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Charlotte Mew: The Cenotaph

Not yet will those measureless fields be green again
Where only yesterday the wild sweet blood of wonderful youth was shed;
There is a grave whose earth must hold too long, too deep a stain,
Though for ever over it we may speak as proudly as we may tread.
But here, where the watchers by lonely hearths from the thrust of an inward sword have more slowly bled,
We shall build the Cenotaph: Victory, winged, with Peace, winged too, at the column’s head.
And over the stairway, at the foot—oh! here, leave desolate, passionate hands to spread
Violets, roses, and laurel with the small sweet twinkling country things
Speaking so wistfully of other Springs
From the little gardens of little places where son or sweetheart was born and bred.
In splendid sleep, with a thousand brothers
     To lovers—to mothers
     Here, too, lies he:
Under the purple, the green, the red,
It is all young life: it must break some women’s hearts to see
Such a brave, gay coverlet to such a bed!
Only, when all is done and said,
God is not mocked and neither are the dead.
For this will stand in our Market-place—
     Who’ll sell, who’ll buy
     (Will you or I
Lie each to each with the better grace)?
While looking into every busy whore’s and huckster’s face
As they drive their bargains, is the Face
Of God: and some young, piteous, murdered face.

Source: Westminster Gazette (1919)

Charlotte Mary Mew was born in London on November 15, 1869. Her productive years as a poet straddled the Victorian and Modern eras, and her later, more modernist work (of which this poem is a good example) was praised by Ezra Pound, Siegfried Sassoon, Vita Sackville West, Thomas Hardy, and Virginia Woolf. Through most of her adult life, Mew wore masculine attire and kept her hair short, adopting the appearance of a dandy. Haunted by unrequited passion and tormented with fear of madness, Mew lived her life in poverty and despair, taking her own life on March 24, 1928. After Mew’s death, her friend Alida Monro collected and edited Mew’s poetry for publication. The Rambling Sailor appeared in 1929 and brings together her early work with her more mature and successful poetry from the teens and twenties.

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This entry was posted on November 11, 2021 by in Poetry, War and Peace and tagged , , , , , , .

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