Lend me, a little while, the key
That locks your heavy heart, and I'll give you back--
Rarer than books and ribbons and beads bright to see,
This little Key of Dreams out of my pack.
The road, the road, beyond men's bolted doors,
There shall I walk and you go free of me,
For yours lies North across the moors,
And mine lies South. To what seas?
How if we stopped and let our solemn selves go by,
While my gay ghost caught and kissed yours, as ghosts don't do,
And by the wayside, this forgotten you and I
Sat, and were twenty-two?
Give me the key that locks your tired eyes,
And I will lend you this one from my pack,
Brighter than colored beads and painted books that make men wise:
Take it. No, give it back!
Mew lived in a strange, transitional sort of poetry, halfway between the Victorians and the Modernists, and at the same time neither of these two things. Her poetry almost feels the prophetic echoes of a future, in the same way that you feel the coming echoes of the Romantics in a poet like William Blake.
Her main publication was 'The Farmer's Bride', at first a very short collection of poetry, but later expanded to include several other pieces (the version on Gutenberg is the short one, I'm afraid, though if you want to listen to them, the long version is on librivox in audio form, and read quite well). The book was never extraordinarily popular, but drew praise from many luminaries of the day. Thomas Hardy considered her the best female poet of her age, and Virginia Woolf called her "very good and quite unlike anyone else" (which, from Virginia Woolf, is high praise). She got a small government pension and lived frugally, putting out several other poems over her life.
No shadow of you on any bright road again,
And at the darkening end of this--what voice? whose kiss? As if you'd say!
It is not I who have walked with you, it will not be I who take away
Peace, peace, my little handful of the gleaner's grain
From your reaped fields at the shut of day.
Peace! Would you not rather die
Reeling,--with all the cannons at your ear?
So, at least, would I,
And I may not be here
To-night, to-morrow morning or next year.
Still I will let you keep your life a little while,
I have made you smile.
In 1827, her sister Anne died. Charlotte was broken. Several years earlier, the sister in the asylum had died of tuberculosis, giving Charlotte a great fear of germs. Anne's room, at her death, was found dotted with black spots, which Charlotte felt sure were the cause of her death, though a coroner declared them to be simply soot from the London air. Charlotte grew increasingly disturbed, and several friends suggested gently that she admit herself to an asylum. She refused, but did eventually go to an asylum, where her phobia of germs grew stronger, still. In 1928, Charlotte Mew was found dead, after having drunken half a bottle of Lysol.
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...
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!