There’s ash a-plenty in London town,
Oh, Charlotte — stay your hand!
Retie those ribbons, put them down —
Your ‘second-best’ be damned.
A blemished pot, the clay misthrown?
Well, what are editors for?
Perfection lies with God alone —
Just toss them in a drawer.
A feminine rhyme grown scandalous,
It’s veil beyond repair?
These midnight hours are perilous
For poets in despair.
Have done with pride, this urge to burn,
To tamper and to shred —
In fifty years the tide will turn;
Oh, Charlotte — go to bed!
Less than sixty poems by Charlotte Mew survive — and yet we know she wrote many, many more. Her life was plagued with unhappiness compounded by fear of hereditary insanity and repressed sexuality. Despite encouragement from one or two prominent poets, (Hardy called her ‘the best woman poet of our time’), her talent was generally unappreciated until after her suicide in 1928. Worse still, Charlotte Mew’s striving for perfection and, perhaps, her wish to conceal any trace of lesbian eroticism, led her to destroy nearly all her ‘second-best’ work. Friends later claimed she had ‘trunks full of them’. She was even reported as using these old manuscripts to light cigarettes from the fire. For anyone who has ever read The Farmer’s Wife or I Have Been Through The Gates, this represents a profound loss to English poetry. If you have not yet discovered Charlotte Mew, I envy you!