as we strode whistling on under the Winter sky

30562854835_77ea35e2f5_q.jpgThe latest MA blue plaque unveiling took place during this year’s Bloomsbury Festival. The plaque is to poet Charlotte Mew, at 30 Doughty Street, where Mew was born and lived from 1865 to 1890. The event was attended by numerous Mew ‘followers’ and unveiled by Mew’s current biographer, Julia Copus. Also attending was Mew’s surviving relative, 84 year old Heather Greetham.

Though little known today, or indeed in her own time, Mew has won critical acclaim for the ‘stillness’ of her work. Virginia Woolf called Mew “the greatest living poetess.”

According to the Poetry Foundation Mew’s life, “was full of tragedy from beginning to end.” Born  into a family of seven children, she was the eldest daughter. While she was still a child, three of her brothers died. Later, another brother and then a sister were committed to mental hospitals in their twenties where they would spend the rest of their lives. Death, mental illness, loneliness, and disillusionment became the themes of her work.

From her 1914 poem The Fete

It is not only the little boys
      Who have hardly got away from toys,
But I, who am seventeen next year,
Some nights, in bed, have grown cold to hear
      That lonely passion of the rain
Which makes you think of being dead,
And of somewhere living to lay your head
       As if you were a child again,
Crying for one thing, known and near
Your empty heart, to still the hunger and the fear
    That pelts and beats with it against the pane.
                 But I remember smiling too
At all the sun’s soft tricks and those Autumn dreads
    In winter time, when the grey light broke slowly through
The frosted window-lace to drag us shivering from our beds.
     And when at dusk the singing wind swung down
Straight from the stars to the dark country roads
                     Beyond the twinkling town,
    Striking the leafless poplar boughs as he went by,
Like some poor, stray dog by the wayside lying dead,
We left behind us the old world of dread,
I and the wind as we strode whistling on under the Winter sky.

The Marchmont Association is particularly grateful to three generous donors who helped fund this plaque, and to Goodenough College for graciously hosting the post-unveiling reception in their elegant building, which stands directly opposite No. 30.

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One thought on “as we strode whistling on under the Winter sky

  1. Pingback: A heritage index for Bloomsbury – Marchmont Voice

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