' are perhaps the poems of Mew's that show the clearest signs of her enthusiasm for Emily Bronte's poetry."  Charlotte Mew, Complete Poems (edited by John Newton) (Penguin 2000).  I would venture to say that, in "Smile, Death," Mew gives Bronte a run for her money when it comes to gloomy moorland meditations.

In any case, I suppose that we have now returned to Earth from the cosmos, after a fashion.

                             Eliot Hodgkin, "Seven Brussels Sprouts" (1955)


zmkc said...

It's a fairly unearthly earth we've returned to surely - but fantastically atmospheric.

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you for that thought, zmkc -- it is an excellent description of what I couldn't put into words. "Fantastically atmospheric" is spot-on: it encompasses, but goes beyond, the Emily Bronte atmosphere.

Thank you indeed!

Tim Kendall said...

Thanks for this. I've been writing on Mew's indebtedness to Emily Brontë recently. 'Fame'---which is one of my favourite lyrics---seems especially to be wrestling with that inheritance. If you haven't seen it already, Mew's essay on EB can be found in the (now out of print) Collected Poems and Prose, ed. Val Warner.

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you very much for the reference to 'Fame,' Tim -- I hadn't read it before. I see what you mean about the presence of Bronte in the poem. 'The moon's dropped child!' is nice, isn't it?

Thank you as well for the reminder about her essay on Bronte. I have Warner's edition, and I took a look at the essay over the weekend after seeing it mentioned in John Newton's note to 'Smile, Death.' Very interesting.

I look forward to seeing what you write about Mew. I know that you have been drawing attention to her poetry for quite some time now, which is a wonderful thing to do.

As always, I greatly appreciate your visits and your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Another delightful read of your blog. Each time I come across something new. The pictures add so much too. I came away from wanting to listen to Wayfaring Stranger sung by Charlie Haydan.

Stephen Pentz said...

literarytaste: thank you for visiting again, and for the kind words. I haven't heard that version of the song -- I'll have to track it down. Thanks again.