Friday 23 March 2018

Victorian poet who skated on edge of morality

Alice Meynell 1847-1922
Alice Meynell 1847-1922

Ulick O'Connor

Some including myself would hold Alice ­Meynell, the poetess, of being the best woman poet in English.

A Victorian writer, she always said what it meant in a dazzlingly beautiful way. 'Renouncement', her poem about her lover, is a good example, it skated on the edge of Victorian morality. It didn't quite break the rules, but in fact really smashed them. That's how Alice is able to do it. Her husband Wilfred Meynell was a poet and editor of the top literary magazine Merrie England.

Most of the poets and artists of the time were to be found at the Meynell tea parties including a young Dublin poet by the name of Willie Yeats.

Another was Francis Thompson, who had also gone near the edge with his famous long poem entitled 'The Hound of Heaven', a sort of literary menagerie around God.

The poem I like best by Alice is 'Renouncement'. Here she ingeniously appears to accept the Victorian view of marriage, but provides a satisfactory alternative which allows love to be enjoyed when brought up in the imagination while asleep. Talk about having your cake and eating it. You could also say that this is one of the most realistic and exquisite assessment of what love really means. Well done Alice.


I must not think of thee; and, tired yet strong,

I shun the love that lurks in all delight-

The love of thee-and in the blue heaven's height,

And in the dearest passage of a song.

Oh, just beyond the sweetest thoughts that throng

This breast, the thought of thee waits hidden yet bright;

But it must never, never come in sight;

I must stop short of thee the whole day long.

But when sleep comes to close each difficult day,

When night gives pause to the long watch I keep,

And all my bonds I needs must loose apart,

Must doff my will as raiment laid away,-

With the first dream that comes with the first sleep

I run, I run, I am gather'd to thy heart.

Alice Meynell 1847-1922

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