Charlotte Mew Essay - Critical Essays


At times autobiographical, Charlotte Mew’s poetry frequently takes the themes of longing, death, insanity, and loneliness. It often addresses passion, religious and sexual, as well as sin and the distance between a heavenly God and individual human suffering on Earth. Her work frequently contains tensions created through binaries of inside/outside, freedom/confinement, nature/society. Her deeply emotional verse contains jarring juxtapositions of images and is marked by irregular rhyme and meter. Writing in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth, Mew’s poetry straddles the fin de siècle and early modernist periods.

The Farmer’s Bride

The poems in The Farmer’s Bride reflect Mew’s dominant themes. “Ken” and “On the Asylum Road” provide moving depictions of madness and the isolation that results from mental illness. “Ken” closes with the lines, “. . . when they took/ Ken to that place, I did not look./ After he called and turned on me/ His eyes. These I shall see—” The final dash suggests that the speaker remains haunted by Ken’s gaze. In “The Narrow Door,” death disrupts a game of “shop” as a coffin is carried out through the narrow door before which the “café children” play. Images of death appear in the partially autobiographical “The Changeling,” in which “the little pale brother” has been “called away,” and “The Quiet House,” which opens with “the old Nurse” and concludes with the speaker’s revision of the famous line from René Descartes, “some day I shall not think; I shall not be!” In “Fame,” Mew’s speaker mediates on whether she could renounce her fame, represented by “the over-heated house,” “Where no one fits the singer to his song,/ Or sifts the unpainted from the painted faces,” and return to her previous life, symbolized in “The folded glory of the gorse, the sweet-briar air.” Choosing Fame, the speaker fantasizes taking her “To our tossed bed.” A still birth, “A frail, dead, new-born lamb,” “The moon’s dropped child,” results from their union, a consequence of ambition and sexual passion.

The title poem, “The Farmer’s Bride,” tells of a young bride, who, having developed a fear of men, runs away. Chased after and returned by the villagers, she is locked away where she “does the work about the house” “like a mouse.” The bride’s imprisonment, symbolic of women’s...

(The entire section is 1023 words.)