In The Fields
Lord when I look at lovely things which pass,
Under old trees the shadows of young leaves
Dancing to please the wind along the grass,
Or the gold stillness of the August sun on the August sheaves;
Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?
And if there is
Will the heart of any everlasting thing
Bring me these dreams which take my breath away?
They come at evening with the home-flying rooks and the scent of hay,
Over the fields they come in spring.
~~ Charlotte Mary Mew ~~
Charlotte Mew was an English poet born in Bloomsbury, London in 1869, and her father was a well to do architect called Frederick Mew who died in 1898 without making provision for his family. Because two of her siblings suffered from mental illness, Charlotte and her sister Anne made a pact with each other never to marry; because of her sexual orientation towards her own sex, this actually suited young Charlotte down to the ground. One author actually called Charlotte ” chastely lesbian.”
A great deal of her work could be described as “Graveyard Poetry,” where she uses the symbolism of entombment to allude to the coercion of women into dependency on men for affection, sexual enjoyment and financial support. The late Victorian, socially elitist world which she grew up in still saw the woman as an almost chattel like, secondary personality; the man was the provider who hunted and brought home the financial bacon, while the womenfolk were displayed as obedient keepers of the family hearth and home, for their husbands to return to of a night from a hard day`s foraging.
Although she succeeded in getting a short story published in 1894, it wasn`t until 1916 that she published her first collection of poetry: after which she gained the admiration of various big hitters such as Thomas Hardy, who called her the best woman poet of her day; this comment seems to me to be a subliminally chauvinistic hangover from Victorian attitudes towards women. Exactly what criteria Hardy used to distinguish the merits of a writer by gender is unknown, but it seemed to obviously work for him. Either way, I`m sure he didn`t intend to consciously down grade Charlotte`s poetry simply because she was a woman.
Unfortunately, much like another ardent admirer of her poetry, the great Virginia Woolf, the family mental problems which haunted her entire life, came home to roost, and she was admitted to a nursing home in the grip of deep depression, where she put an end to her life by drinking Lysol in 1928. Because of her struggles with her inner demons, and feelings of unrequited love, she lived most of her adult life in poverty and despair, but she still managed to produce poems of unique beauty and passion from a warm and generous heart. She has never quite received the interest she deserves, being now a largely forgotten footnote in the lives of better known artists of the written word. She deserves recognition for her undoubted talent, so get to it people and start reading her.