Week 320: Mrs. Arbuthnot, by Stevie Smith

This week another poem by the wonderfully eccentric Stevie Smith, who sometimes comes across to me as the improbable love-child of Emily Dickinson and William McGonagall, yet at other times, as in the last stanza here, achieves a lyricism all of her own. Are the last two lines actually true, that creativity requires, if not actual unhappiness, at least some kind of spiritual unrest? Looking at the lives of poets, it would seem so: no grit in the oyster, no pearl. 

Mrs. Arbuthnot

Mrs. Arbuthnot was a poet
A poet of high degree,
But her talent left her;
Now she lives at home by the sea.

In the morning she washes up,
In the afternoon she sleeps,
Only in the evenings sometimes
For her lost talent she weeps,

Crying: I should write a poem,
Can I look a wave in the face
If I do not write a poem about a sea-wave,
Putting the words in place.

Mrs. Arbuthnot has died,
She has gone to heaven,
She is one with the heavenly combers now
And need not write about them.

Cry: she is a heavenly comber,
She runs with a comb of fire,
Nobody writes or wishes to
Who is one with their desire.

Stevie Smith

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Week 108: I Remember, by Stevie Smith

The poems of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) remind me of those optical tricks like the witch illusion, that shifts as you look at it between hag and young girl. This poem, for example – is it eccentric to the point of daftness, or is it a very original, tender love lyric? I never quite make up my mind, but one way or another it has put a hook into my memory.

I Remember

It was my bridal night I remember,
An old man of seventy-three
I lay with my young bride in my arms,
A girl with t.b.
It was wartime, and overhead
The Germans were making a particularly heavy raid on Hampstead.
Harry, do they ever collide?
I do not think it has ever happened,
Oh my bride, my bride.

Stevie Smith