Charlotte Mew

Many of Charlotte Mew’s poems are centered around loneliness, fear and disillusionment, as well as a longing for sexual fulfilment. “The Farmer’s Bride” is considered her most famous poem. Mew often used a form of poetry called “dramatic monologue” in which a character tells his or her story directly to the reader, as an actor would in a play. This is evident in the following poem. She also uses dialect.

 

The Farmer's Bride

By Charlotte Mew

Three Summers since I chose a maid,
Too young maybe – but more’s to do
At harvest-time than bide and woo.
When us was wed she turned afraid
Of love and me and all things human;
Like the shut of a winter’s day.
Her smile went out, and ’twasn’t a woman –
More like a little frightened fay.
One night, in the Fall, she runned away.


“Out ’mong the sheep, her be,” they said,
Should properly have been abed;
But sure enough she wasn’t there
Lying awake with her wide brown stare.
So over seven-acre field and up-along across the down
We chased her, flying like a hare
Before our lanterns. To Church-Town
All in a shiver and a scare
We caught her, fetched her home at last
And turned the key upon her, fast.


She does the work about the house
As well as most, but like a mouse:
Happy enough to chat and play
With birds and rabbits and such as they,
So long as men-folk keep away.
“Not near, not near! ” her eyes beseech
When one of us comes within reach.
The women say that beasts in stall
Look round like children at her call.
I’ve hardly heard her speak at all.
Shy as a leveret, swift as he,
Straight and slight as a young larch tree,
Sweet as the first wild violets, she,
To her wild self. But what to me?


The short days shorten and the oaks are brown,
The blue smoke rises to the low grey sky,
One leaf in the still air falls slowly down,
A magpie’s spotted feathers lie
On the black earth spread white with rime,
The berries redden up to Christmas-time.
What’s Christmas-time without there be
Some other in the house than we!


She sleeps up in the attic there
Alone, poor maid. ’Tis but a stair
Betwixt us. Oh! my God! the down,
The soft young down of her, the brown,
The brown of her – her eyes, her hair, her hair!

 

 

TASKS

  1. Some poems are like a short story in compact form. “The Farmer’s Bride” is one of these. Retell this story in your own words.
  2. The poem revolves around a conflict or moral dilemma. What is this dilemma? Is this conflict resolved at the end of the poem?
  3. How are the main characters portrayed? Where do your sympathies lie – with the young bride or with her husband, or with both? Why?
  4. Why do you think the poet – a woman – chose to tell this story from the man’s point of view?
  5. Find examples of the man’s dialect in the poem. What effect does this style of speech have on the story?
  6. How would you describe the mood of the poem? (For more information on mood see the “Enjoying Poetry” text on page 138 of your textbook).
  7. Would you consider this a love poem? Why or why not?

The poet

Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) is a poet who is relatively unknown today. In her personal life she was in many ways ahead of her time. She liked, for example, to dress in men’s clothes and wear her hair short. Mew never received full recognition for her talents in her lifetime. Many of her contemporaries, however, did admire her work openly. Thomas Hardy said that Mew was “far and away the best living woman poet.” Virginia Woolf also insisted that Mew was “the greatest living poetess.”