The Farmer's Bride
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Mew's first collection of poems was published in 1916, in chapbook format, by the Poetry Bookshop. In the USA, it was entitled Saturday Market and was not published until 1921. The title poem is a poignant lament by an inarticulate farmer about his love for his young wife and her inability to respond to him either physically or emotionally.
Although marriages at this time were not incredibly strict, they were often organized by families according to conveniences and value in society as opposed to being based on 'love'. She was affected by a mental illness, which had some effects on her writing and family life.
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 the mouse:
Happy enough to chat and play
With birds and rabbits as 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!
“The Farmer’s Bride” was a groundbreaking piece of work that shed light on Charlotte Mew’s literary expertise and unique style of writing. This poem emerged in 1912 when first published in The Nation and again as a collection under its title in 1916 by Harold Monro’s Poetry Bookshop. Mew's life, which she kept very private, was full of tumultuous sorrow, loss, and upheaval from a very young age. As the oldest daughter of seven children she watched as several of her siblings were institutionalized, suffered from mental illness, and even committed suicide. The strange afflictions and relationships that occur outside of human interaction for many sufferers of mental illness may be reflected in lines such as “Happy enough to chat and play/ With birds and rabbits and such as they/ So long as men-folk keep away” and “the women say that beasts in stall/ Look around like children at her call”. Mew, who was almost certainly a lesbian and also feared passing on mental illness to any children that she might have, never married, and the wife's timid and closed-off nature to her husband and men may reflect Mew's own attitude. It can also be a criticism of marriage in general considering that during this time marriage was a means of gaining economic stability and status. Mew, a lonely woman surrounded by tragedy, eventually committed suicide after the death from cancer of her closest and last sister. Though the wife in the poem is not a direct representation of herself, it is easy to assume Mew felt a connection with this voiceless character, companioned but alone and afraid all the same.
- "Charlotte Mew." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.