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Charlotte Mew: The Trees Are Down

—and he cried with a loud voice:Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, 
nor the trees— (Revelation)
They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens.                             

For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall,

The crash of the trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,

With the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas,’ the loud common talk, the loud common laughs
of the men, above it all.

I remember one evening of a long past Spring

Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding a large dead rat in the mud
of the drive.

I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing,

But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.

The week’s work here is as good as done. There is just one bough

  On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,

            Green and high

            And lonely against the sky.

                  (Down now!—)

            And but for that,

            If an old dead rat

Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again.

It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;

These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:

When the men with the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas’ have carted the whole of the whispering
loveliness away

Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.

It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts of the planes;

Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,

            In the March wind, the May breeze,

In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.

            There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;

            They must have heard the sparrows flying,

And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying—

            But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:

            ‘Hurt not the trees.’

Public Doman

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.

One comment on “Charlotte Mew: The Trees Are Down

  1. Sean Sexton
    June 3, 2022

    So great! I aspire to this level of art daily. How we’ve been blessed in this speech.

    Liked by 2 people

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This entry was posted on June 3, 2022 by in Environmentalism, Poetry and tagged , , .

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