Saturday, 29 March 2008

W. E. Henley, a poet in the rain

Looking ahead to the April showers Poet-in-Residence presents a poem titled 'Rain' written by that distinguished late-Victorian man of letters William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). And why not? April showers may soon be upon us. It's a kind of wet weekend at the seaside poem and it reminds Poet-in-Residence of many a Spring Bank Holiday. The poet W. E. Henley was a rather unfortunate individual when it came to the business of feet; but not the poetic kind. He had a foot amputated at an early age following a bout of tuberculosis and later he had to spend almost two years in hospital in order to save the other foot. He wrote a long poem 'In Hospital' about the experience. Finally he appears to have missed his footing when alighting from a moving train - an act which resulted in his unfortunate demise. The poem itself feels surprisingly modern considering it was written some 120 years ago. Poet-in-Residence suspects that Philip Larkin (see below - Philip Larkin's Mr Bleaney) might have been pleased to compose this bleak sonnet with its glimpse of silver lining.


The sky saggs low with convoluted cloud,
Heavy and imminent, rolled from rim to rim.
A bank of fog blots out sight the brim
Of the leaden sea, all spiritless and cowed.
The rain is falling sheer and strong and loud,
The strand is desolate, the distance grim
With threats of storm, the wet stones glimmer dim,
And to the wall the dank umbrellas crowd.
At home...the dank shrubs whisper dismal mooded,
Black chimney-shadows streak the shiny slates,
The eaves are strung with drops, and steeped the grasses,
A draggled fishwife screeches at the gates,
The baker hurries dripping on, and hooded
In her wet prints a pretty housemaid passes.

W. E. Henley (1888) A Book of Verses


  1. Hadn't heard of this poet William Ernest Henley before, but after reading this excellent piece of his work, will sure be looking out for his stuff in future. thanks for sharing.m

  2. I'm glad you've posted a comment. I'm pleased to read it again.


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