The Farmer's Bride

Three Summers since I chose a maid,
Too young maybe - but more's to do
At harvest-time than bide and woo.
When us was wed she turned afraid
Of love and me and all things human;
Like the shut of a winter's day.
Charlotte Mew
Charlotte Mew

Her smile went out, and 'twasn't a woman--
More like a little, frightened fay.
One night, in the Fall, she runned away.

"Out 'mong the sheep, her be," they said,
'Should properly have been abed;
But sure enough she wasn't there
Lying awake with her wide brown stare.
So over seven-acre field and up-along across the down
We chased her, flying like a hare
Before our lanterns. To Church-Town
All in a shiver and a scare
We caught her, fetched her home at last
And turned the key upon her, fast.

She does the work about the house
As well as most, but like a mouse:
Happy enough to chat and play
With birds and rabbits and such as they,
So long as men-folk stay away.
"Not near, not near!" her eyes beseech
When one of us comes within reach.
The women say that beasts in stall
Look round like children at her call.
I've hardly heard her speak at all.

Shy as a leveret, swift as he,
Straight and slight as a young larch tree,
Sweet as the first wild violets, she,
To her wild self. But what to me?

The short days shorten and the oaks are brown,
The blue smoke rises to the low gray sky,
One leaf in the still air falls slowly down,
A magpie's spotted feathers lie
On the black earth spread white with rime,
The berries redden up to Christmas-time.
What's Christmas-time without there be
Some other in the house than we!

She sleeps up in the attic there
Alone, poor maid. 'Tis but a stair
Betwixt us. Oh, my God! - the down,
The soft young down of her; the brown,
The brown of her - her eyes, her hair, her hair!

Author:
Charlotte Mew was born on November 15, 1869 in London, England to a well-to-do family, though most of her life was spent living in poverty (Faragher). Two of Mew's brothers died as babies, another in childhood. One brother and a sister were also sent to mental hospitals at a young age. When Mew's father, an architect, died in 1898, he left the family nearly penniless. Mew was quite close to her brother and sister who were sent to asylums (Britannica). Their illnesses would influence much of her writing. Mew's poems often discussed death and insanity, as well as new scientific discoveries due to her many visits to her siblings as well many friends in the scientific community (Roberts).

Mew's writing was heavily influenced by the circumstances that she lived in and the tragedies that occurred in her life. Her meter appears conservative and bland and her lines are fragmented and blunt. Both Mew's grammar and syntax can be confusing and/or chaotic. The poet's writing also reflected her withdrawn personality but flowed with her feelings, and gave and inside look at who she really was (Faragher).

Mew is also known for her beliefs in the "new woman." When she lived in France she traveled around without an escort, smoked, and dressed frumpily, ignoring the traditional fashions of the times (Britannica). The poet was depressed in addition to being very secretive about her life. She also believed that all women possessed a "sixth sense," meaning they had a personified intuition of things and a sort of psychic sense that men didn't (Roberts).

Many assume Mew to have been a lesbian due to a vow she made with her sister, Anne. They vowed that they would not marry so they would not continue their family's history of mental disabilities. Due to this fact, Mew is often considered "sexually repressed" and a "chaste lesbian." Anne would suffer from cancer in 1927. During this time, Mew slipped into a further depression due to hard financial times and the loss of her brother, sister, father, and mother (Britannica). She committed suicide on March 24, 1928 by drinking Lysol during a stay at a hospital after undergoing a minor operation. Her final words were "don't keep me, let me go." In her will, all she asked for was an almond tree to be planted, and if this wish was ever fulfilled, the tree did not survive (Faragher).

Before Charlotte Mew died she published 60 poems and wrote several short stories and periodicals. She received praise from the likes of Virginia Wolf (Britannica).

Paraphrase:

In this poem, Charlotte Mew tells the unfortunate story of a farmer who marries a very young girl who is in the farmer's mind, "too young maybe." The farmer is very fond of the girl but instead of showing her love and spending time with her, he works in the fields because he, "doesn't have time to bide and woo." The girl then eventually becomes afraid to love and beings to dislike the farmer because of his neglectful ways. One night in the Autumn she runs away, only to be pursued and eventually caught. She is locked her in the house which prevents her from ever leaving.

Despite the isolation, the girl carries on with her life. However, she exhibits androphobic behavior by sleeping in the attic and refusing to talk to or be near men. Even though the farmer perceives her as pretty and sweet yet timid. To him, all these qualities are irrelevant because she will not spend time with him. For example, the farmer claims that there is no purpose of Christmas if he has no one to celebrate it with. Even though only a staircase separates him from his wife, the farmer feels so alone.

Mew ends the poem with the farmer talking about her hair and how unfortunate it is that she doesn't love him, as well as how she is alone in the attic and that there is only stairs between them. In the conclusion of the poem, the farmer's irrational description of his wife's hair and eyes suggests that he became obsessed with receiving her love, possibly to the point of sexual harassment.

Analysis:

The narrator of "The Farmer's Bride" by Charlotte Mew is the farmer who married a girl, who was according to his judgment, "too young maybe." He goes on to describe how she acts and how she appears and acts after their ill-fated marriage.

The farmer in this poem wants emotional and physical love but is unable to recieve any from his wife because he is androphbic (afraid of men), depressed, and feels abused/neglected. While the wife in this poem performs household duties expected of her, she exhibits signs of depression. She acts reclusive by having, "turned afraid of love and me and all things human," as well as sleeping in the attic in order to avoid her husband. In addition to depression, she is androphobic, as shown by the line, "Happy to chat and play ... so long as men-folk stay away." The narrator himself is obsessing over his wife. His wife is unable to provide him with emotional or physical love. In the penultimate stanza, the farmer remarks how empty his house feels during Christmas as, "What's Christmas-time without ... some other in the house than we!"

In this poem, Mew prominently makes use of two literary devices: rhyme and pastoral comparisons. The rhyme scheme in "The Farmer's Bride" is erratic and lacks a regular order throughout the poem. The only rhyme scheme with a recurring pattern is the last couplet of each stanza, which is broken in the last stanza. This break in a regular order suggests that the farmer could being growing increasingly upset and the last line, "The brown of her - her eyes, her hair, her hair!" provides additional evidence to his insanity.

While not directly references the nature of a farm setting, the speaker makes use of multiple animals and seasons to help illustrate his messages. Such as in the first stanza when the farmer says " When us was wed she turned afraid / Of love and me and all things human; / Like the shut of a winter's day. / Her smile went out, and 'twasn't a woman-- More like a little, frightened fay." He uses the season winter and the traditional thought of it being cold and people staying inside during winter to further explain and illustrate the personality change of his wife after they are married and he didn't have time to "bide and woo". The farmer also says in that stanza, "more like a little, frightened fay" so he's comparing her to a small helpless animal that doesn't want to interact with anything/anyone. Thus leading to the explanation of the feelings of abuse and neglect the wife has.

In the third stanza the farmer says, "She does the work about the house / As well as most, but like a mouse," meaning that she does all the work she should, but quietly and keeping mostly to herself. Also in the third stanza are the lines, "Happy enough to chat and play / With birds and rabbits and such as they, So long as men-folk stay away. 'Not near, not near!' her eyes beseech / When one of us comes within reach." From this passage, it is evident the wife doesn't really interact with people and is content to watch birds and rabbits but only when men aren't around. The lines "not near, not near! her eyes beseech" show the silent fear she has for men, androphobia, and the reactions that are clear on her face but the feelings she doesn't verbalize. "The women say that beasts in stall- Look round like children at her call. / I've hardly heard her speak at all." These lines go along with the playing and chatting with birds and rabbits the wife does that the farmer state earlier, saying she talks to all the farm animals but she never really talks to him unless she has to and he barely hears her say anything.

In the fourth stanza the farmer talks about the wifes character traits saying she has all these wonderful things making up her personality but what does that mean it him is she doesn't ever let him see it and she never converses with and shows him the different sides of herself unless she has to.

Again, as seen in previous stanzas the farmer talks about the seasons and describes the changes from summer, to fall to winter, to finally Christmas. He talks about how wonderful Christmas is but he also says, "The berries redden up to Christmas-time. What's Christmas-time without there be-Some other in the house than we!" In this passage the farmer is saying what does it matter that Christmas is such a great holiday if his wife won't talk to him or just be with him, and he has no one else to share it with.

Finally, in the last stanza the farmer talks about the wife sleeping in the attic and really they're not that far apart, only a door and a staircase separate them. "She sleeps up in the attic there / Alone, poor maid. 'Tis but a stair-Betwixt us. Oh, my God! / the down, The soft young down of her; the brown, The brown of her / her eyes, her hair, her hair!" So suddenly the farmer is exclaiming about her hair and becomes infatuated with her beauty, these lines were taken to mean that the farmer decided to go up to the attic and demand the love he was never given, he was possibly becoming slightly insane himself, but it is evident that there is some form of sexual harassment going on at the end of the poem.

Bibliography:


"Charlotte Mew." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 29 Nov. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/379016/Charlotte-Mew>.



Faragher, John Faragher. "Charlotte Mew, her voice" spondee.net. 1991. 29 Nov. 2008 <http://www.spondee.net/ CharlotteMew/story.html>.


Roberts, Andrew, and Betty Falkenberg. "Charlotte Mew Chronology." Charlotte's Web: A Middlesex
University resource. 2005. Middlesex University. 29 Nov. 2008 <http://www.mdx.ac.uk/WWW/
STUDY/YMEW.HTM#AndrewRoberts>.