Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (1)

Margery Clute, from the frontespiece of Fallen Leaves

This is the first of an series of posts I'll be posting on Saturdays to promote the poetry of Margery Clute.

Margery Clute was born in the village of Baildon, on the outskirts of Bradford, in 1824 - less than 20 miles from her more well-known contemporaries, the Bronte sisters.

By the time of her birth, Bradford was an important centre for the textile trade, with over 200 factory chimneys belching black smoke. Cholera and typhoid were rife, and the average life expectancy of a Bradford-dweller was a mere 18 years.

Living in Baildon, close to the Moor, the tension between the rural and the industrial would have been part of Margery's day-to-day experience. It is hardly surprising to find this tension reflected in her work - for example, in the short lyric My Fevered Brain (1846).

Astute readers will detect a kinship with the American poetry of Emily Dickinson - a delicately observed metaphysical take on the world that opens the eyes of the reader to the previously invisible. There are also overtones of Blake, in theme and simplicity and, of course, the Lakeland poets.

Her poetry was always alert to contemporary developments: take for example her account of the arrival of the railway in Bradford - On the Opening of the Leeds and Bradford Railway, 1846.

Very little of Margery's poetry was published in her lifetime, and none since. On the Opening of the Leeds and Bradford Railway was published in a local Bradford newspaper. However, she did arrange to have a volume of her poems -entitled Fallen Leaves- privately printed and she deposited the result at Bradford Central Library. It was borrowed only rarely, although when I was living in West Yorkshire in the 1980s I was lucky enough to come across across it by accident in the poetry section. I was quite interested in her at the time: I made photocopies of quite a lot of it. I was reminded of it all when I came across them in a cardboard box the other day when I was cleaning out the attic. Hopefully, thanks to the internet, it will now be possible to give her the readership she deserves. I intend to publish a number of her poems in a series of occasional posts.

Daughter of a local mill-owner, Margery was always comfortably off. Her life, however, was not untouched by troubles: she had three sisters and two brothers - all but one of whom were carried off by the cholera epidemic in 1848.
In 1876, Margery herself died, as she had lived, in obscurity. She was buried in Undercliffe Cemetery in the Clute family vault.

The Moon

The moon cries out in anguish -
His silver face so sad!
His silent song disturbs my heart -
I wish he’d smile instead

And look down on the world below
With an optimistic eye
When he comes out to say hello
Or sinks, to say goodbye.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

Written on a Foggy Day

If you could see what I can see
You'd wonder where you are.
I'm not that sure myself
As I can't see very far.

All around 'tis milky white
I could be anywhere!
Atop a crag, beside a hole -
To venture out, who'd dare?

Such dreadful visions crowd the brain!
None but the intrepid soul
Would venture out and take the risk
Of falling down a hole.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

On the Opening of the Leeds and
Bradford Railway, 1846

I had not seen a 'train' before -
It took me by Surprise.
An Iron House on wheels, belching
Smoke, and such a size!

With a noise like Drummers Drumming,
The massive Wheels turned -
While in the creature's Belly
A Hellish Fire burned.

And how I longed to jump aboard,
To go off on a Spree!
To travel through the countryside
Past Field, and Hill, and Tree!

Margery Clute (1824-76)

My Fevered Brain

My Fevered Brain
Unhinged by Moorland Stream
Propelled me forth
Like a Demented Sunbeam
Unto a Second Birth.

No more, the Smoking Mills!
The Drudge of Darkened Days!
No more the back
Bent to the Loom of Time!

Margery Clute (1824-76)


Orange Bear said...

Haha! I've a feeling you're pulling my leg. But I like it!

tony said...

Sparse & Quite Humorous . Bradford Needs As Many Poets As It Can Get!

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, has all the feel of Dominic in a big frock and bonnet. Doesn't it?

The Solitary Walker said...

Your post excited me a great deal, Dominic, as, strangely enough, and in one of those synchronicities so oddly ubiquitous in the blogging world, I too came across a reference to the obscure Margery Clute quite recently while reading the Branwell Bronte section of Ditton Rachey's book 'Reasonably Eminent Victorians'. ( I was intrigued as to who she was; a brief Internet search revealed no further clues.)

Rachey does give us one short anecdote about her. Apparently Clute once met up with Branwell in some Hawarth hostelry, and she shyly handed him a few scraps of poems scribbled on the back of old envelopes and laundry lists - asking him if he would be so kind as to pass them to his illustrious sister Emily (by then a respected, published poet) - for her opinion. Unfortunately they never reached their destination, as Branwell stumbled into a bog on the moor in a drunken stupor later that evening, losing his boots, socks, trousers - and everything contained in his trouser pockets, including Margery's poems.

Would be interested in reading your future posts on MC, Dominic, as I feel such postings may help in restoring her (in my view) unjustifiably neglected reputation. On the evidence of these scant poetic fragments, there's quite obviously far more than a merely minor talent at work here, and I'm sure many would agree a reassessment of her work is long overdue. Perhaps, in ten or twenty years time, she will be considered England's very own Emily Dickinson?

George said...

Very interesting, Dominic. I had never heard of Margery Clute before this posting, but I can well see how her work compares to that of Emily Dickinson. I so appreciate what you did here. It's lovely to think that a fine poet, unrecognized in her time, finally gets her due through the modern age internet, thanks of course to people like you.

John Hayes said...

It is an obscure figure indeed who doesn't have any interweb existence! Be that as it may, I enjoyed the poems, & look forward to more.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, eveybody.

OB: Pleased you do.

tony: It certainly does.

RF: How did you know (about the big frock and bonnet, I mean)?

SW: On the strength of that there should be a job waiting for you at Radio 4.

George & John: I should make it explicit here and now that MC is a figment of my imagination, although I have been writing her poems for so long now that I sometimes find myself thinking she's real. She's like a character from a novel I'll never write: I just write her poems. The tragedy of her poetry is that she almost succeeds in her quest to be the English Dickinson but always lets herself down on account of her lack of self-criticism, like a female McGonagall. Lacking self-criticism, she blamed everyone but herself for her lack of success. By the end of her life she had a huge chip on her shoulder (and really had it in for the Brontes).

John Hayes said...

Dominic: When I saw the two sites about her were created by you I figured that was the case. An interesting exercise!

Arnab Majumdar said...

I haven't explored poetry as much as prose, and therefore I'm thankful that you've shared this. There's a simplicity about her poems that make them dance around so effortlessly.

Looking forward to a few more such selections...

Arnab Majumdar on