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The Unknown Goddess - Humbert Wolfe The_Muted_Grimaud Send a noteboard - 24/01/2012 06:48:27 AM
Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940) was an English poet who, today, is largely unknown. I came across his poetry through my personally love (fanboi-ism) of Gustav Holst's music. Holst, in 1929, published a set of 12 songs using Wolfe's text, and I've found many of those songs intriguing, both for the music and text.

To the best of my knowledge, his poetry books and writings have probably been out of print since the 40's if not earlier, the copy I managed to find on Amazon is an old book, it came with a newspaper clipping from Portland, Oregon strangely enough (I love finding out of place things in old books :| ), the pages are all different sizes, the book is hardbound but has a paper cover over it, the back of which is trying to sell me other books, including "The Best Poems of 1924". The copyright states 1925, perhaps this book was actually made in that year. Was $1.75 brand new.

Anyway, the poetry within.

The White Dress

Some evening when you are sitting alone,
by your high window, motionless, and white—
I shall come, by hte way that none but I have known,
into the quiet room out of the night.

You will know I have come, without turning your head
because of the way the air will lie quite still,
as though it waited for something to be said
that no man has ever said, and no man will.

But you will be wiser than the air. You know
that for the thing we feel there is no word—
and you will not move even when I turn to go,
even when the sound of my footsteps is no longer heard.

It's lovely poetry really. I like the air of mystery this one leaves floating around it. What is the situation between the two characters, forbidden love, unrequited love, hate. How does the white dress play in this, besides painting a picture for us of a woman in a second story window with a white dress on.

Perhaps she's an angel, or an unattainable lover, Wolfe's own Pygmalion project.


Why No! It is not thus,
romantic and high,
that the youth in us,
and our loves, go by.

These eyes saw yesterday,
hunched in a London street,
a flower-seller (O gai!)
with broken boots to her feet,

black bonnet perched askew
on straggled grey curl,
and I thought of you,
that day, when a girl

held out primroses
—all spring for a penny—
and you cried, "Buy me this!"
but I wouldn't buy any.

"They'll die," I said, "they'll die."
'Twas the first of our crosses.
And now I can't buy
for you primroses.

All that I have of you
is that old girl mumbling
(black bonnet askew,
and chapped hands trembling):

"Buy a bunch, kind sir."
And a ghost passed by,
as I answered her,
"No! Primroses die."

I've always been attracted to this one as well. A lot of his poems have this strange air of nostalgia, looking backwards sadly. He tends to stick to very formal plans as far as rhythm and meter are concerned. He touches on various themes repeatedly. A number of the poems do have larger groupings of lines, and less metrically arranged.

Of the 60-ish poems in the book, all but one are short, not much larger or smaller than the two quoted above. The one is a 5 page poem with long lines titled "The Locri Faun". This poem has too many Greek references at the beginning, I'll need to read it with some internet footnotes added in.

Along with his common mention of nostalgia, he also deals with the passing of and attempts at preserving beauty. Treating beauty as something people want to keep eternal, but lose. (One poem is titled 'The End', that very much deals with this). A shorter example ...

In the Street of Lost Time

Rest and have ease;
here are no more voyages;
fold, fold your narrow, pale
hands; and under hte veil
of night lie, as I have seen you lie
in your deep hair; but patiently
now that new loves, new days,
have gone their ways.

Others still have touches of humour in them, which can lift up from the generally dark, contemplative subject matter. (Primroses is one that seems to have some humour to me at least.)
((And why do I keep spelling humour in the British way?))

Green Candles

"There's someone at the door," said gold candlestick.
"Let her in quick, let her in quick!"
"And little fingers faltering at the handle.
Why don't you turn it?" asked green candle.

"Don't go, don't go," said the Hepplewhite chair,
"lest you find a strange lady there!"
"Yes! stay where you are," whispered the white wall,
"there is nobody there at all."

"I know her little foot," grey carpet said,
"Who but I should know her light tread?"
"She shall come in," answered the door,
"and not," said the room, "go out any more."

This one I can't fully figure out, but it is quite humorous to read and very whimsical before ending with the door's ominous statement. I really like this one.

Anyway, an interesting grouping of poetry if you can find it, Wolfe have published several other books during his lifetime, possibly worth picking up if you can find one.
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The Unknown Goddess - Humbert Wolfe - 24/01/2012 06:48:27 AM 8181 Views
I don't know why nobody replied to this - I really liked those poems. - 26/01/2012 08:56:30 PM 1437 Views
Well, Poetry review on a sci-fi website. - 01/02/2012 05:29:03 AM 1760 Views

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