Charlotte's web: A Middlesex University resource spinning Charlotte Mew's life with her words
Recommended web address http://studymore.org.uk/xmew.htm
 

Charlotte Mew in her own words

About 1825 birth of Elizabeth Goodman - Life

An Old Servant (Extracts)

As a child not much higher than her knee, I remember climbing upstairs to bed in front of her, dreading that saying which followed too often on downstairs good-nights, 'I am all behind like the cow's tail': a wretched joke which kept one awake for hours doing sums on the knots of the counterpane to prove that she could live on for years and years and was not really so very old. She was then, in fact, about fifty, with the erect swinging gait and most wonderful eyes of youth, undimmed from the day when, a girl of twenty, she had come up from her North-country village to our grandmother's London home; in time being chosen to follow her young mistress on her marriage to the less prosperous house, with its new economies and harder duties, in which we were born.

There, twenty-six years of her life were spent between the attic nursery and the basement kitchen, standing downstairs over the fire, sitting upstairs at the round table; in cooking, washing, sewing; in planning for us small treats and great careers; patching clothes and family quarrels; in an endless learning of new tasks and the making of little jests - a life of gay and monotonous and unbroken toil.

To us as children she was as fixed a part of the universe as the bath (cruelly cold in winter) into which she plunged us every morning, and the stars to which she pointed through the high window, naming some of them, in the evening sky. She slaved, worshipped, fought for, and occasionally whipped us with a calm crescendo of 'Will you? Will you?? WILL YOU?' between the spanks; but for all that, she was not a grown-up person. She knew everything and could do everything, and she had an odd excrescence of authority; otherwise she was one of Us. At fifty she had not outgrown the absorbing conversion of lumps of sugar into 'pig's blood' over the kitchen gas, the sheer excitement of colour in a box of chalks, or the thrill of the blare of a penny trumpet. Mr Noah of the nursery ark to her, as to us, was as real a personage, and the player caught cheating at croquet in the Square an object of the same passionate and personal dislike.
...
It is natural to think of her as if she had been wholly ours; but long before any of us were born she had partly kept and nursed and stored up the shrewd, rustic counsels of a much-loved mother, then stricken with some terrible disease - years dead in our time, but scarcely for a day forgotten; and that grey remote village on the hillside, which none of us had ever seen, but all the ways of which we knew so well by hearsay, was the scene, too, of her unforgettable romance. The man had been a blacksmith - this was all we knew, and that he had made it for her a sudden question of love or duty, or of this love or that. The bedridden woman could not, at most, have lain for more than a year or so between them; they were both young, but he could not wait. It was the big rusty horse-shoe hanging over her bedroom door which gave us the idea of that device for the birthday brooch and the stamping of the Christmas notepaper; after that - though little was said about it - we began to notice the special value set on anything, even a leaflet shot through the letter-box, bearing this symbol of the young man who couldn't wait.
...
No one had such a passion for what she called "contrivance", and nothing pleased her more than to be called a schemer; or if one were bent on flattery, to compare her to Napoleon, who shared quite comfortably with John Wesley and Queen Victoria the niche in her temple of Fame.

Her Place of Worship (and when she used that battered phrase it raised its head again) was a Wesleyan Chapel in Great Queen Street, and this was to, I believe, her favourite place of entertainment. From Sunday to Sunday she could repeat the sermon almost word for word, and ribbon for ribbon and flower for flower record the changes in neighbours' bonnets. But there and everywhere what intensely and chiefly interested her were "the faces", closely studied and recalled long afterwards with amazing clearness; and never, she said, at best or worst seen so plainly in "God's House".

"Let me look at you", she would say very gravely to the culprit brought before her in nursery days, patiently listening to his wandering story, but judging finally from what she read in his generally swollen face.

In early years the rite and reality of daily prayers were for us strictly insisted on, and "Forgive us our trespasses" was no idle phrase when after it, each night at bedtime, we had to specify them; nor submission to God's will, when it took the form of mumps on the very afternoon when one was going to the pantomime, an easy saying. But for herself, she once admitted later, she had never asked anything of the Almighty - "As His Majesty, so is His Mercy", was all she cared to say about it - though there was one thing passionately desired at the end, for which she must have found it difficult not to ask. It was her great wish to "die in harness", and so, dropping one day suddenly between the shafts, she died.

...
she had set forth and portioned out among "the family" her small possessions, to each one of us some carefully chosen thing... But a few hours after the blinds were drawn in the quiet room upstairs all these... had been removed... by a band of newly arrived relations... Within an hour of their arrival they demanded the key of what they called the "death- chamber", and finally claimed the exclusive right to "follow to the grave". No on who knew her could think of her in either place. There was nothing there for her to do.

...
a certificate for her last twenty-five years of "domestic service and irreproachable rectitude of character"... hung over her bed, and was, with the china teapot commemorating Queen Victoria's first Jubilee, of all her belongings the most highly prized.

1871: Birth of Richard Cobham Mew - died 9.12.1876 - Sensual

Miss Bolt (Extracts)

I see her now, seated within the charmed circle of a white drugget, in our low nursery, filling up the gaps in our pinafores and budding intelligences with melancholy impartiality as we stood round her, hanging, with childish reverence and credulity, on the words of weight that fell, like those jewels in the old fairy tale, from our poor princess's mouth. Amid the dazzling lights and colours of child­hood's enchanted picture, she passes in and out, an incongruous figure, persistently monochrome, untouched by any of the bright hues surrounding her, yet assuming a strange importance in the scene.

To outsiders she was simply an unusually incompetent little needle-woman; but our estimate of her personality found no ade­quate expression. We called her affectionately 'Bolty', and enthroned her silently in our hearts. Twice a week and on occasions of domestic pressure or festivity, she used to mount the creaky stairs. She sat by the window in a favourite corner making pinafores and darning socks, for which she received a weekly salary, and generously loading our minds with priceless experiences, less marketable, alas! than the labours of her failing eyes and unskilful hands. Her appearance was unprepossessing. In age she was about sixty; and in height not much over five feet. Two pale blue eyes guarded a nose, technically speaking broken, but practically almost extinct. A small allowance of faded drab hair was parted sparsely on her fore­head and gathered into a net behind. Her mouth was only significant as a vehicle of speech. In describing her hastily from memory, one would be tempted to forget it altogether, but for reminders in the shape of a couple of very prominent front teeth. These served fre­quently as a convenient substitute for scissors, which, as she remarked with thoughtful frugality when remonstrated with on the subject, "as to be ground'. Her complexion was of a brownish-grey hue, but served to remind her that she had had 'a fine colour as a girl'. Of that period of her life, except in this particular, she never spoke. It bore perhaps the record of a tragedy that passed and left her early the frail little ghost of living humanity we knew. For she was not unlike some skeleton leaf of a forgotten summer, which the winds have neglected to sweep away.

...

Miss Bolt lived alone up some blind alley near the Westminster Bridge Road, and used to drag her stoical little body to and fro in the early wet winter mornings and late nights, rather than spend omnibus money on herself. That infinitesimal sum was merged, I am sure, in the meagre earnings of 'Annie, the heldest girl', who worked in a frilling factory, and who was individualized in our minds by the possession of a mysterious talent, known as 'keepin' 'erself to 'erself. The merit of this endowment was inscrutable then to us. It is a secret, I now suppose, which many a London girl's good angel whispers in her ear.

...

Annie said, "Lor, Aunt, I wish I 'ad a cloak or somethink to cover me up, going to and from." She's got a awful cough, I wish you could 'ear 'er; me-sister-in-law's consumptive, I always did say, and there's the moral of it. I always expect Annie' go into a decline.'

'What is a decline?' I asked anxiously. Miss Bolt always alluded to this disease with a complacent fatalism that was very bewildering. One knew not if it were meritorious or undesirable, so ambiguous was her intonation. 'There's different kinds; them as comes by nature, and them as you may git for yourself. I knew a stout young lady, wot threw herself into one, drinking vinegar by the saucerful, and sucking lemons, even in 'er bed. She ended a corpse, very rapid. Ah! Miss Mary, if you should ever feel yourself spreading, don't you be tempted to foller 'er; for what you're made, that you'll be.'

Ned made the unpardonable mistake of trying to convert his aunt, and she admitted, ' 'e was never the same agin'. For her views were unflinchingly agnostic. 'I told 'im', she said, 'I 'adn't no patience with them as was always 'ollerin' "yes", and setting theirselves agin them as set jest as much store by "no". If you want 'arps and 'eaven, I said, I trust you may git 'em, but don't go poking your 'opes and hinstruments down everybody's throat, whether they arsts for 'em or no. Lor!' she murmured dreamily in conclusion, 'they must 'ave a fine time of it, to be that eager to do away with the notion of a bit of rest!'

...

Annie's baby arrived, and Miss Bolt's visits became still rarer. Mother sent postcards-for we could not bear to lose sight of her - but when, after long absence, she reappeared we learned they had never reached her. 'I never got your mar's card', she would say, perhaps before it had been mentioned; 'it's shocking the mismanagement of the Post Office, that's what it is.

...

She came sometimes, on birthdays or in the evening, shabbier and more thinly clad than ever, but was always 'engaged' if wanted for a day's work. The last time we saw her was one autumn evening, not long after my brother Charlie died. The baby she had known was a big boy, and had been succeeded by another, who was just beginning to talk. It was a dull afternoon. There was a grey sky overhead. Through the windows you could see the leaves swirling along the pavements, blown from the dead heaps in the square. She entered softly, as her habit was, looking very old and pinched, and bade us a spiritless 'good-evening'. She sought her favourite seat by the window and sat down listlessly, maintaining for some time a silence we knew her well enough not to break. At last she said wearily, 'And where's Master Charles?' I told her hurriedly, and bade her make acquaintance with the little girl on my knee. She looked dully into the child's smiling face, and twice repeated, 'Dead, dead, Miss Mary! Well, 'e's 'appier where 'e is!'

'What is "dead"?' lisped my little maid softly. I bent and kissed the word away. But Miss Bolt answered the question solemnly, her eyes fixed on the low fire. 'It jest means as you go out like the candle or the fire or a noo piece at the theater wot 'asn't took. It don't matter much to anybody but them as wants the fire to warm 'em, and 'im wot perduced the play. That's it, ain't it, Miss Mary?' she said, turning a dim gaze on me. 'I don't know', I answered rather shortly. There was more of severance and tragedy in the air than I could bear.

'How's Fanny?' [Annie?] I asked abruptly, fearing I had been unkind. Miss Bolt got up and went towards the door.

'Fanny's gone where many's gone before 'er, and where many'll go after 'er. There ain't no call for you to arst after 'er no more.'

She went out. I felt too puzzled and bewildered to recall her, but in a moment she returned, carrying something wrapped in an old silk handkerchief. It was a little old volume of Goldsmith's poems. 'I thought you might set a store by it, Miss Mary', she remarked coldly, offering it to me. It was, I suppose, the last of her treasured library, six books, carefully hoarded, of which she had been very proud.

I accepted it silently, not knowing what to say. 'I think I'll go down and 'ave a bit of supper', she said, casting a lingering glance round the room. Having neatly folded up the tattered square of silk, she disappeared. Sitting in the growing darkness, we heard her uneven steps go slowly down the stairs. We never saw her again.

A year or two afterwards I thought I recognized her in a desolate little figure huddled in the corner of a stone seat on one of the bridges. It was night, and the resemblance proved to be but a chance one. I passed on, uncertain if my feeling were one of relief or regret.

For long afterward we waited, hoping she would turn up unexpectedly, as it was her wont to do. But she never came. Perhaps Mrs Wright grew importunate; perhaps the worn-out little soul reached the haven of which she dreamed! but then I think we should have known. Perhaps she has found another refuge where parish relief is not taken into account so sternly, and to enter which 'int'rest' is of less avail. Certainly we look no more for her, but she cannot be forgotten, last relic as she is of life's most exquisite possession - youth.

Its visions, its brilliant pictures and poignant sensations, lying so far behind us, are to be recaptured only in dreams. They are as effectually destroyed as those profitless butcher's shops and unzoological animals and the battered soldiers with which we used to play. But there is an element in life quite indestructible, whether it come to us at our day's outset or its end. The spirit of goodness may meet us, bare and radiant, or shrouded in this world's dingiest garb, yet it is an eternal guest, albeit for a time we may entertain our angel unawares.

Poorly and comically clad, it greeted me in the person of that sad, neutral-tinted little workwoman, who left me, like the childhood in which I knew her, mysteriously and without farewell.

1875 on?: Isle of Wight Holidays - Life

The Country Sunday (Extracts)

When quite a child, I was pledged to read at night and morning a book called the Believer's Daily Remembrancer, and in my little sweet-smelling country chamber, painfully at night and morning, I toiled my portion through. The pages were compact of capitals and strings of long, unspellable adjectives, forming apostrophes to Deity, with exclamation marks at the end. ...

But Sunday was my real Remembrancer, when, from some instinct of the day's respite and restfulness, I put the book away.

... the Country Sunday is always to me the Sunday of my childhood...

Then only was prayer possible, relieved from ponderous and inflated ornament. Perhaps, put into words, the spirit of my petition was a sentence from the French version of the Litany, lending the plea a note of pathos which our language lacks. 'O, Seigneur, ayez pitie de nous.'

The picture of my Country Sunday is always summer; and early summer, with the roses blooming in the fields, I see. Lovers, I used to fancy them - the pink ones maidens and the white ones men, wooing each other in the twilight of the green. The sense of twilight overhung the day, for evening was and is that day's great hour. Then the bells, together with the stillness, spoke clearer peace across the meadows, and the stars - of which they seemed the voices - came later faintly into sight, like spirits smiling when their song was sung.

It was the 'day of eyes' a blind man in the village used to say, and that was why we wore our Sunday clothes; because God and His angels (those I thought the stars) were certain to be looking down. We passed that old man on the way to evening service, and he would put his fingers to his ears and tell me those were his 'peepers', with the far-off piteous smile of one doomed to find no answer to it in the faces of his kind.

We passed, too, many people on that path; among them, the Vicar's 'young lady', who long afterwards I came to know as the poor young man's undoing, a slim, white-frocked personage, with wandering blue eyes, which led in their time, and not unwittingly, more than one honest soul astray. And Georgiana Mitchell - a strapping maiden from the rope factory - the mainstay of the choir, who prompted the love-lorn parson audibly in his occasional lapses from the sacred text.

All these people awed me somewhat; they seemed so indifferent to the fact - with which the blind man had impressed me - of the unflinching Look which marked that day. That was the thought that claimed my childhood and, in another fashion, claims it now. 'A day of eyes', of transcendental vision, when the very roses - for there are always roses in the Sunday of my fancy - challenge the pureness of our gaze, and the grass marks the manner of our going, and the sky hangs like a gigantic curtain, veiling the Face which, watching us invisibly, we somehow fail to see. It judged in those old days my scamped and ill-done tasks. It viewed my childish cruelties and still, with wider range, it views and judges now. Here in the dingy town, a book or casual visitor can chase the sense of wrong and folly, and the soul is often stifled into sleep. The futile preacher earns his meed of critical contempt as an inane and blundering egotist, but there, so little way removed from the fresh sweetness of the fragrant dust to which he must so soon return, he remains sacred still, God's Minister, - and if, poor soul, a bad one - well then - 'Dieu aie pitié de lui.'

It is - this Sunday of my dreams - the sweet Remembrancer of all patient and holy things; amongst them, of the quiet dead. They sleep in the country, nearer those who knew and loved them, than in the grim grave-acres of the town, lying either side the little pathway, which at morn and evening their old companions tread.

There was (strangely enough, the blind man's friend) a woman who could never go to church because she said they talked of nothing there but 'dead folk', - a scathing, though unconscious commentary on the preacher's power.

Often on moonlit nights, while from within the church the wheezy voluntary sounded, the moon, to my thought, has touched white headstones, giving them a weird and wakeful prominence - leaving the unmarked mounds bathed in a gentler, more forgetful light. Under the sward they slumbered more securely, those of whom men recorded nothing, leaving their virtues and their names with God; those whom man had remembered seeming to have missed their rest. Still I recall one puzzling line, written on a small marble slab over a child, whose short years numbered only three -

Eternity is not length of life but depth of life
and I have since many times wondered what was the history of that little child.

His might well be the motto of the Country Sunday - that long, mysterious day, holding eternity within it, hinting of no tomorrow save the one which has no ending; mocking - if such a day can mock - the transitory aims and joys of common life; lifting the soul above its body and hallowing the body to its soul...

 
Life

The London Sunday (Extracts)

"Son-daye" an old writer calls "God's parle with dust";... Sunday (especially the London Sunday) is a day of voices, the greatest of which is silence...

"God's parle" begins with silence; the hour of awakement starts with determined slumber. The prologue to this drama, wherein should move "bright shadows of true rest";, is chanted before a lowered curtain; for in the homes of labour crazy blinds are drawn, and not till noon will the flutter of curl papers and shirt sleeves behind them proclaim the festal nature of the day...

The issues of a wider existence are to be tried in these spare hours of tranquillity;- the worker sleeps, but soon his heart will wake to its brief taste of life, and he will rise a carpenter or sweep no longer, but the man he is, to paint in his own poor colours the clouded picture of his soul...

 
Intensity

Madeleine in Church (Extracts)

...when I was half a child I could not sit
Watching black shadows on green lawns and red carnations burning in the sun,
Without paying so heavily for it
The joy and pain, like any mother and her unborn child were almost one.
I could hardly bear
The dreams upon the eyes of white geraniums in the dusk,
The thick, close voice of musk,
The jessamine music on the thin night air,
Or, sometimes, my own hands about me anywhere -
The sight of my own face (for it was lovely then) even the scent of my own hair...

If there were fifty heavens God could not give us back the child who went or never came;
Here, on our little patch of this great earth, the sun of any darkened day,
Not one of all the starry buds hung on the hawthorn trees of last year's May,
No shadow from the sloping fields of yesterday;
For every hour they slant across the hedge a different way,
The shadows are never the same...
...
Then safe, safe are we? in the shelter of His everlasting wings?
I do not envy Him his victories. His arms are full of broken things.

How old was Mary out of whom you cast
So many devils? Was she young or perhaps for years
She had sat staring, with dry eyes, at this and that man going past
Till suddenly she saw You on the steps of Simon's house
And stood and looked at you through tears.
        I think she must have known by those
The thing, for what it was that had come to her.
For some of us there is a passion, I suppose
So far from earthly cares and earthly fears
That in its stillness you can hardly stir
        Or in its nearness, lift your hand,
So great that you have simply got to stand
Looking at it through tears, through tears.
Then straight from these there broke the kiss,
        I think you must have known by this
The thing for what it was, that had come to You:
         She did not love You like the rest,
It was in her own way, but at the worst, the best,
         She gave you something altogether new.
      And through it all, from her, no word.
         She scarcely saw You, scarcely heard:
Surely You knew when she so touched You with her hair,
         Or by the wet cheek lying there,
And while her perfume clung to You from head to feet all through the day
         That You can change the things for which we care,
         But even You, unless You kill us, not the way.

         This, then was peace for her, but passion too.

 

The Hay-Market (Extracts)

It is not near Piccadilly: it is a place of carts and the sky. Cabs and trains know nothing of it, and on the map you will find it very small, though it is more important than Piccadilly; it is in the real world...

It is a long way from any (except, perhaps, 'St Polges'') fountain...

...there is a horse-trough in the centre, cutting one of the two lines of black posts marking the road off from the great stretch of cobble-stones on either side; and one clean house with a pediment freshly painted, from which the pigeons fly. And there is the British Queen at one corner looking crossways at the King's Head at the other, and opposite the British Queen the Jolly Farmers...

The carts are always there: the hay-stacked carts with the empty shafts, standing like exiled ricks in a vast, strange yard; and the big two- or four-horsed drays loaded with coal sacks, meal sacks, beer casks; half asleep, pulling up mechanically at the horse-trough and the Jolly Farmers...

The sleek, fat pigeons, born middle-aged, have... only the everlasting problem of how to get the better of the sparrows and much too much to eat.

Past the white points of the Needles, over the Island sea, the pigeons of woods and other worlds flock home in autumn, dashing themselves sometimes at the end of the journey against the pane of St Catherine's Light, dropping dazed and spent on the wet sand. The Market cockneys flutter heavily up, no farther than their narrow ledge, to roost till the morning carts, which scatter the oats from the horses' nose-bags, lumber in again.

The sparrows flying up to their one poor tree in the side street are nearer the sky, and you are nearer to it in the Market than in other places. As London grows taller and taller she gets farther and farther away from it; but here the bank of brown houses is low, the grey enclosure bare and wide; on windless days the patch of sky seems to drop a little way to roof it in.
...
These things belong to the Market and the Market belongs to the children after four o'clock on week days, all Sundays and Saturday afternoons. Cricket goes on all over it, with or without stumps, because there are always the posts, and most of the cricketers, by the way, are not much taller. The bigger boys play a game of bump-ball from head to head: the roller-skaters have to reel away on one leg down the side streets because the paving is too rough; but there are stilts, and stilt-walkers are not as others are. No one knows till he has tried it what it is to walk a foot or two above the earth: if you could go on doing it for ever, you need envy no one, neither the angels nor the millionaires. Also you can make bonfires from knobs of coal and straw and scraps of rag and paper strewn about the Square, and, if they don't go out at once, squat round them bivouacking on a prairie.

The posts you climb continually; the horse-trough is likewise always there to sail your hat and trail your arms in, hanging on by the waist until your eldest sister sneaks up from behind, and cops you out of it by the neck - or lower down. When you are small, not more than four or five, you are reduced to making gardens on the grass of the cobble-stones with match-box sides for paths and wisps of straw for the garden trees, and ponds in the crevices with water fetched in your shoe (if it is not too holey) from the horse-trough; but it is difficult to find things really small enough for flowers. The gardeners will sometimes let you help them: their minute red hands are often chapped and always grubby, but if one happens to brush yours, you suddenly think of primroses, damp petals, gathered in some copse last spring. These are the only flowers in the Market, and the children's are the only real voices.

Hawkers bawling cauliflowers round and women telling each other Gawd's Truth on doorsteps have their stock of words of course, no voice. 'Riah, perhaps, had one that has been clogged for want of use: she seldom speaks, and no one listens to her when she does. 'Riah, the children tell you, is quite old, forty or fifty, and not four foot high: her head and hands and feet are very large; her eyes, which are dull and sticky, very small. She doesn't wash, or do anything but easy errands, sometimes getting a halfpenny tip for them, which buys a farthing's worth of cake crumbs and a barley-sugar whistle, of which the nearest cricketer or gardener can get a suck and blow. She comes out about four or five o'clock to stand in among them and watch them play: and watching 'Riah you see that she would rather like to be in some quiet kind of game herself - a youngster too.
...
Cats doze, men smoke silently, and women discuss them with great frankness at the Market windows, heads and shoulders hanging out.
...
In Augustus Street the thin cretonne curtains, stiffened with dirt, are carefully drawn, and no one knows what goes on behind them...

Walking down Augustus Street one evening, towards dark, two figures came out of one of the houses just in front of me at the Market end. A tall, stout woman and a tiny child holding on to her skirt, trying to keep up with her and chattering, in a rather tired treble, like a chirpy little sparrow, as they went along. Suddenly the woman stooped and struck the child, with a thickly spoken

"Now go and make yer bl - y 'appy life miserable and stop yer bl - y jaw!"

The child stumbled and caught at the woman's skirts again, and they went on, a big shadow and a little shadow, moving unevenly in the dusk across the Square.

The Square was full of voices and sharp sounds: dogs yapping, the clatter of boots on the stones, the clash of shrill and piping voices, small black shouting shadows scudding across the thin sheet of blue mist, with the row of ghostly hay-stacked carts beyond.

A few yards from the Jolly Farmers a girl was standing in a doorway looking out at it. A woman with a red puffy face and a jug in her hand pushed past her out of the blackness of the passage behind and began talking noisily.

"You mark my words. 'E'll knock 'er silly before 'e's done. Wot's 'Erbert after orl? Not much. She always said she'd 'ave 'im, the dirty - - ! I wouldn't let it brike yer, Mibel!"

The girl said, 'Cawn't yer let it alone?' and the woman shuffled off, in loose felt slippers, to the Jolly Farmers, muttering 'A bit of muck like that!' and shuffled back two minutes afterwards wiping her mouth with the back of her hand to say it more noisily over again. The girl said, For Gawd's sake, let it alone!' and stood on, staring into the Market.

 
Life - Intensity - History -

Passed (Extracts)

"Like souls that meeting pass, And passing never meet again"

Let those who have missed a romantic view of London in its poorest quarters - and there will romance be found - wait for a sunset in early winter. They may turn North or South, towards Islington or Westminster, and encounter some fine pictures and more than one aspect of unique beauty. This hour of pink twilight has its monopoly of effects. Some of them may never be reached again.

On such an evening in mid-December, I put down my sewing and left tame glories of fire-light (discoverers of false charm) to welcome, as youth may, the contrast of keen air outdoors to the glow within.
...
The splendid cold of fierce frost set my spirit dancing. The road rung hard underfoot, and through the lonely squares woke sharp echoes from behind. This stinging air assailed my cheeks with vigorous severity.
...
But after the first delirium of enchanting motion, destination became a question. The dim trees behind the dingy enclosures were beginning to be succeeded by rows of flaring gas jets, displaying shops of new aspect and evil smell. Then the heavy walls of a partially demolished prison reared themselves darkly against the pale sky.
...
By this landmark I recalled - alas that it should be possible - a church in the district, newly built by an infallible architect, which I had been directed to seek at leisure. I did so now. A row of cramped houses, with the unpardonable bow window, projecting squalor into prominence, came into view. Robbing these even of light, the portentous walls stood a silent curse before them. I think they were blasting the hopes of the sad dwellers beneath them - if hope they had - to despair. Through spattered panes faces of diseased and dirty children leered into the street. One room, as I passed, seemed full of them. The window was open; their wails and maddening requirements sent out the mother's cry. It was thrown back to her, mingled with her [p.66] children's screams, from the pitiless prison walls. These shelters struck my thought as travesties - perhaps they were not - of the grand place called home.
...
click for
The drinking fountain, Clerkenwell Green, in 1898
Suddenly I emerged from the intolerable shadow of the brickwork, breathing easily once more. Before me lay a roomy space, nearly square, bounded by three-storey dwellings, and transformed, as if by quick mechanism, with colours of sunset. Red and golden spots wavered in the panes of the low scattered houses round the bewildering expanse. Overhead a faint crimson sky was hung with violet clouds, obscured by the smoke and nearing dusk. In the centre, but towards the left, stood an old stone pump, and some few feet above it irregular lamps looked down. They were planted on a square of paving railed in by broken iron fences, whose paint, now discoloured, had once been white.

Narrow streets cut in five directions from the open roadway. Their lines of light sank dimly into distance, mocking the stars' entrance into the fading sky. Everything was transfigured in the illuminated twilight. As I stood, the dying sun caught the rough edges of a girl's uncovered hair, and hung a faint nimbus round her poor desecrated face. The soft circle, as she glanced toward me, lent it the semblance of one of those mystically pictured faces of some medieval saint. A stillness stole on, and about the square dim figures hurried along, leaving me stationary in existence (I was thinking fancifully), when my medieval saint demanded 'who I wasa-shovingof?' and dismissed me, not unkindly, on my way. Hawkers in a neighbouring alley were calling, and the monotonous ting-ting of the muffin-bell made an audible background to the picture. I left it, and then the glamour was already passing. In a little while darkness possessing it, the place would reassume its aspect of sordid gloom.

There is a street not far from there, bearing a name that quickens life within one, by the vision it summons of a most peaceful country, where the broad roads are but pathways through green meadows, and your footstep keeps the time to a gentle music of pure streams. There the scent of roses, and the first pushing buds of spring, mark the seasons, and the birds call out faithfully the time and manner of the day. Here Easter is heralded by the advent in some squalid mart of air-balls on Good Friday; early summer and late may be known by observation of that unromantic yet authentic calendar in which alley-tors, tip-cat, whip- and peg-tops, hoops and suckers, in their courses mark the flight of time.

Perhaps attracted by the incongruity, I took this way. In such a thoroughfare it is remarkable that satisfied as are its public with transient substitutes for literature, they require permanent types... of Art. Pictures, so-called, are the sole departure from necessity and popular finery which the prominent wares display. The window exhibiting these aspirations was scarcely more inviting than the fishmonger's next door, but less odoriferous, and I stopped to see what the ill-reflecting lights would show. There was a typical selection. Prominently, a large chromo of a girl at prayer. Her eyes turned upwards, presumably to heaven, left the gazer in no state to dwell on the elaborately bared breasts below. These might rival, does wax-work attempt such beauties, any similar attraction of Marylebone's extensive show. This personification of pseudo-purity was sensually diverting, and consequently marketable.

My mind seized the ideal of such a picture, and turned from this prostitution of it sickly away. Hurriedly I proceeded, and did not stop again until I had passed the low gateway of the place I sought.

Its forbidding exterior was hidden in the deep twilight and invited no consideration. I entered and swung back the inner door. It was papered with memorial cards, recommending to mercy the unprotesting spirits of the dead. My prayers were requested for the 'repose of the soul of the Architect of that church, who passed away in the True Faith - December - 1887'.

Accepting the assertion, I counted him beyond them, and mentally entrusted mine to the priest for those who were still groping for it in the gloom. Within the building, darkness again forbade examination. A few lamps hanging before the altar struggled with obscurity.

I tried to identify some ugly details with the great man's complacent eccentricity, and failing, turned toward the street again. Nearly an hour's walk lay between me and my home.
...
the magnetism of human presence reached me where I stood. I hesitated, and in a few moments found what sought me on a chair in the far corner, flung face downwards across the seat. The attitude arrested me. I went forward. The lines of the figure spoke unquestionable despair.

...
Did she reach me, or was our advance mutual? It cannot be told. I suppose we neither know. But we met, and her hand, grasping mine, imperatively dragged me into the cold and noisy street.

We went rapidly in and out of the flaring booths, hustling little staggering children in our unpitying speed, I listening dreamily to the concert of hoarse yells and haggling whines which struck against the silence of our flight. On and on she took me, breathless and without explanation. We said nothing. I had no care or impulse to ask our goal. The fierce pressure of my hand was not relaxed a breathing space; it would have borne me against resistance could I have offered any, but I was capable of none. The streets seemed to rush past us, peopled with despair. Weirdly lighted faces sent blank negations to a spirit of question which finally began to stir in me. Here, I thought once vaguely, was the everlasting No!

We must have journeyed thus for more than half an hour and walked far. I did not detect it. In the eternity of supreme moments time is not. Thought, too, fears to be obtrusive and stands aside.

We gained a door at last, down some blind alley out of the deafening thoroughfare. She threw herself against it and pulled me up the unlighted stairs.
...


I record the passage of a few minutes. At the first opportunity I sought the slumberer on the bed. She slept well: hers was a long rest; there might be no awakening from it, for she was dead.
...


My heart went home. The dear place was desolate. No echo of its many voices on the threshold or stair. My footsteps made no sound as I went rapidly up to a well-known room. Here I besought the mirror for the reassurance of my own reflection. It denied me human portraiture and threw back cold glare. As I opened mechanically a treasured book, I noticed the leaves were blank, not even blurred by spot or line; and then I shivered - it was deadly cold. The fire that but an hour or two ago it seemed I had forsaken for the winter twilight, glowed with slow derision at my efforts to rekindle heat. My hands plunged savagely into its red embers, but I drew them out quickly, unscathed and clean. The things by which I had touched life [p. 72] were nothing. Here, as I called the dearest names, their echoes came back again with the sound of an unlearned language. I did not recognize, and yet I framed them. What was had never been!
...


Without a pause of thought I stumbled down the horrible unlighted stairs. A few steps before I reached the bottom my foot struck a splint off the thin edge of one of the rotten treads. I slipped, and heard a door above open and then shut. No other sound. At length I was at the door. It was ajar. I opened it and looked out. Since I passed through it first the place had become quite deserted. The inhabitants were, I suppose, all occupied elsewhere at such an hour on their holiday night. The lamps, if there were any, had not been lit. The outlook was dense blackness.
...


As I passed it on my way home, some dramatic instinct impelled me to re- enter the unsightly church.
...
A service was about to begin. One little lad in violet skirt and goffered linen was struggling to light the benediction tapers, and a troop of school children pushed past me as I stood facing the alter and blocking their way. A grey-clad sister of mercy was arresting each tiny figure, bidding it pause beside me, and with two firm hands on either shoulder, compelling a ludicrous curtsey, ad at the same time whispering the injunction to each hurried little personage, - 'always make a reverence to the alter', 'Ada, come back!' and behold another unwilling bob! Perhaps the good woman saw her Master's face behind the tinsel trappings and flaring lights. But she forgot His words. The saying to these little ones that has rung through the centuries commanded liberty and not allegiance. I stood aside till they had shuffled into seats, and finally kneeling stayed till the brief spectacle of the afternoon was over.

Towards its close I looked away from the mumbling priest, whose attention, divided between the inconvenient millinery and the holiest mysteries, was distracting mine.

Two girls holding each other's hands came in and stood in deep shadow behind the farthest rows of high-backed chairs by the door. The younger rolled her head from side to side; her shifting eyes and ceaseless imbecile grimaces chilled my blood. The other, who stood praying, turned suddenly (the place but for the flaring altar lights was dark) and kissed the dreadful creature by her side. I shuddered, and yet her face wore no look of loathing nor of pity. The expression was a divine one of habitual love. She wiped the idiot's lips and stroked the shaking hand in hers, to quiet the sad hysterical caresses she would not check. It was a page of gospel which the old man with his back to it might never read. A sublime and ghastly scene.

Up in the little gallery the grey-habited nuns were singing a long Latin hymn of many verses, with the refrain "Oh! Sacred Heart!" I buried my face till the last vibrating chord of the accompaniment was struck. The organist ventured a plagal cadence. It evoked no 'amen'. I whispered one, and an accidentally touched note shrieked disapproval. I repeated it.

 

An Open Door (Extracts)

As a child, I remember looking down from our high nursery windows on the children, far below us under the railings of the park - vagrants playing vagrant games, and even then I longed, I think, in a dreamy childish fashion to teach them prettier ways of play.

That passed, and then at school in Paris, I used to wish I had the trick of helping wayward spirits, and girls can... be wayward like their brothers.

All this was latent, crude; I saw in it a sanctimonious trait and tried to check it.

It passed, too, unrealized, a vague ideal or "crank", perhaps, and then when I left school we lived too fast for thought, it was a maze of parties and of people with not much room for actual life.

Crank (1900 Dictionary)...Liable to be overset, as a ship when she has not sufficient ballast to carry full sail; in a shaky or crazy condition...

It was indeed only a month ago that enlightenment came....

... your sanity was shaken... there you lost your balance...


 
Written 1890s - Sensual - dialect

An Ending

You know that road beside the sea,
Walled by the wavin' wheat
Which winds down to the litttle town
Wind-blown and grey and up the crooked street?
We'd used to meet
Just at the top, and when the grass was trodden down
'Twas by our feet
We'd used to stand
And watch the clouds like a great fleet
Sail over the sea and over the land,
And the gulls dart
Above our heads; and by the gate
At the road's end, when et was late
And all the ship's was showing lights on quiet nights,
We'd used to part.

So, Sir, you think I've missed my way,
There's nothing but the Judgement Seat -
But ef I pray perhaps I may - what's that you say -
A golden street?
Give me the yellow wheat!
Et edn't there we'm going to meet!
No, I'm not mazed, I make no doubt
That ef we don't my soul goes out
'Most like a candle in the everlasting dark.
And what's the odds? 'Twas just a spark
Alight for her.
I tell you, Sir,
That God He made et brave and plain,
Sin' he knows better than yon Book
What's in a look
You'd go to Hell to get again.

Another hour? An hour to wait - !
I sim I'll meet her at the gate -
You know that road beside the sea -
The crooked street - the wavin' wheat - ?
(What's that? A lamp! Et made me start - )
That's where our feet - we'd used to meet - on quiet nights -
My God! the ships es showing lights! -
We'd used - to part.

 

 
See 1890 - Intensity

A Country Book (Extracts)

... When first I read it many years ago, it set my own heart beating, for I felt I discovered in it an undreamed of universe. It seemed almost like a new friend who brought to me thoughts I had never known and showed me things I had never seen...

... it is a country book which teaches one to look at Nature, not as a great picture but rather as a living world, where life is orderly and sweet and for the most part peaceful - with a sweetness and peace and order to which we cannot reach...

Field and Hedgerow... tells of many things beside the hedges and the fields. It should have for motto a line of Byron's, "Oh that my words were colours!" for there is colour on almost every page of it, the myriad colours of Nature and the more mystic colours of man's mind. The tint of this man's mind was sadness, though the tint of Nature - which above all other things he loved - is joy. From a blade of slender grass which dare not grow too high lest the wind should snap it, or the smallest speck upon an insect's wing - "that singular shadow-painting", to the clouds - those "fleets of heaven which sail on and on and know no haven", he watches tirelessly the minute and mighty pageant, and it is marvellous as we read to find how much he saw.

"What is the colour of the dandelion?" he asks, "not yellow, nor orange, nor gold." And so he turned to books to find it. There was much about assorted wools and soldiers' uniforms, but "the dandelion remained unexplained". "So many, many books - and such a very very little bit of Nature in them." He found from the dandelion that there were "no books" to teach the names and mysteries of beauty, only "five thousand books to unlearn".

"It seems", he says, "as if the chief value of books is to give us something to unlearn. I hope in the days to come future thinkers will unlearn us and find ideas infinitely better." "Yet the spirit of the earth and sea, the soul of the sun - this never dies; this I wish not to unlearn."

 
22.1.1901 death of Queen Victoria - History

V.R.I.

1. January 22nd, 1901

'A Nation's Sorrow.' No. In that strange hour
We did but note the flagging pulse of day,
The sudden pause of Time, and turn away
Incredulous of grief; beyond the power
Of question or of tears. Thy people's pain
Was their perplexity: Thou could'st not be
God's and not England's. Let Thy spirit reign,
For England is not England without Thee.
Still Thine, Immortal Dead, she soil shall stake
Thy fame against the world, and hold supreme
Thy unsuspended sway. Then lay not down
Thy sceptre, lest her Empire prove a dream
Of Thine, great, gentle Sleeper, who shalt wake
When God doth please, to claim another crown.

II. February 2nd 1901

When, wrapped in the calm majesty of sleep,
She passes through her people to her rest,
Has she no smile in slumber? Is her breast,
Even to their sorrow, pulseless? Shall they weep
And She not with them? Nothing is so strange
As this, that England's passion, be it pain,
Or joy, or triumph, never shall again
Find voice in her. No change is like this change.
For all this mute indifference of death,
More dear She is than She has ever been.
The dark crowd gathers: not 'The Queen! The Queen!'
Upon its lips to-day. A quickened breath -
She passes - through the hush, the straining gaze,
The vast, sweet silence of its love and praise.

 
22.3.1901: death of Henry Herne Mew - Life - Science -

In Nunhead Cemetery

It is the clay that makes the earth stick to his spade;
He fills in holes like this year after year;
The others have gone; they were tired, and half afraid
But I would rather be standing here;

There is nowhere else to go. I have seen this place
From the windows of the train that's going past
Against the sky. This is rain on my face -
It was raining here when I saw it last.

There is something horrible about a flower;
This, broken in my hand, is one of those
He threw it in just now: it will not live another hour;
There are thousands more: you do not miss a rose.

One of the children hanging about
Pointed at the whole dreadful heap and smiled
This morning after THAT was carried out;
There is something terrible about a child.

We were like children last week, in the Strand;
That was the day you laughed at me
Because I tried to make you understand
The cheap, stale chap I used to be
Before I saw the things you made me see.

This is not a real place; perhaps by-and-by
I shall wake - I am getting drenched with all this rain:
To-morrow I will tell you about the eyes of the Crystal Palace train
Looking down on us, and you will laugh and I shall see what you see again.

Not here, not now. We said "Not yet
Across our low stone parapet
Will the quick shadows of the sparrows fall."

But still it was a lovely thing
Through the grey months to wait for Spring
With the birds that go a-gypsying
In the parks till the blue seas call.
And next to these, you used to care
For the Lions in Trafalgar Square,
Who'll stand and speak for London when her bell of Judgement tolls -
And the gulls at Westminster that were
The old sea-captains' souls.
To-day again the brown tide splashes step by step, the river stair,
And the gulls are there!

By a month we have missed our Day:
The children would have hung about
Round the carriage and over the way
As you and I came out.

We should have stood on the gulls' black cliffs and heard the sea
And seen the moon's white track,
I would have called, you would have come to me
And kissed me back.

You have never done that: I do not know
Why I stood staring at your bed
And heard you, though you spoke so low,
But could not reach your hands, your little head.
There was nothing we could not do, you said,
And you went, and I let you go!

Now I will burn you back, I will burn you through,
Though I am damned for it we two will lie
And burn, here where the starlings fly
To these white stones from the wet sky - ;
Dear, you will say this is not I -
It would not be you, it would not be you!

If for only a little while
You will think of it you will understand,
If you will touch my sleeve and smile
As you did that morning in the Strand
I can wait quietly with you
Or go away if you want me to -
God! What is God? but your face has gone and your hand!
Let me stay here too.

When I was quite a little lad
At Christmas time we went half mad
For joy of all the toys we had,
And then we used to sing about the sheep
The shepherds watched by night;
We used to pray to Christ to keep
Our small souls safe till morning light - ;
I am scared, I am staying with you to-night -
Put me to sleep.

I shall stay here: here you can see the sky;
The houses in the street are much too high;
There is no one left to speak to there;
Here they are everywhere,
And just above them fields and fields of roses lie -
If he would dig it all up again they would not die.

 
My relate to a holiday in June 1901 - Science - History
Notes in a Brittany Convent (Extracts)

It was one windy evening on the cliffs which saw our first encounter with the rubicund old priest who plotted our conversion. He came puffing up to join the party, and between the gusts, compliment and guide-book and theology proceeded from him in a turgid stream. To the Bacteriologist's inordinate desire for information on all subjects we owed his subsequent pursuit. These two conversed in gasps and in a compromise of languages on subtleties of archaeology and doctrine till we reached the little door into the garden, where they parted with an assignation for tomorrow's mass at 6 a.m. Catholicism came to be a craze with her, and she approached it in a scientific spirit, compared its fascinations to those of the study of malaria, drew analogies and formulated theories, and ceased to be companionable. This, for in her better moments she had amiable qualities, we bore. The black rotundity (to fall into the slough of metaphor) we found a sharper thorn. He rolled round unexpected corners, cropped up on lonely roads and pounced upon us from dark doorways - a veritable little priest of prey. In vain did we evade the pressure of his palms - fat, damp and fatherly - discourage his discourse with vacant smiles. His zeal was not discourageable. Nor was his, he said, the only mind on which our lost condition weighed. The room next his was occupied by a 'devout young miss', who publicly disturbed herself on our account. He heard her praying 'Tous les soirs, for all the six!' This blameless incident, profanely handled by the Humorist under the title of the 'Listener detected, or the Maiden's Prayer', made an agreeable addition to her repertoire of recitations. But we owed more than this to the devout young miss, who was in time presented to us and who sought to lead us on by flowery ways. We owed to her our introduction to St Antoine de Padua - what an accommodating saint was he! You went to him for little things - a fine day for an expedition, and so on; you made your own arrangements', and you paid him, so to speak, upon delivery, 'by no means of necessity before. And was it not, in fact, a nice simple little faith?' We thought it was, and with the exception of the Bacteriologist, who refused to be a party to it, opened up transactions with him privately, as thus. Four sous for fine weather in an ordinary way, and to be doubled on a jour de fete. The sum was small, but his benevolence was disproportionate.

...

The little portress also will die young, whatever age they write up over her. She may be forty, but it is an ageless face which looks out through the open window by the gate, as you look in for letters. A face too thin and sensitive, but lovely, with its look of dreams dismissed, passed on the way to some divine reality. She sits framed in the slit of window, reading, the black profile of her veil, with its white rim, so still beneath the outline of the crucifix which hangs above it on the wall. As you pass, though she does not look up, you catch somehow the fragrance of that presence with its sense of benediction; know the smile which you may meet as you come back, so bright, so human, yet a little sad with all its sunshine, like a late spring day.

One evening I was reading in the dusk, alone in the deserted courtyard, when with a sense of someone coming I looked up, and over my blurred page discerned the slender figure with its springing step, making toward me, moving with that sober swiftness which they have, across the darkened grass in the vague shadows of the trees. She stopped beside the old stone well, and motioned me to shut the book, which I put down on it.

'But you will ruin the eyes', she said; 'there is not light enough.'

'They are quite strong', said I. 'Up to this moment one could see quite well.'

'Today perhaps - but later, when you are as old as I am, then, mon enfant!' and she made a little groping gesture.

'As old!' I echoed, laughing; 'none of us are half so young. We never shall be, I imagine. Vous avez le secret de la jeunesse perpetuelle. N'est-ce pas la verite.'

'Peut-etre', she smiled. 'C'est possible. Truly it is the world which ages - that world out there,' she waved a hand, 'in which there is so much of sin, of suffering, of illusion. And is it not itself the Great Illusion - your sad, brilliant, rebellious world?'

'This place, too', I answered, 'seemed unreal, illusory, at times, in its serenity; one almost felt the weight of its repose. We of the world, as she would say, we sometimes wondered how it could be possible - their world - their life?'

'Vous n'etes pas Catholique', she said, and then, lest I suspected some intention in the speech, she ended rapidly, 'It is the blessed, the protected life. And it is possible, in part, perhaps, because we do not question, - that is not permitted - we accept. And, for example, is it not this habit of the world to question - questionner la vie, questionner la souffrance, questionner Dieu meme, questionner tout, which ages, brings the lines about the face, the weariness of heart? But it is so. Cherchez-vous le secret de cette jeunesse perpetuelle, quevous dites qui est a nous; ne questionnez point, mon enfant, et vous resterez jeune.'

 
Published September 1901

To a Little Child in Death

Dear, if little feet make little journeys,
Thine should not be far;
Though beyond the faintest star,
Past earth's last bar,
Where angels are,
Thou hast to travel -
Cross the far blue spaces of the sea,
Climb above the tallest tree,
Higher up than many mountains be;
Sure there is some shorter way for thee,
Since little feet make little journeys.

Then, if smallest limbs are soonest weary,
Thou should'st soon be there;
Stumbling up the golden stair,
Where the angels' shining hair .
Brushes dust from baby faces.
Very, very gently cling
To a silver-edged wing,
And peep from under.
Then thou'lt see the King,
Then will many voices sing,
And thou wilt wonder.
Wait a little while
For Him to smile,
Who calleth thee.
He who calleth all,
Both great and small,
From over mountain, star and sea,
Doth call the smallest soonest to His knee,
Since smallest limbs are soonest weary.

 

26 Rue de Turin
(till Sunday noon)
Envelope postmarked 18.4.1902
Addressed to Ethel Oliver

My dear, I scarcely know where to begin, and start at random. I am living at two places; here I have a nice room with a small balcony looking on to the street with shops opposite; and as the food doesn't suit me, I have been going to the Rue Chat for meals. But today it was wet, and as it is a good half hour's ride, I had dejeuner here - not so bad, but I couldn't touch the meat. I had bread and jam and black coffee, and am sure of a thoroughly good meal at 7; but I find it pays one to do so much getting about, as instinctively one does here, between eight and twelve.

This morning E D'A wished me to meet her in the Parc Marceau half-way between this place and hers, but as it was wet, I didn't feel inclined, and waiting for a break, started off by myself in the other direction; visited Notre Dame and browsed about the Latin Quarter for an hour. It is certainly the most picturesque part of Paris. Where I am is a business quarter, noisy and overcrowded, and the Champs Elysees is spacious, gorgeous, airy, altogether luxurious et tout à fait différent. I cannot do justice to Notre Dame as my head was stupid and my eyes tired, and I couldn't look up, etc., but now I'm fresher. The sun has come out and in an hour's time I shall make tea in your apparatus which has been a perfect godsend and acts beautifully. I take it in the salon and make my tea...with it, and coming home last night very tired had two cups sans milk which bucked me up but probably 'hindered sleep'.

I walked up and down the Latin Quarter Boulevard this morning seeking a crémerie for some chocolate to drink. There were scores of curiosity shops and book stalls and dingy cafes, but no crémerie - so I e'en dispensed with what I couldn't get. It is much simpler to get about here than in London as all the trains and omnibuses are distinctly placarded with their destinations and when one knows roughly the terrain and so on, it is comparatively easy, though I have to keep my observations pretty keen - notice streets and landmarks; 'likewise' it is a danger to be absent-minded crossing the roads as the traffic here is simply awful. The heavy two-storied steam trams and innumerable motor cars keep one always on the qui vive.

Paris strikes me as a big place, very crowded and restless except in the Champs Elysees Quarter, and one noticeable feature, and by far the prettiest, one meets with is the flowers everywhere - stalls and shops and women and men hawking lilies-of-the-valley, pinks, and lilacs at every place or square. Up to now I have had no sensations worth recounting. Perhaps I have worn them out; and then, too, I have been living at rather high pressure with not much space for such.

I found E D'A somewhat in need of someone to look after her. The details I am not free to enter into, but, in fact, I have had other things to think of besides my point of view. Yesterday morning about nine she brought up my letters, yours among them, for which, thank you, and we sat reading our correspondence here till about ten-thirty when we went off shopping and on to déjeuner at the Rue Chat after which, as she was expecting Mme. Grout (Flaubert's niece) to tea, I went out for her and bought the little necessaries for the occasion: flowers, cakes, etc. We arranged the room (One lives in one's bedroom here, and hers is a very charming one.) and as I was tired, I didn't stay to see the lady, but came back here, and then found myself too restless to keep quiet and went for a walk till about five when I dressed for dinner.

After dinner she had a wood fire, and we asked up the two ladies at our table - one a semi-French person, large and original and nice; the other an out-and-out American (very racy in conversation and full of American vitality) who is studying under Marcel to be a prima donna. She refused with pathetic courage the friendly cigarette, as she treats her voice as a mother her cherished child.

I left E D'A...and came along the Champs Elysees looking wonderful with its innumerable lights, and nearly lost my way coming home, as it is difficult to see the names of the streets at night and the omnibus men either cannot or will not help you. They are very surly. Sometimes one finds a pleasant work girl who directs you very kindly, but my French is so bad it's not easy to understand. This afternoon I shall take it easy and not go up to the Rue Chat perhaps till dinner, though Ella will wonder where I am, as I promised to turn up for dejéuner.

The people here are as second-rate as the food - four Germans (women) not over friendly; there is, however, a Mexican who speaks English but resents being spoken to, and a vulgar French Madame who is kind, but greasy. It is, however, intensely respectable, and I like being free and alone, and am quite content with my room. On Sunday, however, I have to turn out, after which, unless you hear again, please send letters to the Rue Chateaubriand.

I got Winifred's card last night. Please thank her for it. Don't know when I shall be back, sometime next week, probably.

C M M

P.S. Physically I have been really better here but mentally tired, but if I wished to get my nerves under control up to now, thanks to being better, I have done it, and hope that it will last. I can't transport my thoughts to England and the things left behind with any sense of reality, and perhaps it is better so, but it makes me seem very egotistic - which I'm not really. It is a queer uncertain mind this of mine - and claims are being made upon it at the moment which I find difficult to meet.

Love to thee who understands and thanks to Winifred's for the card.

 
Published before June 1902

At the Convent Gate

'Why do you shrink away, and start and stare?
Life frowns to see you leaning at death's gate
Not back, but on. Ah! sweet, it is too late:
You cannot cast these kisses from your hair.
Will God's cold breath blow kindly anywhere
Upon such burning gold? Oh! lips worn white
With waiting! Love will blossom in a night
And you shall wake to find the roses there!'

'Oh hush! He seems to stir, He lifts His Head.
He smiles. Look where He hangs against the sky.
He never smiled nor stirred, that God of pain
With tired eyes and limbs above my bed -
But loose me, this is death, I will not die -
Not while He smiles. Oh! Christ, Thine own again!'

 
Published June 1902 - Intensity

In the Curé's Garden (Extracts)

I discovered it in summer. I do not know what it is like in spring; golden with daffodils, perhaps, and haunted by hidden violets, walled in by lilac trees, and sweetened with the scent of may.

I can imagine it to be the first meeting-place of budding things, a garden of the resurrection, where the birds re-assemble to recapture last year's song, and mate again, and build their nests anew.

Then, when the trees are leafless, or just starting into bud, one must see the convent on the hill more plainly, and hear less clearly above the birds' busy twitter, the bell tinkle across the fields. Then, in the skeleton poplar avenue, one may be able even to distinguish the figures of the good Sisters of our Lady of Compassion, as they pace slowly up and down. Today, one cannot catch a glimpse of them, but only now and then the outline of the distant walls, between green branches where they part.

In spring, Pére Laurent says the garden has an air plus béni, l'odeur plus fraîche, et plus consacré au repos.

I can believe it; in these August days, the scents are heavy, insistent, almost over-sweet; the colours, fiercely brilliant, still more luminous at early twilight, in the narrow walks where among roses the carnations bloom. Was not their odour almost passionate? I asked him once, in one of our little discursive talks, and were they not par excellence the flowers of seduction and desire?

Par excellence, he agreed; adding that yet it was well they should be there, diffusing their distracting fragrance; they were reminders of the world, the flesh: fleurs des sens, fantômes de la chair, toujours tentant et qui doivent toujours étre crucifiees.

This sultry afternoon, however, it was not Pere Laurent whom I had come to see. I passed him in the village and he stopped me to say that I should assuredly find Anita...

...

"Mademoiselle Anita, I am very anxious to marry you".

She met the announcement with childish composure. - "It is not possible", she said... "It is not my destiny. But it is a very charming proposition. You are very kind"...

Her rejection was so positive, so persistent, that for the moment I was disinclined to combat it. I got up to go.

She arrested me with quick reproach. "You are going? I have gravely displeased you; you are wounded. Will you never return? You are not about to leave us with an aspect so sévère".

"Why should I stay, when you dismiss me?"

"I do not do that. I implore you to remain. You have been so much our friend; is that forgotten? Then it is true what they say of it, l'amour est la passion cruelle qui désole et qui trahit".

Her distress was unmistakable; it cast the first shadow which I had ever seen upon that exquisitely cloudless face. I yielded to it and said caressingly, "Then I will stay".

'To supper?' she demanded quickly.

"If you are so good". This definite assent restored to her the familiar untroubled smile. 'And you will perhaps gather me some flowers to take back with me?"

The suggestion delighted, completely reassured her.

"Voyons. You shall make your choice immediately, and I will preserve them till the sad moment when we say 'good-night'. To commence, then - carnations, I divine rightly they are the favourites".

She bent over the crowded beds to make a critical selection. "It must not be too small, the bouquet", she decided; "that... would not be 'pretty' for us, and one too big, that will appear ridiculous for you. It is in fact the size". She held it out for admiration and approval"...

I took it from her. "You and your flowers, Mademoiselle Anita, have some strange affinity. When I think of you, it is as if I thought of them, and when I think of them, it is as if I thought of you".

"You think too much of them", she admonished gravely, "I have remarked it. You give to them imaginations, dispositions of your own; they are not what you make of them and they have no relationship with me. I see them as I see the sky, de loin, mais nous ne nous touchons pas, we scarcely smile, we do not speak, we are not en rapport".

"I do not believe it; see", I thrust towards her the scented nosegay, "they are speaking now. I do not, but you ought to understand what they say".

"It is not speech, this beautiful odour; it is solely their breath, their life. Truly, we are apart; we have the life immortal, and their existence is but during the spring, the summer - very short".

...

"Anita has flown", he said, taking a seat beside me...

"She escaped...", I said, "this afternoon, to fall into my clutches; I fear I startled her, I spoke to her of - love."

He made a slight movement, knocked out the ashes, and relit his pipe.

"You made, in fact, a proposal? It was premature, Monsieur; you should have addressed yourself to me."... "Anita, how did she reply?"...

"She said that marriage was not her fate... that you would tell me why."

"She said truly", he replied, after a pause; "she is promised" - and he pointed through the branches towards the walls of the convent on the hill - "to the good sisters over there."...

"Anita has a history common enough, but nevertheless sad. C'est une enfant abandonnée, and there remains, there should remain, for such a one solely la vie rêveuse, the guardianship of angels, the victory of the soul."

"La mère est morte", he continued, in the easier tongue, peut-être pénitente, peut-être pardonnée, et l'enfant peut expier sa faute par le suprême supplice de femme, la mortification de la chair...."

"She is to suffer for, to expiate, her mother's fault? Her father's also, I presume."

"Both assuredly. C'est assez juste.

"To sacrifice an innocent human victim for the atonement of a passably common sin? It is not pardonable", I said again, "it is monstrous. Of course you have reflected, but I beg you to reflect again."...

"You are bitter", he answered at length... But I am inclined to be indulgent... I do not expect that Anita will reverse her decision... But ... I will accord to her the permission of choice...

... he turned down the path, walking slowly towards the house. In a few minutes they returned together, and as they reached me he took Anita's hand.

"I have summoned you, my child", he began, "to make a momentous decision. Consider it without haste, avec sérénité. Monsieur Vidal has asked me for your hand. I have recounted to him your history, but I desire that you tell him yourself, quite openly, franchement, what is your destinée"...

Her eyes were fixed upon his averted face, her answer hung upon his silence. It was persistent, and at last she said: "It is decided for me; but no; it is I myself who decide. I am already promised".

Taking her childish eyes from his motionless figure, she lifted them towards the darkening sky and seemed to be murmuring a prayer. Then for the first time turning to me, she added with a gesture so tranquil, so conclusive, that it afforded me no protest, no conceivable reply - "Le petit père le veut, le grand Père le benira, et moi, je les aime tous les deux, et je consens.

She put out a hand, and I noticed it tremble slightly as she laid it upon Père Laurent's arm. At the touch, he looked up and scrutinized her face.

It glimmered palely in the advancing dusk, but there was nothing tremulous, nothing uncertain, there. It was composed, luminous, almost radiant, and they stood together thus in the rapidly approaching twilight. Above, the stars were beginning reluctantly to dot the fading blue, and below, the lines of crimson were growing darker, blurred; here and there only, a rose bush taller than the rest was discernible, pencilled delicately against the failing light.

The colours were hushed, the outlines every instant becoming fainter, but the scents, as happens always towards night, were sweeter to the sense, more poignant, like speech in darkness, and the insistent odour of carnations was everywhere.

Of what use now to call it passionate, to find in it the mystical breath of love? I looked at the child and back again to the shrouded, unextinguished flowers. She had indeed no part with them; as she had said truly, Nous ne nous touchons pas.

I was in haste to leave them. Their fragrance had become too sad, too eloquent. I turned to go. But as I did so, she started forward with a detaining gesture, a murmur of recall.

"One moment, Monsieur" - I caught her hand, it was quite cold, and for a breathing space - it seemed no longer - she let it remain in mine. Suddenly a shadow crossed her face. Her lips parted, a smile replaced it, a strange, wavering, quivering little smile. "One moment", she repeated, pointing towards the house and slipping from me, "you have forgotten - the bouquet".

 
Published Autumn? 1902
Song

Oh! Sorrow, Sorrow, scarce I knew.
Your name when, shaking down the may
In sport, a little child, I grew
Afraid to find you at my play.
I heard it ere I looked at you;
You sang it softly as you came
Bringing your little boughs of yew
To fling across my gayest game.

Oh! Sorrow, Sorrow, was I fair
That when I decked me for a bride,
You met me stepping down the stair
And led me from my lover's side?
Was I so dear you could not spare
The maid to love, the child to play,
But coming always unaware,
Must bid and beckon me away?

Oh! Sorrow, Sorrow, is my bed
So wide and warm that you must lie
Upon it; toss your weary head
And stir my slumber with your sigh?
I left my love at your behest,
I waved your little boughs of yew,
But, Sorrow, Sorrow, let me rest,
For oh! I cannot sleep with you!

 
Published Autumn? 1902
Not for that City

Not for that city of the level sun,
Its golden streets and glittering gates ablaze
The shadeless, sleepless city of white days,
White nights, or nights and days that are as one -
We weary, when all is said, all thought, all done.
We strain our eyes beyond this dusk to see
What, from the threshold of eternity:
We shall step into. No, I think we shun
The splendour of that everlasting glare,
The clamour of that never-ending song.
And if for anything we greatly long,
It is for some remote and quiet stair
Which winds to silence and a space of sleep
Too sound for waking and for dreams too deep.

 
Published 1904

Mademoiselle (Extracts)

She came and gave us lessons twice a week; engaging little lessons into which she managed with extreme politeness to infuse her profound contempt for the literature of our country, and her keen but critical appreciation for the masterpieces of her own.

She found our romances "truly desolating", save those perhaps of Charlotte Bronte, "cette petite Huguenote pieuse at passionée" who was, but certainly, a little "passed". And for our philosophy - she laughed, and for our drama - well, mon Dieu! she wept. For the whole parlous state of everything she experienced - with, but of course, exceptions - shall we say of Shakespeare? Shall we say of Monsieur Meredith, the most obscure? - and acute despair. In a word she had some power of discernment...

She introduced us to [Monsieur Antoine de St Perre] at his studio, one cheerless afternoon in October, and my impression of that visit is of something curiously grey.

Perhaps it was the room, one of a block of studios just built, in a blind street off Camden Town. It reminded you of a vault, as you stepped down to it from the cramped dark passage. It was fairly large and disproportionately high; but it smelt of damp, and the walls were washed a hard aggressive grey, which again reminded you of tombstones. It had no window, only the top light, and very little furniture; a cheap oil stove which mixed its odour with the dampness, a bed screened of by a dingy cotton curtain, a very new and very common sideboard with a mirror at the back, a deal table, and a few odd chairs...

tilted against the steely walls along the floor, were a set of satin-wood panels, daubs of woolly nymphs and Venuses and podgy Cupids, surrounded by trophies of lyres and ribbons and festoons of heavy flowers. These were specimens which he took round... to firms from which he wanted... employment; it was this branch of art to which his talents had of late been prostituted...

England... possessed no painters. That he made indisputably plain. We mentioned Watts once with tentative anxiety. "Watts!" he explained excitedly, "who cannot even draw!" Certainly Mr Watts had been to Italy. He had learned something - but for teaching - let us go straight to the Venetian School. Admit that he had colour - there he ended, and that was but a clever copy of his master Paolo Veronese. What was Watts, after all? And Sargent? but he was not to be called English. Character? perhaps - a little - but a mere trick, an accident - and then at best, how superficial!.

So on through the list. One almost envied him the joy... with which he plucked the flesh from the most illustrious bones...

The next we heard of him was of his having sailed... As time wore on we asked for news of him... it occurred to me I had some influence with a large firm of piano-makers... who might make something of his satinwood productions...

 

See The Poems of Emily Bronte (1904)

 

Hotel de Bretagne
Le Conquet
July 6, 1909

My dear,

I went out before breakfast this morning to fetch letters and found your card and the tragic newspaper, very glad, indeed, to see them especially as there was no news from home and I was getting anxious. Those came by the second post today to my great relief. Thank you so much for looking up Anne and sending a report. I was rather wretched and worried at leaving her alone not well but hope she is really better.

Elsie heard today that the Bazaar realized £2000 - and the expenses were £800 ... We had a princely crossing, quite smooth, and a luxurious cabin on promenade deck. From my berth I could sit up and look through a little square window with a blind, right on to the deck and with a lovely view of St. Malo when I woke at five. The morning was so lovely - the pearly-gold light on the old town - that we had tea in our berths and then got up and watched the town till seven when the customs let us land. A great rush to get the Dinan train, and there we stayed at the Gare, much the same as of old.

It was warm (not hot) and sunny and Dinan fascinated Elsie though we didn't go out till four or five, sleeping off the voyage till then. Going down the one street a poor woman called us in to show her room - a hovel - sand floored and with wood rafters and walls dripping damp, date 1350, and just as it was then; she had a poor little bed in the corner, a picture of the Virgin, and a broken chair - nothing more - and had lived there along for fifty years crippled by the damp and cold. "De la misere" she said, and so it looked and felt. We went on to Guingamp next day and saw nice rooms at the France. One, I think, was Madame's own with some beautifully bound French books - and a little cabinet de toilette. I chose the old view over the river and it was heavenly by moonlight on Sunday night. The procession was as usual, only this time we were in the Church and saw it from there sweep out a blaze of travelling lights - 10,000 pilgrims, they say, though one can hardly believe it. There are the usual Americans and disagreeable English at the Hotel, one young man sitting next to me said the "Guingamp Fair" was no show, as the "White City" had spoiled him for such primitive proceedings. He regarded the Bretons much as one regards the Fat Woman or Bearded Lady at a Fair, and said wearily it was a job "to find anything noo". They had been motoring through France. I said kindly, "You should try Mans". At which he quite brightened up and said, "Oh, where's that?" but relapsed to ennui when he realized it wasn't open to the motorist just yet. We came on here thinking to get a few hours in Brest on Monday. We had only just time for a hurried tea and caught the train there by a second tearing up the dusty Brest streets after our small baggages on the back of a youth who picked them up at the Gare - the train with an open carriage at back along the country roads setting down Bretons in cap and shawl and the old [gap in photocopy] at roadside houses - a run of 18 miles through fresh country.

We are comfortable here, the only other visitors a haughty English family who glare but do not speak: Mama, Papa, and New-human-like offspring. The street here (a tiny strip called the Grand Rue) is a perfect little picture with Bretons in costume clattering in sabots up and down - with a pump at the end - the centre for some charming figure or group in white and black and blue. But beyond this, and the fresh air, it is not very interesting. The cliffs, low and cut off by an hotel and villa, and the side streets rather dreary and new. The street, however, (with a Fair in the morning) seen from our windows is worth the rather troublesome journey.

A sturdy Breton in velvet coat and all the rest talked to me at lunch today and said Landernean was a "ville morte" only beautiful from its site; and passing through in the train it looked deadly, so we may not stay there more than a night, if that, and shall probably go on to Quimper Sunday or Monday. Please send anything there till Tuesday, and then Poste Restante Audieme.

We have had a cold mist and driving rain all day, and I have been wearing the few clothes I have here all on top of one another and sitting with my feet in the eider down to keep warm; but now it has cleared a little and we are going out for a short stroll before dinner. The rain is off but it is still cold and we are Hoping for some of your warm weather to catch us up. Just going out to post this and walk round before bed. So grateful for home news and to you for sending it here. I'm sending on a card of the street later.

With love from Elsie,

Yours, C M M

 

Hotel du Lion d'or
Quimper
14.7.1909

My dear,

It was delightful to get your card on arrival here on Monday afternoon and the paper yesterday and letter this morning. Thank you for home news. I was just on the point of writing when I heard. I suppose moving about makes one forget the real course of time. I am glad the hat is a success and hope the dress will be likewise. Is Wek to be trusted on the floor, I wonder? We saw an old green Wek in a little shop here yesterday; and in a high window of a XVth century house in Conquet, a white-capped old lady with a young one on her arm. Did you know it was a Wek country? And at Guingamp and Landernean all that caravan had their little cages hanging up.

Conquet grew on acquaintance so much that we could hardly bear to leave it. The houses are very old and the place unspoiled; the air fresh and the main street a perfect picture with narrow carts carrying logs of wood to be shipped to Ouessant always rattling up and down. We did not go there as the weather was rough and the boat which we went over one evening in the quay, not inviting - also, it started at six a.m. But in Brest and Conquet one saw the Avenant costume; extremely strange and savage with wildly bright colours, barbarous tints, and the women wearing their hair to the shoulders under the cap which gives an unbretonish look, especially in the older women.

We came to Landemean on Saturday, rushing through Brest in Fete with flags flying, and found Landemean full of shows and caravans, just under the windows of our hotel. The Fete was a sad affair: a ballon which refused to go up for six hours in view of waiting crowds, and finally when it did, immediately collapsed. A Breton with whom I talked at dinner at Conquet described it as a "ville morte", and such it is, but with a wonderful quay of immense width stretching out onto the beautiful country; and streets of the oldest houses, solemn and deserted, the whole place giving one a sense of space and desolation, very grand and mysterious at night.

Elsie was rather upset the day we arrived (food, I think, but don't mention it) so I basely deserted her and went round alone, thinking hew much you would have liked it. But she picked up next day and is now quite fit again. We came on here on Monday, and, course, are under the spell of Quimper. Both the Madames at Conquet and Landemean recommended us to an hotel here ... and so I left Elsie with our hand luggage (on which we are living at present) on the Cathedral steps and went up to see it - the most dreary sordid place at the extreme end of the town near the barracks and slums -- where a greasy widow, apparently the sole occupant of the house offered to do us up for 4/s a day. In spite of this tempting offer, I came down here, interviewed Madame, and found one room vacant, over-looking the place, and, of course, couldn't resist it once inside. So here we are much tied to the window watching the passers-by and the departure and arrival of the queer couriers' carts, of which more hereafter.

On Monday night going down for a candle, I encountered M. le Patron who offered to show us his garden next morning. So at nine yesterday we started with him for a ten minute walk into the country and came to a house with a magnificent garden which is his paradise and hobby, the most amazing place of gorgeous shrubs, lush grass, and walk after walk of rose trees of every conceivable variety in bloom. He has 1800 different plants, some of the rarest kind; and his little room here at the back of the hotel is full of medals and diplomas. We came back with two of the most gorgeous bouquets you ever saw and filled our large basin with them, having nothing else, roses of every tint and form. Elsie says she has never seen such specimens. The little, stout, short, red-faced man thinks of nothing else, evidently, and lives with what he called 'Hues fleurs". I am afraid Madame, whom he called "one vraie communicante" considers it a mad hobby, and it must be a most expensive one.

In the afternoon as we were having tea at the window we saw a wild bus loaded with every kind of merchandise on the point of departure below, so I ran down and induced the ruffian who drove it, to take us on a pile of oozing boxes (as the inside was literally crammed with peasants), and so leaving our tea we started for the lovelier country ride to Fouesnant some 16 or 18 miles (about 8 from Beg Meil) dropping parcels on the way...At each inn on the road the white caps inside and the one Jehu went in for drinks. All along we met country carts and passed groups of haymakers in costume; the country on either side from our high seat was exquisite and the air and smells delightful. At Fouesnant we hoped to catch an automile back at six-thirty, and going up to the top of the village street at a wayside inn found a Breton wedding in full swing; people all in costume dancing real Breton dances, with old women sitting round the inn selling the wedding refreshments from little baskets. It was hard to leave this for a look at the Church - one of the most remarkable; I imagine, 10 or llth century...

When the automile did arrive it was full of Beg Meil swells and eight fat, determined marketwomen besides ourselves - resolved to get in. However, they weren't allowed, and it was just going off without us to our dismay when a kind Frenchman inside opened the door and said, "Montez, montez," subsequently explaining that as we were thin, they would be taking us in. Otherwise, I don't know how or when we should have got back.

Last night there was the Retraite aux Flambeaux in the Square here for the 14th festivities, and tonight there is to be a cinematograph on the quai. So, you see, there are the usual attractions and Quimper itself is difficult to part from. We were to go en to Audieme today but are undecided and shall probably spend Sunday in Pont-l'Abbe for the Pardon there, and then, reluctantly, leave towns for the sea.

[Le 14 juillet: fête nationale - On célèbre la prise de la Bastille qui a marqué le commencement de la révolution en 1789. Ce jour- là, il y a des défilés militaires, des bals dans les rues et des feux d'artifices le soir. Dans certains villages, on organise une retraite aux flambeaux le 13. (Les gens font le tour du village avec des lanternes puis vont parfois danser et/ou assister à un feu d'artifice.) (external link)]

11:30

Just back from the cinematograph show on the quays, very good, but the crowd of white caps and Breton hats was magnificent. There must have been thousands there. We have come away in the entre'acte and I suppose it will go on till 1 or 2 o'clock. This afternoon I stopped this to board another courier's cart, and went seated on the roof to Benodet, a little toy-shop bain-de-mer at the mouth of the Odet, looking pretty in the evening light. We came back on the small motor bus in front, a fine spin along the wide roads, doing the 18 or 20 kilometres in half an hour.

It has been decided to stay here till Saturday - go to Pont-l'Abbe for the Pardon, and on to Audieme on Monday. So we shall probably be there till Thursday, unless it proves very disappointing. The right way to see Brittany is to go off the beaten track, i.e., the couriers' carts; and in the little villages one sees the real people - women in strange caps, knitting on the roads while they drive the cow home, and dear little children in costumes - absolutely of the Tudor period - taking refuge under hedges from the automile rushing by.

I shouldn't have given you so much of Brittany if I didn't know you were kindly disposed to that land where M. le Patron says Religion is dying out. though judging from the Guingamp Pardon, there's life in the old faith yet. I think Le Conquet would please Mrs Frank if not too quiet - but the train only lately goes into Brest in an hour and a half, and they do you at the Hotel de Bretagne for 5/s a day, and at the Hotel St. Barbe on the point for 6/s.

I hope the ... portrait will come out well. I think it very nice of you to do it, but Wek thinks you might do one of him - another when you have the time. How's the D...business progressing? I shall be glad to know. I had a card from Ella at Landernean saying she's going to stay at [Charlotte indicates there is a word she cannot remember?] Beaumont la Roger next Thursday, and asking for a letter there. I hope the experience will be happier than ours. I also heard from Maggie today, but letter-writing takes up time and they have only had cards at home for a week. Thank you for yours and the paper.

I don't know how long we shall be at Audierne; if we like it, perhaps till Saturday week, but shall pick up letters at Pont-l'Abbé till next Monday.

Love, and many thanks; I must stop now as it is late and I ought to put out the light.

Yours,

C M M

 

Hotel du Commerce
Audierne
24.7.1909

My dear,

I was very glad to get your letter yesterday, but sorry to hear of the Vale babies' illness; however, when that sort of thing is over, I believe they go on all right, but it is particularly worrying for Mrs Frank just now with a move in prospect.

Le Conquet is a sweet little place but small, and there are no cabins for bathing though there is a plage across the ferry; on the whole, I think it very nice to recommend places to other people when we know them very well; and as for the French guide book, the picture post-card, and the French Monsieur, no confidence can be placed in them. All along since Conquet I tried to find out whether we should go to St. Guenole -- the other end of the bay -- or here; and in response to enquiry all the gentlemen would say was that St. Guenole was 'joli' and Audierne 'gentil' and when pressed for a comparison, all three said the same thing; c'est autre dure, or C'est different. So, from Pont l'Abbe we spent a day seeing for ourselves and found St. Guenole, and apparently all the other places at that end of the bay, ghastly stretches of desolation, dirty, sordid, with filthy rocks and hundreds of mean houses all a long way apart with their backs to the sea giving the appearance of a sort of blind detachment from it. it was an experience of a rather extraneous kind.

A friendly old gentleman at Pont l'Abbé gave us a card to see over the lighthouse at the point, and a man at Landemean had strongly recommended a hotel there, but when we saw it, it was only fit for a penal settlement, I thought, and we left it hurriedly; had a nasty walk over unsanitary rocks, a wild hunt for milk when we reached St. Guenole, and only time for a cold cup of tea or an arid plage, and a rush to catch the train. All of which made us rather doubtful about Audierne. We had an hour in Douar-nenez on the way here and came on in a little open train with women laden with baskets of fish; and at the end, a lovely run quite close to the river which runs under a bridge into this port. Luckily, when we arrived we had a choice of rooms and have now the 2 best in the hotel; but since we came it had filled up, and late last night going into a little dark shop...I found Madame asking the old lady for accomodations for a party of studnts just arrived; five or six with a chauffeur, only, unfortunately, the key was lost, and five people were hunting for it, while I waited, by the aid of a one-farthing dip. However, I suppose she found it, as they have just gone off with large supplies of petrol.

Our windows (I have a balcony) look over the bridge, the port, and beyond to a little pine wood on the hill, and below that there is much "mounting in hot haste", or the reverse, of motors, carrier's carts, and the weirdest shays you ever saw. They look as if they might drop to pieces on the road ... We were going to the Pont-l'Abb&wacute; train, but just as we were starting for the station, from the Lion d'Or window I espied a two-wheeled country cart laden with sacks and boxes, cans, etc. I rushed down and asked where for; and when I found he was that moment starting for Pont-l'Abbé, persuaded him to wait a quarter of an hour while I tore up to the station to get tea and tobacco from the trunks there; and so we came on by road, a lovely, lazy drive on the top of packages, with all the little carts bringing the horses back from the Horse Fair at Quimper with us on the road; about six white caps and one or two Breton hats to every tiny trap, a colt tied to the shafts and an old horse tethered on behind. It was very charming in the evening light to see them ambling along in front and behind, and finally turning down their own particular lanes or stopping at a wayside house.

Madame of the Hotel des Voyageurs was very nice. I had written on for rooms and asked to do us for 5/s. as I had been before, but apparently things have gone up. The Lion d'or wanted 6/8. but...Madame agreed to 5:50 which we are paying here, though this is a first class hotel; (there) are five very distinguished officers from the Quimper regiment dining opposite us; a French lady artist, young, who cleans her palate out of the next room's window at night ... a variety of French tourists arriving and departing in the afore-mentioned antedeluvian shays - excursionists, I suppose, to the Pointe du Raz. I do not think we shall go there as it takes the whole day, as the interest of the quay and the country round here (all cornfields and little sylvan patches) more commends itself and from what I [saw of?] the much vaunted "belles roches" of St. Guénolé, I don't thirst for more.

Yesterday we walked along the coast towards it, passing the land of the sea-weed burners, very picturesque - the square heaps smoking against the sea with wild-looking women in caps and sabots and wilder men tending the smoking goemon, coming back a little inland through the corn--waving against the blue, and dipping down to an old grey chapel on the edge of the cliff - and a few yards up, a rough, lichen covered calvary, weather-beaten, but very dignified and impressive - the crucifix and two figures at the side mounted on five or six great steps, showing grey against the summer sky. An old man on the road said it was the chapel of an English saint, Saint Evet, who started to convert the British, was ship-wrecked off Finistere and there, in that quiet spot, abode. Today is the Market, grouped round the triangular place of white houses at the head of the quay with wood carts stationed up behind each with its Breton driver in blue & black hat. All this seen from the window as I write, as I have not yet been out. Tomorrow the Archbishop of Quimper comes for the Benediction of the Sea. He goes out in the life boat, I believe, and processes back round the port.

Life would have been very pleasant here but for the plague of the children with whom I have been waging an unequal war since Wednesday. They surround and refuse to leave you, begging for sous and generally behaving very badly. Yesterday while Elsie bathed we had six or seven older ones trying to force the cabine door, peeping through the chinks, and ending by disgusting insults of the English, rather wearing and unpleasant; and the intervention of two nice Oxford men (I think), also bathing, and a deaf old Frenchman with his bonne, proved entirely ineffectual. On Wednesday one miserable boy buried our umbrella in the sand & I spent the morning having a row with about a dozen of them - trying to discover its whereabouts. It was, however, restored yesterday by the lady of the semaphore who had watched the interment from over her charming garden walls. They infest the rocks and the roads and have become a perfect bane. The little French bonne said all vistors, French and English, are equally victims of their villainies & the lady artist bitterly complains. Winifred ought to sympathize.

We have given up the idea of doing Croisic and further south as it would be such a rush and should have returned next Saturday, but as the Ella sails that day (only) think of waiting for the Vera on Monday and spending from Saturday night till Monday at St. Malo as our ticket on the French Railways expires then, and it will give us a quiet day before starting.

It is difficult to realize the 'elsewhere1 as Loti calls it, here: Tottenham Court Road, & a city with scarcely any sky, while here there is the whole arch of it - the harbour lights at night. One is woken up by the sound of oar a plashing and anchors being weighed, and the clatter of sabots up and down the quay. No one hurries about anything. It takes five nan to harness the station bus and about 30 to unload a little bit of scrap iron from a sail-ing boat on the quay. But this is s. pleasant sort of oblivion, which ought, even like Christmas, "come once a year", and while it lasts, it is a blessed rest, a sort of dream snatched from waking and worried days.

I hope all this doesn't bore you, and if it does, you must take the "kind thought" for what the letter lacks & many thanks for all the papers and welcome letters, particularly those with good reports of home.

Elsie sends love and thanks for card.

Yours,

C M M

 
Published 1909

Requiescat

Your birds that call from tree to tree
Just overhead, and whirl and dart,
Your breeze fresh-blowing from the sea,
And your sea singing on, Sweetheart.

Your salt scent on the thin sharp air
Of this grey dawn's first drowsy hours,
While on the grass shines everywhere
The yellow sunlight of your flowers.

At the road's end your strip of blue
Beyond that line of naked trees-
Strange that we should remember you
As if you would remember these!

As if your spirit, swaying yet
To the old passions, were not free
Of Spring's wild magic, and the fret
Of the wilder wooing of the sea!

What threat of old imaginings,
Half-haunted joy, enchanted pain,
Or dread of unfamiliar things
Should ever trouble you again?

Yet you would wake and want, you said,
The little whirr of wings, the clear
Gay notes, the wind, the golden bed
Of the daffodil: and they are here!

Just overhead, they whirl and dart
Your birds that call from tree to tree,
Your sea is singing on - Sweetheart,
Your breeze is blowing from the sea.

Beyond the line of naked trees
At the road's end, your stretch of blue-
Strange if you should remember these
As we, ah! God! Remember you.

 

Cafe Belle Vue
10 Place Frederic Sauvage
Boulogne

June 27, 1911

My dear,

Your letter of this morning was very welcome and nice of you to write when I have been so neglectful. You sound very quiet and Quakerly.. .but perhaps you won't be sorry to get back to town. I hope you have good news from home and that the coronation party enjoyed itself. All the English boats and the hotels were gaily decorated here, and Anne has gone to see the Procession on the Cinema tonight.

We came here on Wednesday morning, looked round the town for rooms, and finding all the hotels on the quai expensive, decided to try this, a little cafe, bourgeois, but with the best view in the town, or any town, as it seems to me, looking across the bridge at the station. We watch all the carts piled with brown nets, and the fisher and factory people pass, and the train travellers with their little luggage. I like Boulogne as well or better than any place I have seen, the quai is beautiful, especially at night, with the town towering up on one side, and the trains and boats on the other - all masts and twinkling lights. The Holland and Hamburg American ships for Brazil, La Plata, and Buanos Aires put in here - and the Dutch West African liners - and the fishing boats are all aizes, from great steamers to little sailing boats; and the fish and flower markets are very fascinating.

I have made friends with (or they with me) an old woman in the Market, and the old man who sells post cards on the Bridge, very proud of his two dogs whom he "loves more than people", he says. And yesterday two little Scottish elderly ladles arrived from four weeks in Paris, very cute and cheery and 'game' for everything, who went with us to the Circus last night. I have gone with Anne to the Cinema this evening.

We are only paying 40/s. a week, exactly half of what the other hotels asked, and though the place is modest, not to say humble, we are all right. Yesterday I had to insist on having some nasty people (French) stopped from smoking and playing cards in the salle à manger, and have got one room scrubbed out today. Anne thought these suggestions would result in our expulsion, but on the contrary, Madame grasped my hand this morning and asked with a beaming smile if we were satisfied now, etc. - and the stupid little waiter has bucked up.

We went to a French play at the Casino on Monday, very well acted, and lost a franc or two at the tables - but I shall keep away from them as the attractions of gambling are irresistible, and I have no money to lose. If all goes well at home we shall probably stay another week. Until today the weather has been cold and more or less wet, but I have been out nearly all the time, yet still feel incurably tired - what the French call fini - and reluctant to take up "duties and little cares", though I might, and ought, not perhaps have left them at all, but I simply could not go on.

It's very lucky to have found a place so near, in every respect pleasing. The sands are fine, and the jetty runs out 2000 feet to the sea, Just the place to watch the boats come out and in.

The visitors are common - both French and English - but they don't spoil the harbour or the fisher-people, and keep to their own quarter: the Casino and the beach and the tea rooms in the town. There are three quarters besides the old town, or the city, with three of the gates still standing - the fishermen's port with an old church; the centre with the markets and the quai; and across the bridge, the factories and railways and cargo boats.

Anne started a sketch in the Fish market yesterday and is doing one of the quai tomorrow. I have just loafed about, but wish I were an artist - though these people don't abound, probably because it is too busy and crowded for them. We had thought of going on for a day or two in Paris, but I would rather stay here; don't want to move or face the racket of it.

I have read nothing; too tired to even think, but before I cane away Miss Jerrold lent me a book of Modern Poetry in which I found a thing by Noyes, the "Old Sceptre", the most touching poem I have read for years, and which, as far as sentiment goes, I might have written. I am glad to hear such good news of this Marriage (????) There are no Weks here. It is a town of dogs of all sorts and sizes. They draw the hand carts and play about the quays; and old white horses abound. The "Service des Postes" de Boulogne might belong to the sixteenth century - an old cart going at the pace of a hearse from the house of mourning; the mail motor carts of Gordon Street seem 10,000 or four hundred years away !

I have written no letters since I came except one home and this and have not told Maggie I am here as I said I wouldn't go to Berkhamstead, and have not heard anything of her for ages.

My nice new hat box came with me and is the largest piece of luggage this small room would hold; everything has to hang on a long row of pegs, very different from the luxuries of Aix, but the visitor to the Cafe Belle Vue usually contents himself with a small bag, or (if, as herself-) a cardboard handbox ! I am writing with a candle stuck in a match box, as our allowance of bangles is small, so must end up, as it's wearing down.

I hear Wek has been depressed by our absence, poor little soul! But he has taken kindly to my mother's companion. He would like some twigs. Love from Anne who has just come in.

Yours,

C M M

 
Published 3.2.1912
dialect

The Farmer's Bride

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 her 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!

 
Published March 1912

The Voice

From our low seat beside the fire
Where we have dozed and dreamed, and watched the glow
Or raked the ashes, stooping so
We scarcely saw the sun and rain
Through the small curtained window-pane,
Or looked much higher
Than this same quiet red or burned-out fire,
Tonight we heard a call,
A voice on the sharp air,
And felt a breath stirring our hair,
A flame within us. Something swift and tall
Swept in and out and that was all.
Was it a bright or a dark angel? Who can know?
It made no mark upon the snow;
But suddenly, in passing, snapped the chain,
Unbarred, flung wide the door
Which will not shut again:
And so we cannot sit here any more.
We must arise and go.
The world is cold without
And dark and hedged about
With mystery and enmity and doubt,
But we must go,
Though yet we do not know
Who called, or what marks we shall leave upon the snow.

 
Published 17.2.1913
See Science - Madness - Fairies -

The Changeling

Toll no bell for me, dear Father dear Mother,
Waste no sighs;
There are my sisters, there is my little brother
Who plays in the place called Paradise,
Your children all, your children for ever;
But I, so wild,
Your disgrace, with the queer brown face, was never,
Never, I know, but half your child!

In the garden at play, all day, last summer,
Far and away I heard
The sweet "tweet-tweet" of a strange new-comer,
The dearest, clearest call of a bird.
It lived down there in the deep green hollow,
My own old home, and the fairies say
The word of a bird is a thing to follow,
So I was away a night and a day.

One evening, too, by the nursery fire,
We snuggled close and sat round so still,
When suddenly as the wind blew higher,
Something scratched on the window-sill,
A pinched brown face peered in - I shivered;
No one listened or seemed to see;
The arms of it waved and the wings of it quivered,
Whoo - I knew it had come for me!
Some are as bad as bad can be!
All night long they danced in the rain,
Round and round in a dripping chain,
Threw their caps at the window-pane,
Tried to make me scream and shout
And fling the bedclothes all about :
I meant to stay in bed that night,
And if only you had left a light
They would never have got me out!

Sometimes I wouldn't speak, you see,
Or answer when you spoke to me,
Because in the long, still dusks of Spring
You can hear the whole world whispering;
The shy green grasses making love,
The feathers grow on the dear grey dove,
The tiny heart of the redstart beat,
The patter of the squirrel's feet,
The pebbles pushing in the silver streams,
The rushes talking in their dreams,
The swish-swish of the bat's black wings,
The wild-wood bluebell's sweet ting-tings,
Humming and hammering at your ear,
Everything there is to hear
In the heart of hidden things.
But not in the midst of the nursery riot,
That's why I wanted to be quiet,
Couldn't do my sums, or sing,
Or settle down to anything.
And when, for that, I was sent upstairs
I did kneel down to say my prayers;
But the King who sits on your high church steeple
Has nothing to do with us fairy people!

Times I pleased you, dear Father, dear Mother,
Learned all my lessons and liked to play,
And dearly I loved the little pale brother
Whom some other bird must have called away.
Why did they bring me here to make me
Not quite bad and not quite good,
Why, unless They're wicked, do They want, in spite to take me
Back to Their wet, wild wood?
Now, every night I shall see the windows shining,
The gold lamp's glow, and the fire's red gleam,
While the best of us are twining twigs and the rest of us are whining
In the hollow by the stream.
Black and chill are Their nights on the wold;
And They live so long and They feel no pain:
I shall grow up, but never grow old,
I shall always, always be very cold,
I shall never come back again!

 
 
Science - History - Intensity

Men and Trees 1 (Extracts) Full text

It was a blind man in old Palestine who saw men as trees walking... and the other day in a London studio I met another quite 'dark' as thet say in Devonshire, who must have had some vision of men and trees...

... the line of lamps, just lit, cut the broken line of trees in the gardens opposite; a light rain was beginning to freshen the dusty leaves. The London trees are all the prisoners of men, some unreasonably mutilated like the lopped crowd in Greenwich Park, while, now and then, there is a wholesale massacre such as that of the seven hundred in Kensington Gardens, which took place, no one knows why, some thirty years ago, against which even the executioners protested and perhaps the homeless rooks as vainly. In my own wooded neighbourhood one after another falls; progress pulls down the old spacious shabby houses and puts up flats for the half-world; a popular draper rears a proud monument to success; the green vanishes: even tomorrow one may miss the familiar plane of yesterday, and the birds go with the tress.

half-world = demimonde = women kept as mistresses

"You are looking at something", said my blind friend quietly. "Not here", I told him. "It was a tree outside the British Museum they were felling last week, with all the instruments of butchery, the axe and the rope and the saw, and the clearing round it like a scaffold; it went on for days and I didn't altogether care for it." "No", he agreed... "I really can't bear to see a tree cut down..."
...
One may read whole libraries about the tree. tree-myth, tree marriage, tree-burial, tree-murder (under 'Forestry'), shelf upon shelf of books, dreams analysed and prayers dissected, millions of words strewn round it like its own dead leaves, and outside there stands the living tree, aloof, splendid; as magical as it was before one of them was written...

And this beauty. The scientist puts it into schedules and cuts sections of it and labels specimens for museums, and while he is busy the soul of it makes a little journey and comes back when it has gone to bed. No soul can breath buried alive beneath the weight of all these tabulated facts.

The great tropical forests are being gradually penetrated; they are not yet ours

Men and Trees 2 (Extracts) Full text
...

Every tree of the Druidical Grove at Marseilles is said to have been washed with human blood, and Frazer mentions the yearly sacrifice of a girl by a tribe in the Punjab to an old cedar-tree.

These, of course, are the darker superstitions; civilisation, brightly conscious of having abolished the devils with the gods, and replaced them all by the Culte du Moi, murmurs "shocking!" and hurries on; but there is not much doubt that human sacrifices are still being offered by American and European syndicates to the sacred tree of civilisation, the rubber tree. Civilisation demands speed, speed demands rubber, and rubber, coated with blood and slime, turns quickly into gold. We have almost forgotten the Congo, and the whole story of the unique and more hideous abominations of the Putumayo is not yet and probably never will be told. So far we know that within ten years the greater part of a gay, intelligent native race has been monstrously exploited and destroyed.
...
Religion is like music, one must have an ear for it; some people have none at all; but given the ear it is all significant and wonderful, from the old plain-song to a rhapsodie of Brahms. The form changes with our shifting emotions and ideas; here and there an a tune gets lost, or goes out of fashion.

Paganism and the medieval Christianity grafted on to it is dying hard in Celtic Brittany; but no one who within the last ten years has seen only the fires on St John's Eve at Guingamp will say that it is dead. The bonfires at each corner of the triangular place, lit by the priests without enthusiasm, are built around high poles, each crowned with a garland of flowers. In the glare, as the flames mount and spread, the old houses round, losing actuality and substance, look like painted scenery, and the pilgrims below, who have come from all parts of the countryside, for the Fête of Notre Dame de Bon Secours, like a stage crowd.

Ten years ago one or two of them snatched a tison from the fire; later I did not see this done. These were treasured, says Souvestre (in 1854) as charms against thunder, and the scorched garlands as talismans against sickness and sorrow (peines de l'âme)

The fires are relics of sun-worship, but the masts and garlands suggest the tree.

The Celts, whatever sea divides them, have the same eyes and see the same visions, touching hands on the land of dreams...


 
Published June 1914

On the Road to the Sea

We passed each other, turned and stopped for half an hour, then went our way,
I who make others smile did not make you -
But no man can move mountains in a day.
So this hard thing is yet to do.

But first I want your life: - before I die I want to see
The world that lies behind the strangeness of your eyes,
There is nothing gay or green there for my gathering, it may be,
Yet on brown fields there lies
A haunting purple bloom: is there not something in grey skies
And in grey sea?
I want what world there is behind your eyes,
I want your life because you will not give it me.

Now, if I look, I see you walking down the years,
Young, and through August fields - a Face, a Thought, a swinging Dream perched on a stile -;
I would have liked (how vile we are!) to have taught you tears
But most to have made you smile.
To-day is not enough or yesterday: God sees it all -
Your length on sunny lawns, the wakeful rainy nights -; tell me? -; how hideous to ask, but it is not a question - just a call -;
Show me then, only your notched inches climbing up the garden wall,
I like you best when you were small.

Is this a stupid thing to say
Not having spent with you one day?
No matter; I shall never touch your hair
Or hear the little tick behind your breast,
Still it is there,
And as a flying bird
Brushes the branches where it may not rest
I have brushed your hand and heard
The child in you: I like that best
So small, so dark, so sweet; and were you also then too grave and wise?
Always I think. Then put your far off little hand in mine; - Oh! let it rest;
I will not stare into the early world beyond the opening eyes,
Or vex or scare what I love best.
But I want your life before mine bleeds away -
Here - not in heavenly hereafters - soon, -
I want your smile this very afternoon,
The last of all my vices, pleasant people used to say,
I wanted and I sometimes got - the Moon!


You know, at dusk, the last bird's cry,
And round the house the flap of the bat's low flight,
Trees that go black against the sky
And then - how soon the night!

No shadow of you on any bright road again,
And at the darkening end of this - what voice? whose kiss? As if you'd say!
It is not I who have walked with you, it will not be I who take away
Peace, peace, my little handful of the gleaner's grain
From your reaped fields at the shut of day.

Peace! Would you not rather die
Reeling, - with all the cannons at your ear?
So, at least, would I,
And I may not be here
To-night, to-morrow morning or next year.
Still I will let you keep your life a little while,
See dear? I have made you smile.

 
 
See June 1914 - 10.12.1918 - 14.4.1919

discussing On the Road to the Sea with Florence Hardy

Max Gate
Dorchester
April 13, 1919

My dear Miss Mew:

I hope you are well and that the treacherous weather has not been playing tricks on you. I do hope that you have escaped 'flu'.

I am really writing to ask you a question - which I hope you won't think silly. We - some Cambridge friends - Lowes Dickinson, Elliott Felkin, and E. M. Forster have been reading with great appreciation your poem, "On the Road to the Sea." It seems to have raised a never-ending controversy. Is the speaker a man or a woman? All the men say it is a woman - I and another of my sex say it is a man who speaks. Will you tell me which it is? It would be so good of you.

I do hope that you will be able to run down to see us later when the weather is a bit warmer. We may be in town later - when perhaps we might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of you.

Yours very sincerely.
Florence Hardy

9 Gordon Street
Gordon Square
April 14, 1919

Dear Mrs. Hardy,

"The Road to the Sea" represents to me a middle-aged man speaking, in thought, to a middle-aged woman whom he had only met once or twice.

This last week there has been a suggestion of another edition of the Farmer's Bride & if the "Road to the Sea" went into it, perhaps it would make it clearer (or darker) if this were put at the head of it: La beaute des jeunea femmes est distribute sur les diverses parties. Quand elles vieillissent, la beaute se fixe sur leur visage.

I did not want to bore you with an answer to your letter of February - an answer to mine - though I would have liked, then, to tell you how much pleasure it gave me - for you said in it the nicest thing that has been, or could be said, of these everlasting little verses & it was some weeks too before I got out of my head the bit about the 12th of March. And now your Spring is here!

I know if you should come to town, there won't be enough 1/4 of an hours to go round & you know well enough how I shall value it if you have one of them to spare for me!

I've not seen summer in the country since 1914, but this year perhaps 1 shall make a bolt for it somewhere, and if that were to be Dorchester I should wonder that I'd have such luck, only that luck has nothing to do with what one does - and the good-for-nothings seem to get most of it.

I had an amusing time at Christmas with some very Roman Catholic friends where I met a Carmelite monk who offered to "correspond" with me "on any subject"! - & I'm hoping to get a week in Sussex after Easter. I read in the papers that "Mr. Hardy is in the best of health & spirits" etc. etc. etc. which is good news for the world. Please remember me - dutifully - as my old nurse taught me to say - to him.

Very sincerely yours,

Charlotte Mew

Max Gate
Dorchester
March 2, 1921

My dear Charlotte Mew: (If I may venture)

Even at the risk of bothering you with another letter I must send this, to say how much I value your gift of the new edition of "The Farmer's Bride." It is - and always will be - one of my greatest treasures, and it was so good of you to send it. I read all the new poems aloud to T. H. last night. He liked "Sea Love" perhaps the best. "Saturday Market" too is exceedingly good. I remember your reciting it to us here so well.

You have altered, I see, certain lines in "On the Road to the Sea," which is perhaps my favourite of all your poems. Please forgive me if any remarks I make seem presumptuous. I do not know whether it is a better plan to make certain the sex of the speaker - as you have now done in the line "I who make other women smile." There was something alluring in each reader supplying his own idea. But then my argument always was, that the request "...put your far off little hand in mine" could not be made to a man by a woman....

 
 
First published June 1914 in a slightly different version.
This version published in the 1921 edition of The Farmer's Bride.

On the Road to the Sea

We passed each other, turned and stopped for half an hour, then went our way,
I who make other women smile did not make you -
But no man can move mountains in a day.
So this hard thing is yet to do.

But first I want your life: - before I die I want to see
The world that lies behind the strangeness of your eyes,
There is nothing gay or green there for my gathering, it may be,
Yet on brown fields there lies
A haunting purple bloom: is there not something in grey skies
And in grey sea?
I want what world there is behind your eyes,
I want your life and you will not give it me.

Now, if I look, I see you walking down the years,
Young, and through August fields - a face, a thought, a swinging dream perched on a stile -;
I would have liked (so vile we are!) to have taught you tears
But most to have made you smile.
To-day is not enough or yesterday: God sees it all -
Your length on sunny lawns, the wakeful rainy nights -; tell me -; (how vain to ask), but it is not a question - just a call -;
Show me then, only your notched inches climbing up the garden wall,
I like you best when you are small.

Is this a stupid thing to say
Not having spent with you one day?
No matter; I shall never touch your hair
Or hear the little tick behind your breast,
Still it is there,
And as a flying bird
Brushes the branches where it may not rest
I have brushed your hand and heard
The child in you: I like that best
So small, so dark, so sweet; and were you also then too grave and wise?
Always I think. Then put your far off little hand in mine; - Oh! let it rest;
I will not stare into the early world beyond the opening eyes,
Or vex or scare what I love best.
But I want your life before mine bleeds away -
Here - not in heavenly hereafters - soon, -
I want your smile this very afternoon,
(The last of all my vices, pleasant people used to say,
I wanted and I sometimes got - the Moon!)


You know, at dusk, the last bird's cry,
And round the house the flap of the bat's low flight,
Trees that go black against the sky
And then - how soon the night!

No shadow of you on any bright road again,
And at the darkening end of this - what voice? whose kiss? As if you'd say!
It is not I who have walked with you, it will not be I who take away
Peace, peace, my little handful of the gleaner's grain
From your reaped fields at the shut of day.

Peace! Would you not rather die
Reeling, - with all the cannons at your ear?
So, at least, would I,
And I may not be here
To-night, to-morrow morning or next year.
Still I will let you keep your life a little while,
See dear? I have made you smile.

 
Published 25.7.1914
See
language

Pêcheresse

Down the long quay the slow boats glide,
While here and there a house looms white
Against the gloom of the waterside,
And some high window throws a light
As they sail out into the night.

At dawn they will bring in again
To women knitting on the quay
Who wait for him, their man of men;
I stand with them, and watch the sea
Which may have taken mine from me.

Just so the long days come and go.
The nights, ma Doué! the nights are cold!
Our Lady's heart is as frozen snow,
Since this one sin I have not told;
And I shall die or perhaps grow old

Before he comes. The foreign ships
Bring many a one of face and name
As strange as his, to buy your lips,
A gold piece for a scarlet shame
Like mine. But mine was not the same.

One night was ours, one short grey day
Of sudden sin, unshrived, untold.
He found me, and I lost the way
To Paradise for him. I sold
My soul for love and not for gold

He bought my soul, but even so,
My face is all that he has seen,
His is the only face I know,
And in the dark church, like a screen.
It shuts God out; it comes between;

While in some narrow foreign street
Or loitering on the crowded quay,
Who knows what others he may meet
To turn his eyes away from me?
Many are fair to such as he!

There is but one for such as I
To love, to hate, to hunger for;
I shall, perhaps, grow old and die,
With one short day to spend and store,
One night, in all my life, no more.

Just so the long days come and go,
Yet this one sin I will not tell
Though Mary's heart is as frozen snow
And all nights are cold for one warmed too well.
But, oh! ma Doué! the nights of Hell!

 
 
 
Life

On the Asylum Road

Theirs is the house whose windows---every pane---
Are made of darkly stained or clouded glass:
Sometimes you come upon them in the lane,
The saddest crowd that you will ever pass.

But still we merry town or village folk
Throw to their scattered stare a kindly grin,
And think no shame to stop and crack a joke
With the incarnate wages of man's sin.

None but ourselves in our long gallery we meet,
The moor-hen stepping from her reeds with dainty feet,
The hare-bell bowing on its stem,
Dance not with us; their pulses beat
To fainter music; nor do we to them
Make their life sweet.

The gayest crowd that they will ever pass
Are we to brother-shadows in the lane:
Our windows, too, are clouded glass
To them, yes, every pane!

 
Life - Inference - 24.7.1913 -

Ken

The town is old and very steep,
A place of bells and cloisters and grey towers,
And black clad people walking in their sleep -
A nun, a priest, a woman taking flowers
To her new grave; and watched from end to end
By the great Church above, through the still hours:
But in the morning and the early dark
The children wake to dart from doors and call
Down the wide, crooked street, where, at the bend,
Before it climbs up to the park,
Ken's is the gabled house facing the Castle wall.

When first I came upon him there
Suddenly, on the half-lit stair,
I think I hardly found a trace
Of likeness to a human face
In his. And I said then
If in His image God made men,
Some other must have made poor Ken -
But for his eyes which looked at you
As two red, wounded stars might do.
He scarcely spoke, you scarcely heard,
His voice broke off in little jars
To tears sometimes. An uncouth bird
He seemed as he ploughed up the street,
Groping, with knarred, high-lifted feet
And arms thrust out as if to beat
Always against a threat of bars.

And oftener than not there'd be
A child just higher than his knee
Trotting beside him. Through his dim
Long twilight this, at least, shone clear,
That all the children and the deer,
Whom every day he went to see
Out in the park, belonged to him.

"God help the folk that next him sits
He fidgets so, with his poor wits."
The neighbours said on Sunday nights
When he would go to Church to "see the lights!"
Although for these he used to fix
His eyes upon a crucifix
In a dark corner, staring on
Till everybody else had gone.
And sometimes, in his evil fits,
You could not move him from his chair -
You did not look at him as he sat there,
Biting his rosary to bits.
While pointing to the Christ he tried to say
"Take it away."

Nothing was dead:
He said "a bird" if he picked up a broken wing,
A perished leaf or any such thing
Was just "a rose"; and once when I had said
He must not stand and knock there any more,
He left a twig on the mat outside my door.

Not long ago
The last thrush stiffened in the snow,
While black against a sullen sky
The sighing pines stood by.
But now the wind has left our rattled pane
To flutter the hedge-sparrow's wing,
The birches in the wood are red again
And only yesterday
The larks went up a little way to sing
What lovers say
Who loiter in the lanes to-day;
The buds begin to talk of May
With learned rooks on city trees,
And if God please
With all of these
We too, shall see another Spring.

But in that red brick barn upon the hill
I wonder - can one own the deer,
And does one walk with children still
As one did here -
Do roses grow
Beneath those twenty windows in a row -
And if some night
When you have not seen any light
They cannot move you from your chair
What happens there?

I do not know.
So, when they took
Ken to that place, I did not look
After he called and turned on me His eyes.
These I shall see -

 
24.7.1913 -

The Quiet House

When we were children old Nurse used to say
The house was like an auction or a fair
Until the lot of us were safe in bed.
It has been quiet as the country-side
Since Ted and Janey and then Mother died
And Tom crossed Father and was sent away.
After the lawsuit he could not hold up his head,
Poor Father, and he does not care
For people here, or to go anywhere.

To get away to Aunt's for that week-end
Was hard enough; (since then, a year ago,
He scarcely lets me slip out of his sight - )
At first I did not like my cousin's friend,
I did not think I should remember him:
His voice has gone, his face is growing dim
And if I like him now I do not know.
He frightened me before he smiled -
He did not ask me if he might -
He said that he would come one Sunday night,
He spoke to me as if I were a child.

No year has been like this that has just gone by;
It may be that what Father says is true,
If things are so it does not matter why:
But everything has burned, and not quite through.
The colours of the world have turned
To flame, the blue, the gold has burned
In what used to be such a leaden sky.
When you are burned quite through you die.

Red is the strangest pain to bear;
In Spring the leaves on the budding trees;
In Summer the roses are worse than these,
More terrible than they are sweet:
A rose can stab you across the street
Deeper than any knife:
And the crimson haunts you everywhere -
Thin shafts of sunlight, like the ghosts of reddened swords have struck our stair
As if, coming down, you had spilt your life.

I think that my soul is red
Like the soul of a sword or a scarlet flower:
But when these are dead
They have had their hour.
I shall have had mine, too,
For from head to feet,
I am burned and stabbed half through,
And the pain is deadly sweet.

The things that kill us seem
Blind to the death they give:
It is only in our dream
The things that kill us live.

The room is shut where Mother died,
The other rooms are as they were,
The world goes on the same outside,
The sparrows fly across the Square,
The children play as we four did there,
The trees grow green and brown and bare,
The sun shines on the dead Church spire,
And nothing lives here but the fire,
While Father watches from his chair
Day follows day
The same, or now and then, a different grey,
Till, like his hair,
Which Mother said was wavy once and bright,
They will all turn white.

To-night I heard a bell again -
Outside it was the same mist of fine rain,
The lamps just lighted down the long, dim street,
No one for me -
I think it is myself I go to meet:
I do not care; some day I shall not think; I shall not be!

 
24.7.1913 -

Fame

Sometimes in the over-heated house, but not for long.
Smirking and speaking rather loud,
I see myself among the crowd,
Where no one fits the singer to his song,
Or sifts the unpainted from the painted faces
Of the people who are always on my stair;
They were not with me when I walked in heavenly places;
But could I spare
In the blind Earth's great silences and spaces,
The din, the scuffle, the long stare
If I went back and it was not there?
Back to the old known things that are the new,
The folded glory of the gorse, the sweetbriar air,
To the larks that cannot praise us, knowing nothing of what we do,
And the divine, wise trees that do not care.
Yet, to leave Fame, still with such eyes and that bright hair!
God! If I might! And before I go hence
Take in her stead
To our tossed bed
One little dream, no matter how small, how wild.
Just now, I think I found it in a field, under a fence -
A frail, dead, new-born lamb, ghostly and pitiful and white
A blot upon the night,
The moon's dropped child!

 
29.7.1913 -

The Sunlit House

White, through the gate it gleamed and slept
In shattered sunshine. The parched garden flowers
Their scarlet petals from the beds unswept
Like children unloved and ill-kept
Dreamed through the hours Two blue hydrangeas by the blistered door burned brown
Watched there, and no one in the town
Cared to go past it night or day
Though why this was they wouldn't say

But I, the stranger, knew that I must stay.
Pace up the weed-grown paths and down -
Till one afternoon - there is just a doubt -
Bit I fancy I heard a tiny shout -
From an upper window a bird flew out -
And I went my way.

 

9 Gordon Street, Gordon Sqaures, W.C.

July 24th 1913

Dear Mrs Hill,

I have to, and do most gratefully, thank you for a very fine criticism of the verse (returned yesterday) or whatever you like to call it. So far, I have only had a general 'appreciation' and your detailed one is more helpful and valuable. Nor, if I may so without, impertinence, do the experts or literary people seem to get as closely to it or judge it as acutely. I am glad you like Fame which I personally prefer to anything I have done, though I don't know why, and curiously enough The Quiet House which you say you see objectively, is perhaps the most subjective to me, of the lot. I wanted in Ken to do what you say I have done, i.e., obscure the tragic side by a gentleness of treatment -- and for Nunhead -- the last verse which you find superfluous is to me the most inevitable (and was written first) being a lapse from the sanity and self-control of what precedes it. The mind and senses can stand no more, and that is to express their failure and exhaustion. I shouldn't have bothered you with all this if you hadn't in a sense asked for it. The things now in my head are rather unmanageable, and possibly too big to pull off, as in this form I am really only a beginner.

Mrs Scott asked me to go down last Saturday to recite the poems to some literary friends, and in my brightest way I replied that she had mistaken me for little Tich or Margaret Cooper at the piano, and impolitely declined; but got a note on Saturday to say she was ill and Damn she would not write to me again! So I went down to enquire, found her up again, and was made to stay to dinner, and talked a lot of literary shop, and commenting on some remark of hers, I said it was one of the things you didn't say. "But it's true," she protested, to which even more light-heartedly I replied, "Many things are true which only the commonest minds observe." However, the goose that lays their golden eggs doesn't really count, and she asked me down to Cornwall where they have a cottage for the summer, but I can't see my way to go.

Anne's better, though she doesn't say whether she is or not, only that her holiday has been made perfectly delightful by your kindness; a quite unnecessary piece of news! I am bracing myself for a week-end at Berkhamsted where the extravagance of cooks, the dearness of vegetables, be all our joy. Sometimes I thank the little gods that I am not a 'married lady', but some of them escape the bit! I am dying to escape to the sea, and can't bear to think of Newlyn Harbour in the sunshine.

With very grateful thank and best remembrances in which my mother joins

affectionately yours,

Charlotte Mew

 
God - 1886 - 1913 - 1914 - parody -

The Fête

To-night again the moon's white mat
Stretches across the dormitory floor
While outside, like an evil cat
The pion prowls down the dark corridor,
Planning, I know, to pounce on me, in spite
For getting leave to sleep in town last night.
But it was none of us who made that noise,
Only the old brown owl that hoots and flies
Out of the ivy - he will say it was us boys -
Seigneur mon Dieu: the sacré soul of spies!
He would like to catch each dream that lies
Hidden behind our sleepy eyes:
Their dream ? But mine-it is the moon and the wood that sees;
All my long life how I shall hate the trees!

In the Place d'Armes the dusty planes, all Summer through,
Dozed with the market women in the sun and scarcely stirred
To see the quiet things that crossed the Square -,
A tiny funeral, the flying shadow of a bird,
The hump-backed barber Celéstin Lemaire,
Old Madame Michel in her three-wheeled chair,
And filing past to Vespers, two and two,
The demoiselles of the pensionnat
Towed like a ship through the harbour bar,
Safe into port, where le petit Jésus
Perhaps makes nothing of the look they shot at you:
Si, c'est defendu, mais que voulez-vous?
It was the sun. The sunshine weaves
A pattern on dull stones: the sunshine leaves
The portraiture of dreams upon the eyes
Before it dies:
All Summer through
The dust hung white upon the drowsy planes
Till suddenly they woke with the Autumn rains.

It is not only the little boys
Who have hardly got away from toys,
But I, who am seventeen next year,
Some nights, in bed, have grown cold to hear
That lonely passion of the rain
Which makes you think of being dead,
And of somewhere living to lay your head
As if you were a child again,
Crying for one thing, known and near
Your empty heart, to still the hunger and the fear
That pelts and beats with it against the pane.

But I remember smiling too
At all the sun's soft tricks and those Autumn dreads
In winter time, when the grey light broke slowly through
The frosted window-lace to drag us shivering from our beds.
And when at dusk the singing wind swung down
Straight from the stars to the dark country roads
Beyond the twinkling town,
Striking the leafless poplar boughs as he went by,
Like some poor, stray dog by the wayside lying dead,
We left behind us the old world of dread,
I and the wind as we strode whistling on under the Winter sky.

And then in Spring for three days came the Fair
Just as the planes were starting into bud
Above the caravans: you saw the dancing bear
Pass on his chain; and heard the jingle and the thud.
Only four days ago
They let you out of this dull show
To slither down the montagne russe and chaff the man à la téte de veau
Hit, slick, the bull's eye at the tir,
Spin round and round till your head went queer
On the porcs-roulants. Oh! là là! fête!
Va pour du vin, et le tête-a-tête

With the girl who sugars the gaufres! Pauvrette,
How thin she was! but she smiled, you bet,

As she took your tip -"One does not forget
The good days, Monsieur". Said with a grace,
But sacrebleu: what a ghost of a face!
And no fun too for the demoiselles
Of the pensionnat, who were hurried past,
With their "Oh, que c'est beau - Ah, qu'elle est belle!"
A lap-dog's life from first to last! ;
The good nights are not made for sleep, nor the good days for dreaming in,
And at the end in the big Circus tent we sat and shook and stewed like sin!

Some children there had got - but where?
Sent from the south, perhaps - a red bouquet
Of roses, sweetening the fetid air
With scent from gardens by some far away blue bay.
They threw one at the dancing bear;
The white clown caught it. From St. Rémy's tower
The deep, slow bell tolled out the hour;
The black clown, with his dirty grin
Lay, sprawling in the dust, as She rode in.

She stood on a white horse-and suddenly you saw the bend
Of a far-off road at dawn, with knights riding by,
A field of spears - and then the gallant day
Go out in storm, with ragged clouds low down, sullen and grey
Against red heavens: wild and awful, such a sky
As witnesses against you at the end
Of a great battle; bugles blowing, blood and dust -
The old Morte d'Arthur, fight you must -.
It died in anger. But it was not death
That had you by the throat, stopping your breath.
She looked like Victory. She rode my way.

She laughed at the black clown and then she flew
A bird above us, on the wing
Of her white arms; and you saw through
A rent in the old tent, a patch of sky
With one dim star. She flew, but not so high -
And then she did not fly;
She stood in the bright moonlight at the door
Of a strange room, she threw her slippers on the floor -
Again, again
You heard the patter of the rain,
The starving rain - it was this Thing,
Summer was this, the gold mist in your eyes;-
Oh God! it dies,
But after death-,
To-night the splendour and the sting
Blows back and catches at your breath,
The smell of beasts, the smell of dust, the scent of all the roses in the world, the sea, the Spring,
The beat of drums, the pad of hoofs, music, the dream, the dream, the Enchanted Thing!

At first you scarcely saw her face,
You knew the maddening feet were there,
What called was that half-hidden, white unrest
To which now and then she pressed
Her finger-tips; but as she slackened pace
And turned and looked at you it grew quite bare:
There was not anything you did not dare: -
Like trumpeters the hours passed until the last day of the Fair.

In the Place d'Armes all afternoon
The building birds had sung "Soon, soon",
The shuttered streets slept sound that night,
It was full moon:
The path into the wood was almost white,
The trees were very still and seemed to stare:
Not far before your soul the Dream flits on,
But when you touch it, it is gone
And quite alone your soul stands there.

Mother of Christ, no one has seen your eyes: how can men pray
Even unto you?
There were only wolves' eyes in the wood -
My Mother is a woman too:
Nothing is true that is not good,
With that quick smile of hers, I have heard her say; -
I wish I had gone back home to-day;
I should have watched the light that so gently dies
From our high window, in the Paris skies,
The long, straight chain
Of lamps hung out along the Seine:
I would have turned to her and let the rain
Beat on her breast as it does against the pane;-
Nothing will be the same again; -
There is something strange in my little Mother's eyes,
There is something new in the old heavenly air of Spring -
The smell of beasts, the smell of dust - The Enchanted Thing!

All my life long I shall see moonlight on the fern
And the black trunks of trees. Only the hair
Of any woman can belong to God.
The stalks are cruelly broken where we trod,
There had been violets there,
I shall not care
As I used to do when I see the bracken burn.

 
 
Intensity - February 1914 - May 1916 -

The Forest Road

The forest road,
The infinite straight road stretching away
World without end: the breathless road between the walls
Of the black listening trees: the hushed, grey road
Beyond the window that you shut to-night
Crying that you would look at it by day -
There is a shadow there that sings and calls
But not for you. Oh! hidden eyes that plead in sleep
Against the lonely dark, if I could touch the fear
And leave it kissed away on quiet lids -
If I could hush these hands that are half-awake,
Groping for me in sleep I could go free.
I wish that God would take them out of mine
And fold them like the wings of frightened birds
Shot cruelly down, but fluttering into quietness so soon.
Broken, forgotten things? there is no grief for them in the green Spring
When the new birds fly back to the old trees.
But it shall not be so with you. I will look back. I wish I knew that God would stand
Smiling and looking down on you when morning comes,
To hold you, when you wake, closer than I,
So gently though: and not with famished lips or hungry arms:
He does not hurt the frailest, dearest things
As we do in the dark. See, dear, your hair -
I must unloose this hair that sleeps and dreams
About my face, and clings like the brown weed
To drowned, delivered things, tossed by the tired sea
Back to the beaches. Oh! your hair! If you had lain
A long time dead on the rough, glistening ledge
Of some black cliff, forgotten by the tide,
The raving winds would tear, the dripping brine would rust away
Fold after fold of all the loveliness
That wraps you round, and makes you, lying here,
The passionate fragrance that the roses are.
But death would spare the glory of your head
In the long sweetness of the hair that does not die:
The spray would leap to it in every storm,
The scent of the unsilenced sea would linger on
In these dark waves, and round the silence that was you -
Only the nesting gulls would hear - but there would still be whispers in your hair;
Keep them for me; keep them for me. What is this singing on the road
That makes all other music like the music in a dream -
Dumb to the dancing and the marching feet; you know, in dreams, you see
Old pipers playing that you cannot hear,
And ghostly drums that only seem to beat. This seems to climb:
Is it the music of a larger place? It makes our room too small: it is like a stair,
A calling stair that climbs up to a smile you scarcely see,
Dim, but so waited for; and you know what a smile is, how it calls,
How if I smiled you always ran to me.
Now you must sleep forgetfully, as children do.
There is a Spirit sits by us in sleep
Nearer than those who walk with us in the bright day.
I think he has a tranquil, saving face: I think he came
Straight from the hills: he may have suffered there in time gone by,
And once, from those forsaken heights, looked down,
Lonely himself, on all the lonely sorrows of the earth.
It is his kingdom - Sleep. If I could leave you there -
If, without waking you, I could get up and reach the door -!
We used to go together. - Shut, scared eyes,
Poor, desolate, desperate hands, it is not I
Who thrust you off. No, take your hands away -
I cannot strike your lonely hands. Yes, I have struck your heart,
It did not come so near. Then lie you there
Dear and wild heart behind this quivering snow
With two red stains on it: and I will strike and tear
Mine out, and scatter it to yours. Oh! throbbing dust,
You that were life, our little wind-blown hearts!

The road! the road!

There is a shadow there: I see my soul,
I hear my soul, singing among the trees!

 
 
dialect - July 1919

Sea Love

Tide be runnin' the great world over:
'Twas only last June month I mind that we
Was thinkin' the toss and the call in the breast of the lover
So everlastin' as the sea.

Heer's the same little fishes that splutter and swim,
Wi' the moon's old glim on the grey, wet sand:
An' him no more to me nor me to him
Then the wind goin' over my hand.

 
 
July 1920

I Have Been Through The Gates

His heart to me, was a place of palaces and pinnacles and shining towers;
I saw it then as we see things in dreams,--I do not remember how long I slept;
I remember the trees, and the high, white walls, and how the sun was always on the towers;
The walls are standing to-day, and the gates; I have been through the gates, I have groped, I have crept
Back, back. There is dust in the streets, and blood; they are empty; darkness is over them;
His heart is a place with the lights gone out, forsaken by great winds and the heavenly rain, unclean and unswept,
Like the heart of the holy city, old blind, beautiful Jerusalem;
Over which Christ wept

 
 
The Cenotaph

Not yet will those measureless fields be green again
Where only yesterday the wild sweet blood of wonderful youth was shed;
There is a grave whose earth must hold too long, too deep a stain,
Though for ever over it we may speak as proudly as we may tread.
But here, where the watchers by lonely hearths from the thrust of an inward sword have more slowly bled,
We shall build the Cenotaph: Victory, winged, with Peace, winged too, at the column's head.
And over the stairway, at the foot -- oh! here, leave desolate, passionate hands to spread
Violets, roses, and laurel, with the small, sweet, tinkling country things
Speaking so wistfully of other Springs,
From the little gardens of little places where son or sweetheart was born and bred.
In splendid sleep, with a thousand brothers
To lovers - to mothers
Here, too, lies he: Under the purple, the green, the red,
It is all young life: it must break some women's hearts to see
Such a brave, gay coverlet to such a bed!
Only, when all is done and said,
God is not mocked and neither are the dead
For this will stand in our Market-place -
Who'll sell, who'll buy?
(Will you or I
Lie each to each with the better grace?)
While looking into every busy whore's and huckster's face
As they drive their bargains, is the Face
Of God: and some young, piteous, murdered face.

 
 
 
Song

Love love to-day, my dear
Love is not always here
Wise maids know how soon grows sere
The greenest leaf of Spring.
But no man knoweth
Whither it goeth
When the wind bloweth
So frail a thing.

Love love, my dear, to-day
If the ship's in the bay
If the bird has come your way
That sings on summer trees.
When his song faileth
And the ship saileth
No voice availeth
To call back these.

 
 

from letters to Mrs Ethel Inglis

I expect I get my affection for flowers from spending some time in Somerset when I was a child with ancient aunts who didn't like me... their garden - when I was allowed into it - being, then, my only pleasure...

Your picture of the wood with the stream and the rain-soaked leaves I like very much - for though I am the most thorough of cockneys I live - in a way - in the country too - and never forget the woods and the fields...

... there is not much time for reading here and I'm afraid I spend any odd moments over a family of thrushes who hop about the sky-light of my attic window.

 
dialect

Arracombe Wood

Some said, because he wud'n spaik
Any words to women but Yes and No,
Nor put out his hand for Parson to shake
He mun be bird-witted. But I do go
By the lie of the barley that he did sow,
And I wish no better thing than to hold a rake
Like Dave, in his time, or to see him mow.

Put up in churchyard a month ago,
'A bitter old soul', they said, but it wadn't so.
His heart were in Arracombe Wood where he'd used to go
To sit and talk wi' his shadder till sun went low,
Though what it was all about us'll never know.
And there baint no mem'ry in the place
Of th' old man's footmark, nor his face;
Arracombe Wood do think more of a crow -
'Will be violets there in the Spring; in Summer time the spider's lace;
And come the Fall, the whizzle and race
Of the dry, dead leaves when the wind gives chase;
And on the Eve of Christmas, fallin' snow.

click for
A photograph of trees close to Charlotte Mew's house in Gordon Street - taken shortly before they were felled

The Trees Are Down

- and he cried with a loud voice: Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees - -Revelation

They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall,
The crash of the trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoa', the loud common talk, the loud common laughs of the men, above it all.

I remember one evening of a long past Spring
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding a large dead rat in the mud of the drive.
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing,
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.

The week's work here is as good as done. There is just one bough
On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,
Green and high
And lonely against the sky.
(Down now! -)
And but for that,
If an old dead rat
Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again.

It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoas' have carted the whole of the whispering loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.

It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,
In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying -
But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
'Hurt not the trees.'

 

Fin de Fête

Sweetheart, for such a day
One mustn't grudge the score;
Here, then, it's all to pay,
It's Good-night at the door.

Good-night and good dreams to you,-
Do you remember the picture-book thieves
Who left two children sleeping in a wood the long night through,
And how the birds came down and covered them with leaves?

So you and I should have slept, -But now,
Oh, what a lonely head!
With just the shadow of a waving bough
In the moonlight over your bed.

 
 
dialect

Old Shepherd's Prayer

Up to the bed by the window, where I be lyin',
Comes bells and bleat of the flock wi' they two children's clack.
Over, from under the eaves there's the starlings flyin',
And down in yard, fit to burst his chain, yapping out at Sue I do hear young Mac.

Turning around like a falled-over sack
I can see team plowin' in Whithy-bush field and meal carts startin' up road to Church-Town;
Saturday afternoon the men goin' back
And the women from market, trapin' home over the down.

Heavenly Master, I wud like to wake to they same green places
Where I be know'd for breakin' dogs and follerin' sheep.
And if I may not walk in th' old ways and look on th' old faces
I wud sooner sleep.

 
 
Intensity

The Wheat (Extracts)

'Don't let them cut the Wheat', he had said, sitting up in bed and falling back on it, his face towards the window opening on to the row of windows opposite, in the brickwork of the London street. All through his illness there had been no delirium so that this touch of it at the end seemed strange to them. 'Up to that moment he was quite himself and they were so unlike him', Amy said to her Mother repeating his words about the cutting of the wheat.

No one had known, and half the time he had hardly known himself, but lying there, taking medicines and being read to, he saw how, on and off, it had been with him ever since he was a boy, that Something behind him which he hadn't got at and that other sense of not being altogether Here.
...

It was a month or so before his illness that it occurred to him he must have spent his life in sleep, because all at once, things were beginning to stand out for him in a new sort of daylight, so near that however far off they were he seemed almost able to touch them, and so clearly that he might have been looking at them through a pair of field-glasses.

And then one afternoon he discovered that there were only three things on this earth: from the Bank steps, even from the house steps he found them in nearly everything except in his street and over there, on the counter, in the notes and gold.

Everywhere else - and they were in remembered things, the bronze of the seaweed against the grey of the quay-wall; the sweep of a man's hand broadcasting along the furrow: the throb in the breasts of things that ought to be flying but could hardly hold their heads up in the boxes of the bird-shops.

A little while ago he had thought there were a hundred things but now he knew there were just these three which he was beginning to get hold of, and the place where they seemed to him most to be, all together, was in the fields. In the grass, the greenness, the wave of it in the wind, and the life in every blade.

And then he was struck down.

For weeks these women had rustled about the room, pouring stuff down his throat and talking about him in whispers behind a screen; and an Angel of God could not have got them out; but what chiefly worried him was being there shut in.

He broke free, in a way, by thinking of walks in bygone holidays - before his marriage...

... when the Nurse came in to tell him how nicely he was getting on he laughed and took no notice of any one of them again.

He simply turned round and lay still and got over a stile into the fields and went on and on.

Sometimes it was spring there and twilight was over them; he liked that best; but this morning it was the August sunshine and they were August fields.

Fields - fields, quite endless, mile after mile of gold; they were the real gold - the wheat, stirring gently, with just above it the green, the line of the hedge and higher up, over it all the blue.

They were there, all three, the only things: the gold, the stir and the folded ear; they were in the wheat and his hand was passing over it and it was passing something into his hand.

All that there was or ever would be - he wanted to have it, to keep it: he was afraid of losing it: that was terror. It made him start up, it made him cry out almost as if he had seen them doing it - he didn't want them to cut down the wheat.

 
-

To a Child in Death

You would have scoffed if we had told you yesterday
Love made us feel, or so it was with me, like some great bird
Trying to hold and shelter you in its strong wing; -
A gay little shadowy smile would have tossed us back such a solemn word,
And it was not for that you were listening
When so quietly you slipped away
With half the music of the world unheard.
What shall we do with this strange summer, meant for you, -
Dear, if we see the winter through
What shall be done with spring?
This, this is the victory of the Grave; here is death's sting,
That it is not strong enough, our strongest wing.

But what of His who like a Father pitieth?
His Son was also, once, a little thing,
The wistfullest child that ever drew breath,
Chased by a sword from Bethlehem and in the busy house at Nazareth
Playing with little rows of nails, watching the carpenter's hammer swing,
Long years before His hands and feet were tied And by a hammer and the three great nails He died,
Of youth, of Spring,
Of sorrow, of loneliness, of victory the King,
Under the shadow of that wing.

 
 
 
First published March 1923 - Sensual

In The Fields

Lord when I look at lovely things which pass,
Under old trees the shadow of young leaves
Dancing to please the wind along the grass,
Or the gold stillness of the August sun on the August sheaves;
Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?
And if there is
Will the heart of any everlasting thing
Bring me these dreams that take my breath away?
They come at evening with the home-flying rooks and the scent of hay,
Over the fields. They come in spring.

 
 
First published 24.1.1925 -

Moorland Night

My face is against the grass - the moorland grass is wet -
My eyes are shut against the grass, against my lips there are the little blades,
Over my head the curlews call, And now there is the night wind in my hair;
My heart is against the grass and the sweet earth, - it has gone still, at last;
It does not want to beat any more,
And why should it beat?
This is the end of the journey.
The Thing is found.

This is the end of all the roads -
Over the grass there is the night-dew
And the wind that drives up from the sea along the moorland road,
I hear a curlew start out from the heath
And fly off calling through the dusk,
The wild, long, rippling call -:
The Thing is found and I am quiet with the earth;
Perhaps the earth will hold it or the wind, or that bird's cry,
But it is not for long in any life I know. This cannot stay,
Not now, not yet, not in a dying world, with me, for very long;
I leave it here:
And one day the wet grass may give it back -
One day the quiet earth may give it back -
The calling birds may give it back as they go by -
To someone walking on the moor who starves for love and will not know
Who gave it to all these to give away;
Or, if I come and ask for it again
Oh! then, to me.

 
First published 1929 -

On Youth Struck Down

(From an unfinished Elegy)

Oh! Death what have you to say?

"Like a bride - like a bride-groom they ride away
You shall go back to make the fire,
To learn patience - to learn grief,
To learn sleep when the light has gone out of your earthly skies,
But they have the light in their eyes
To the end of their day."

 
First published 1926 -

Do Dreams Lie Deeper?

His dust looks up to the changing sky
Through daisies' eyes,
And when a swallow flies
Only so high,
He hears her going by
As daisies do. He does not die
In this brown earth where he was glad enough to lie.

But looking up from that other bed,
' There is something more my own,' he said,
' Than hands or feet or this restless head
That must be buried when I am dead.
The Trumpet may wake every other sleeper :
Do dreams lie deeper?
And what sunrise
When these are shut shall open their little eyes?
They are my children, they have very lovely faces -
And how does one bury the breathless dreams ? -
They are not of the earth and not of the sea,
They have no friends here but the flakes of the falling snow ;
You and I will go down two paces, -
Where do they go?'

click for
Do Dreams Lie Deeper? scanned from its original publication in Atalanta's Garland
 
 
 

First published 1929 -

My Heart is Lame

My heart is lame with running after yours so fast
Such a long way,
Shall we walk slowly home, looking at all the things we passed
Perhaps to-day?

Home down the quiet evening roads under the quiet skies,
Not saying much,
You for a moment giving me your eyes
When you could bear my touch.

But not to-morrow. This has taken all my breath;
Then, though you look the same,
There may be something lovelier in Love's face in death
As your heart sees it, running back the way we came;
My heart is lame.

Poems and extracts on this website are reproduced with the approval of the publishers Carcanet
www.carcanet.co.uk
Click for links to all Carcanet selections from Charlotte Mew


Complete poems and selected prose with Val Warner's introduction

Poems selected by Eavan Boland


Index

An Old Servant
extracts

Miss Bolt
extracts

The Country Sunday
extracts

The London Sunday
extracts

Madeleine in Church
extracts

The Hay Market
extracts

Passed
extracts

An Open Door
(Extracts)

An Ending

A Country Book
extracts

V.R.I.

In Nunhead Cemetery

Notes in a Brittany Convent

To a Little Child in Death

Letter of 18.4.1902

At the Convent Gate

In the Curé's Garden
extracts

Song 1902

Not for that City

Mademoiselle
(Extracts)

The Poems of Emily Bronte

Letter of 14.7.1909

Requiescat

The Farmer's Bride

Pêcheresse

Men and Trees (February/March 1913)

On the Asylum Road

Ken

The Quiet House

Fame

Letter 24.7.1913

The Fête

The Forest Road

May, 1915

June, 1915

Sea Love

I Have Been Through the Gates

The Cenotaph

from letters to Mrs Ethel Inglis

Arracombe Wood

Old Shepherd's Prayer

The Wheat
extracts

In the Fields


Some questions about Charlotte Mew's poems at the University of Iowa