Charlotte Mew

There shall be no night there
                                                 In the Fields

Across these wind-blown meadows I can see
     The far off glimmer of the little town,
     And feel the darkness slowly shutting down
To lock from day’s long glare my soul and me.
     Then through my blood the coming mystery
Of night steals to my heart and turns my feet
Toward that chamber in the lamp-lit street,
     Where waits the pillow of thy breast and thee.

‘There shall be no night there’ —no curtained pane
     To shroud love’s speechlessness and loose thy hair
For kisses swift and sweet as falling rain.
     No soft release of life—no evening prayer.
     Nor shall we waking greet the dawn, aware
That with the darkness we may sleep again.


Sometimes I know the way
     You walk, up over the bay;
It is a wind from the far sea
That blows the fragrance of your hair to me.

Or in this garden when the breeze
     Touches my trees
To stir their dreaming shadows on the grass
     I see you pass.

In sheltered beds, the heart of every rose
     Serenely sleeps tonight. As shut as those
Your guarded heart; as safe as they from the beat, beat
Of hooves that tread dropped roses in the street.

          Turn never again
          On these eyes blind with a wild rain
     Your eyes; they were stars to me.—
          There are things stars may not see.

But call, call, and though Christ stands
     Still with scarred hands
Over my mouth, I must answer. So
I will come—He shall let me go!

Smile, Death

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

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

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 for sleep
     Too sound for waking and for dreams too deep.

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.

The Trees are Down

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

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 ‘Whoas,’ 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.’

May, 1915

          Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where all the wounded trees
          Wait, with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
           Sure of the sun. And even as to these
                   Surely the Spring, when God shall please
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit to-day with their great Dead, hands in their hands, eyes in their eyes,
At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things and changing skies.

Beside the Bed

Someone has shut the shining eyes, straightened and folded
           The wandering hands quietly covering the unquiet breast:
So, smoothed and silenced you lie, like a child, not again to be questioned or scolded:
           But, for you, not one of us believes that this is rest.

Not so to close the windows down can cloud and deaden
           The blue beyond: or to screen the wavering flame subdue its breath:
Why, if I lay my cheek to your cheek, your grey lips, like dawn, would quiver and redden,
           Breaking into the old, odd smile at this fraud of death.

Because all night you have not turned to us or spoken
           It is time for you to wake; your dreams were never very deep:
I, for one, have seen the thin bright, twisted threads of them dimmed suddenly and broken,
           This is only a most piteous pretense of sleep!

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.

Age 26, 1895

Charlotte Mew, an English poet born in 1869, died by her own hand in 1928, tormented and inconsolable, having lost her whole family to the cemetery or lunatic asylum. She lived in the repressive era of the Oscar Wilde trial and the obscenity trial for The Well of Loneliness, and her love for women was unrequited, and even publicly mocked. Apparently, Mew burned most of her poems. But Virigina Woolf wrote in response to Mew’s first book, The Farmer’s Bride (1916), that she is “unlike anyone else.” According to Eavan Boland, Mew’s words about Emily Brontë apply to Mew as well: “When first we read these songs, we are brought face to face with the woman who wrote them. And when once we know them and have been haunted by their rebellious and contending music it will not be possible to forget.”