The Quiet House

by Charlotte Mew


When we were children Old Nurse used to say
   The house was like an auction or a fair
   Until the lot of us were safe in bed.
   It has been quiet as the country-side
   Since Ted and Janey and then Mother died
And Tom crossed Father and was sent away.
After the lawsuit he could not hold up his head,
   Poor father, and he does not care
   For people here, or to go anywhere.

To get away to Aunt’s for that week-end
   Was hard enough; (since then, a year ago,
   He scarcely lets me slip out of his sight–)
At first I did not like my cousin’s friend,
   I did not think I should remember him:
   His voice has gone, his face is growing dim
And if I like him now I do not know.
   He frightened me before he smiled–
   He did not ask me if he might–
   He said that he would come one Sunday night,
   He spoke to me as if I were a child.

No year has been like this that has just gone by;
   It may be that what Father says is true,
If things are so it does not matter why:
   But everything has burned and not quite through.
   The colors of the world have turned
   To flame, the blue, the gold has burned
In what used to be such a leaden sky.
When you are burned quite through you die.
   Red is the strangest pain to bear;
In Spring the leaves on the budding trees;
In Summer the roses are worse than these,
   More terrible than they are sweet:
   A rose can stab you across the street
    Deeper than any knife:
   And the crimson haunts you everywhere–
Thin shafts of sunlight, like the ghosts of reddened swords
                                    have struck our stair
As if, coming down, you had split your life.

   I think that my soul is red
Like the soul of a sword or a scarlet flower:
   But when these are dead
   They have had their hour.

   I shall have had mine, too,
    For from head to feet,
   I am burned and stabbed half through,
    And the pain is deadly sweet.

   Then things that kill us seem
    Blind to the death they give:
   It is only in our dream
    The things that kill us live.

The room is shut where Mother died,
   The other rooms are as they were,
The world goes on the same outside,
   The sparrows fly across the Square,
   The children play as we four did there,
   The trees grow green and brown and bare,
The sun shines on the dead Church spire,
   And nothing lives here but the fire,

While Father watches from his chair
                        Day follows day
The same, or now and then, a different grey,
                        Till, like his hair,
Which Mother said was wavy once and bright,
                        They will all turn white.

   To-night I heard a bell again–
Outside it was the same mist of fine rain,
The lamps just lighted down the long, dim street,
                        No one for me–
   I think it is myself I go there to meet:
I do not care; some day I shall not think; I shall not be!

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