Toll no bell for me, dear Father dear Mother,
Waste no sighs;
There are my sisters, there is my little brother
Who plays in the place called Paradise,
Your children all, your children for ever;
But I, so wild,
Your disgrace, with the queer brown face, was never,
Never, I know, but half your child!
In the garden at play, all day, last summer,
Far and away I heard
The sweet “tweet-tweet” of a strange new-comer,
The dearest, clearest call of a bird.
It lived down there in the deep green hollow,
My own old home, and the fairies say
The word of a bird is a thing to follow,
So I was away a night and a day.
One evening, too, by the nursery fire,
We snuggled close and sat roudn so still,
When suddenly as the wind blew higher,
Something scratched on the window-sill,
A pinched brown face peered in–I shivered;
No one listened or seemed to see;
The arms of it waved and the wings of it quivered,
Whoo–I knew it had come for me!
Some are as bad as bad can be!
All night long they danced in the rain,
Round and round in a dripping chain,
Threw their caps at the window-pane,
Tried to make me scream and shout
And fling the bedclothes all about:
I meant to stay in bed that night,
And if only you had left a light
They would never have got me out!
Sometimes I wouldn’t speak, you see,
Or answer when you spoke to me,
Because in the long, still dusks of Spring
You can hear the whole world whispering;
The shy green grasses making love,
The feathers grow on the dear grey dove,
The tiny heart of the redstart beat,
The patter of the squirrel’s feet,
The pebbles pushing in the silver streams,
The rushes talking in their dreams,
The swish-swish of the bat’s black wings,
The wild-wood bluebell’s sweet ting-tings,
Humming and hammering at your ear,
Everything there is to hear
In the heart of hidden things.
But not in the midst of the nursery riot,
That’s why I wanted to be quiet,
Couldn’t do my sums, or sing,
Or settle down to anything.
And when, for that, I was sent upstairs
I did kneel down to say my prayers;
But the King who sits on your high church steeple
Has nothing to do with us fairy people!
‘Times I pleased you, dear Father, dear Mother,
Learned all my lessons and liked to play,
And dearly I loved the little pale brother
Whom some other bird must have called away.
Why did they bring me here to make me
Not quite bad and not quite good,
Why, unless They’re wicked, do They want, in spite,
to take me
Back to Their wet, wild wood?
Now, every nithing I shall see the windows shining,
The gold lamp’s glow, and the fire’s red gleam,
While the best of us are twining twigs and the rest of us
In the hollow by the stream.
Black and chill are Their nights on the wold;
And They live so long and They feel no pain:
I shall grow up, but never grow old,
I shall always, always be very cold,
I shall never come back again!
– Charlotte Mew
A queer poet of the late-Victorian and early 20th century. She was experimenting with stream of consciousness, impressionism, and faerie culture. She brought what she learned in the 1890s into her 20th century work, publishing this poem in 1916 in The Farmer’s Bride. Mew was a beautiful artist and a passionate woman. While more famous for her desperate obsession with Mona Caird, Mew’s real passion was for her family and siblings Anne and Henry. Mew killed herself white in hospital for treatment of neurasthenia by drinking a bottle of disinfectant lysol. Mew’s passions, poetry and prose are more influential and typically accepted in Modernist scholarship. Thankfully, scholars of the Victorian Age have discovered her earlier work from the 1890s and revived interest in this fascinating poet of the very early 20th century. The only scholarly edition of her work that I am aware of is Charlotte Mew: Collected Poems and Selected Prose edited by Val Warner (Routledge, 2003). I highly recommend this poet to anyone interested in Victorian women writers, the Edwardian age, New Woman and Suffrage literature, as well as LGBT Studies and Queer Theory afficianadoes.