In Nunhead Cemetery

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In Nunhead Cemetery is a poem by Charlotte Mew. As the title overtly proclaims, the poem deals with the subject of death, and also with the subject of insanity. While the subject of death is a well-travelled road in Victorian poetry, the poem itself is unconventional in its treatment of its subject matter in a number of respects, not least the implicit (and explicit) criticism of the axioms of Christian faith, the overwhelmingly predominant religious ideology of England of the time. This expression of criticism also serves to underpin a deeper and more comprehensive social alienation being expressed by Mew within the confines of the poem.

The poem is written from the perspective of a man, whose fiancée has recently died, as he stands beside her newly dug grave in Nunhead Cemetery. The vehicle allows her to explore the subject matter (social alienation) far more openly and rigorously than perhaps she could have done at the time in her own voice. This repositioning of perspective is entirely consonant with her ambiguous and divided personality: her family had a long and checkered history of insanity, and moreover she was a lesbian at a time when homosexuality was itself widely considered a form of insanity.


  • In Nunhead Cemetery Charlotte Mew, online version [1]