POETRY IN LOCKDOWN: 23


It isn’t only with irony that poets convey something different from what they appear to be saying, and this reflects human experience. Our words often tug one way while our thoughts strain in the other direction. Or, sometimes, contrary feelings are at war within us. Such tension energises a poem that would otherwise be limp and sentimental.

Charlotte Mew often writes in this vein. She deserves to be better known as one of the most graceful and stylish of early 20th century lyrical poets.  The regretful note in which she specialises is similar to the atmosphere in many poems by Thomas Hardy (she was one of his favourite contemporaries) but she writes more conversationally than he does.

In this poem a love affair has come to an end and Mew is putting on a brave face.

From a Window
by Charlotte Mew

                  Up here, with June, the sycamore throws
                      Across the window a whispering screen;
       I shall miss the sycamore more, I suppose,
Than anything else on this earth that is out in green.
           But I mean to go through the door without fear,
           Not caring much what happens here
                          When I’m away:—
How green the screen is across the panes
             Or who goes laughing along the lanes
        With my old lover all summer day. 

This second short lyric by Mew is about times past, expressed through remembering the spaces in which those times were passed. Still regretful, though more enigmatic than ‘From a Window', the sentiment and phrasing seem to anticipate Philip Larkin

Rooms
by Charlotte Mew

I remember rooms that have had their part
      In the steady slowing down of the heart,
The room in Paris, the room at Geneva,
The little damp room with the seaweed smell,
And that ceaseless maddening sound of the tide—
      Rooms where for good — or for ill — things died.
But there is the room where we (two) lie dead,
Though every morning we seem to wake and might just as well seem to sleep again
      As we shall somewhere in the other quieter, dustier bed
      Out there in the sun — in the rain.

Posted on May 20th, 2020

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