Archive for March 14, 2009

Black March

Posted in Poetry with tags , on March 14, 2009 by telescoper

By way of a contrast with yesterday’s silliness, I thought I’d mark the time of year with one of my favourite poems by one of my favourite poets, Stevie Smith. Her verses are quirky and enigmatic, sometimes frivolous and sometimes profound and sometimes somehow both of those at the same time. Some of her work is quite religious in nature, but she had a very ambivalent attitude to God.

This particular poem was written near the end of her life and it’s quite typical of her thoughts about death at that time. She had contracted a brain tumour and knew the end was coming soon. It didn’t frighten her at all, as the verse makes clear. She died in 1971, just a few months after writing this and without having to endure a lengthy illness.

There’s always something (usually the weather) that reminds me of this poem at this time of year and I dig out my old book of Stevie Smith’s collected verse and read it again.

This is Black March.

I have a friend
At the end
Of the world.
His name is a breath

Of fresh air.
He is dressed in
Grey chiffon. At least
I think it is chiffon.
It has a
Peculiar look, like smoke.

It wraps him round
It blows out of place
It conceals him
I have not seen his face.

But I have seen his eyes, they are
As pretty and bright
As raindrops on black twigs
In March, and heard him say:

I am a breath
Of fresh air for you, a change
By and by.

Black March I call him
Because of his eyes
Being like March raindrops
On black twigs.

(Such a pretty time when the sky
Behind black twigs can be seen
Stretched out in one
Uninterrupted
Cambridge blue as cold as snow.)

But this friend
Whatever new names I give him
Is an old friend. He says:

Whatever names you give me
I am
A breath of fresh air,
A change for you.

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