Some Remote And Quiet Stair

Charlotte Mew (1869 – 1928)

“before I die I want to see

The world that lies behind the strangeness of your eyes”

Charlotte Mew

Not for That City

By Charlotte Mew
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.


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.

It’s Good-night At The Door

Fin de Fête

By Charlotte Mew 
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.


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Good-night? ah! no; the hour is ill
Which severs those it should unite;
Let us remain together still,
Then it will be good night.

How can I call the lone night good,
Though thy sweet wishes wing its flight?
Be it not said, thought, understood —
Then it will be — good night.

To hearts which near each other move
From evening close to morning light,
The night is good; because, my love,
They never say good-night.


Everybody Sees That I Am Old But You

Charlotte Mew by Dorothy Webster Hawksley. Watercolour 1926.

A Quoi Bon Dire?

by Charlotte Mew (1869 – 1928)

Seventeen years ago you said
Something that sounded like Good-bye;
And everybody thinks that you are dead,
But I.

So I, as I grow stiff and cold
To this and that say Good-bye too;
And everybody sees that I am old
But you.

And one fine morning in a sunny lane
Some boy and girl will meet and kiss and swear
That nobody can love their way again
While over there
You will have smiled, I shall have tossed your hair.

The current debate over safety of vaccines feels like lunacy when you read the biography of Charlotte Mew.  We have forgotten the devastation of common diseases on families prior to vaccines being developed.  Vaccines for common childhood illnesses would have been a life changer and a miracle for her family. Born into a middle class family in London in 1869, Charlotte was the second to last of seven children.  Childhood illnesses killed three older brothers and her mother in quick succession before Charlotte was ten and two older siblings were so debilitated physically and mentally that as teenagers they were committed to psychiatric institutions where they would spend the rest of their short lives.  Following their father’s death in 1898 Charlotte and her only remaining sibling, her younger sister Anne fell into poverty.  Mew’s writing, although having succeeded to reach a fairly good audience, earning her praise from the literary community in London, did not generate enough income to support her and her sister.  Only a small government pension prevented the two of them from being homeless despite having to take on boarders and eventually sell the family home.  The two sister’s scraped by until Anne was diagnosed with cancer.   Charlotte nursed her until her death in 1924.    Neither sister ever married or wanted children, given their experiences of loss and grief.   

Mew’s poetry is an expression of the trauma Mew experienced —death, mental illness, loneliness, poverty and disillusionment— these became her primary themes.   An unconventional short story writer as well as poet, she confronted issues that were controversial and provocative for her time, including prostitution, sexism, lack of women’s rights.  Yet, despite it all, there is a spark of hope that runs around the edges of her poetry.  Both of the poems I shared today are touching in their clever use of rhyme and meter.  Each of these brought a smile to my face and I hope yours.  

The Trees Are Down  (Excerpt)

by Charlotte Mew
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.’