Friday 23 March 2018

The Sunday Poem: Anthony Cronin's personal anthology

Mother, Among The Dustbins

Anthony Cronin. Photo by Tony Gavin
Anthony Cronin. Photo by Tony Gavin

Anthony Cronin

Anything less like the usually imagined or clichéd vie de poete than Stevie Smith's life would be hard to envisage. For many years she worked as secretary to a Sir George Newnes, publisher of popular magazines such as Answers and Titbits. And for much of her life she lived as a spinster with her aunt in the North London suburb of Palmers Green. Until the republication of her Novel On Yellow Paper in the 1960s, several years after its first appearance, she was virtually unknown to the general public. Yet Stevie Smith was one of the truly original voices of the 20th century, whose unique near-doggerel style gave full room to her beautiful sense of irony, compassion and understanding of human nature.

Mother, Among The Dustbins

Stevie Smith

Mother, among the dustbins and the manure

I feel the measure of my humanity, an allure

As of the presence of God. I am sure

In the dustbins, in the manure, in the cat at play,

In the presence of God, in a sure way

He moves there, Mother, what do you say?

I too have felt the presence of god in the broom

I hold, in the cobwebs in the room,

But most of all in the silence of the tomb.

Ah! but that thought that informs the hope of our kind

Is but an empty thing, what lies behind? -

Naught but the vanity of a protesting mind

That would not die. This is the thought that bounces

Within a conceited head and trounces

Inquiry. Man is most frivolous when he pronounces.

Well Mother, I shall continue to think as I do

And I think you would be wise to do so too,

Can you question the folly of man in the creation of God?

Who are you?

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