Saturday, 1 March 2008

Charlotte Mew, poet - part 3

Poet-in-Residence presents another unusual poem from Charlotte Mew, a poet who published only 16 poems in her lifetime. Mew was a favourite of Thomas Hardy and T S Eliot. In 'Monsieur Qui Passe' we find another strange and remarkable poem. It is 80 years this month since Mew took her own life. Her two siblings died in the mental asylum.

Monsieur Qui Passe

A purple blot against the dead white door
In my friend's rooms, bathed in their vile pink light,
I had not noticed her before
She snatched my eyes and threw them back to me:
She did not speak until we came out into the night,
Paused at this bench beside the kiosk on the Quay.

God knows precisley what she said -
I left to her the twisted skein,
Though here and there I caught a thread,-
Something, at first, about 'the lamps along the Seine,
And Paris, with that witching card of Spring
Kept up her sleeve,- why you could see
The trick done on these freezing winter nights!
While half the kisses of the Quay -
Youth, hope,- the whole enchanted string
Of dreams hung on the Seine's long line of lights.'

Then suddenly she stripped, the very skin
Came off her soul,- a mere girl clings
Longer to some last rag, however thin,
When she has shown you - well - all sorts of things:
'If it were daylight - oh! one keeps one's head -
But fourteen years! - No one has ever guessed -
The whole thing starts when one gets to bed -
Death?- If the dead would tell us they had rest!
But your eyes held it as I stood there by the door -
One speaks to Christ - one tries to catch his garment's hem -
One hardly says as much to Him - no more:
It was not you, it was your eyes - I spoke to them.'

She stopped like a shot bird that flutters still,
And drops, and tries to run again, and swerves.
The tale should end in some walled house upon a hill.
My eyes, at least, won't play such havoc there,-
Or hers - But she had hair! - blood dipped in gold;
And there she left me throwing back the first odd stare.
Some sort of beauty once, but turning yellow, getting old.
Pouah! These women and their nerves!
God! but the night is cold!

Charlotte Mew (1869 - 1928)

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