Stevie Smith laughed at ghoulish things. Disarmingly playful, her poetry is equal parts grief and glee.
All the Poems gathers Smith’s line drawings together with her poems, as she always wished them to be published. The following are a selection from her collected works, edited by Smith scholar Will May.
Riding slowly along the banks of a canal Where the dredges had been at work and the slime lay piled, I rode in Egypt slowly, slowly with Captain Fairchild, Under a black sun, on an oppressive afternoon. Pricking our dull horses to an even pace We rode beside the black slide, mile upon mile, Between the slime mounds, beside the black deep water. Suddenly the captain turning smiled into my face, Smiling with a black smile, pale beneath his burnt skin, Smiling he said, if the Sultana of Istanbuol Had in her Household a Grand Vizier so old That he was alive in the Napoleonic Wars, What is it, he said, she would most wish him to forget? My hand for a moment lay slack upon the rein, And my horse checking stood still with lowered head, Oh, I said carelessly, the slime and the black slime, The slime and the length and the slime Of the ramshackle Ottoman Empire. Well my dear chap, said the Captain smiling, It always comes to that, but we know do we not, That the slime and the black slime is something we can parry With a Byronic connotation and a note in time.
(a troll and his wife speak of the human child they stole)
What’s wrong with you-zie? Nothing with me-zie, Then what with who-zie? Only with Her-zie, So what with Her-zie? A hearse for her-zie A hearse for her-zie Came for her.
What colour was it then? Golden, golden, Was there anyone in it? A pale king was in it. That was not a hearse for Her-zie, husband, It was her marriage carriage. It was a hearse for me, then, My heart went with them and died then.
Husband, ah me-zie, Your heart has died for Her-zie,
Without it you cannot be easy.
(to the Brownes’ pug dog, on my lap, in their car, coming home from Norfolk)
O Pug, some people do not like you, But I like you, Some people say you do not breathe, you snore, I don’t mind, One person says he is always conscious of your behind,
Is that your fault?
Your own people love you, All the people in the family that owns you Love you: Good pug, they cry, Happy pug, Pug-come-for-a-walk.
You are an old dog now And in all your life You have never had cause for a moment’s anxiety, Yet, In those great eyes of yours, Those liquid and protuberant orbs, Lies the shadow of immense insecurity. There Panic walks.
Yes, yes, I know, When your mistress is with you, When your master Takes you upon his lap, Just then, for a moment, Almost you are not frightened.
But at heart you are frightened, you always have been.
O Pug, obstinate old nervous breakdown, In the midst of so much love, And such comfort, Still to feel unsafe and be afraid,
How one’s heart goes out to you
I have a happy nature, But Mother is always sad, I enjoy every moment of my life, – Mother has been had.