20th Century Poetry #3: W. H. Davies

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here.

The Rat

“That woman there is almost dead,
Her feet and hands like heavy lead;
Her cat’s gone out for his delight,
He will not come again this night.

“Her husband in a pothouse drinks,
Her daughter at a soldier winks;
Her son is at his sweetest game,
Teasing the cobbler old and lame.

“Now with these teeth that powder stones,
I’ll pick at one of her cheek-bones:
When husband, son and daughter come,
They’ll soon see who was left at home.”


The White Horse

What do I stare at – not the colt
That frisks in yon green field; so strong
That he can leap about and run,
Yet is too weak to stand up straight
When his mother licks him with her tongue.

No, no, my eyes go far beyond,
Across that field to yon far Hill,
Where one white horse stands there alone;
And nothing else is white to see,
Outside a house all dark and still.

“Death, are you in that house?” think I –
“Is that horse there on your account?
Can I expect a shadow soon,
Seen in that horse’s ghostly ribs –
When you come up behind, to mount?”


The Inquest

I took my oath I would inquire,
Without affection, hate, or wrath,
Into the death of Ada Wright –
So help me God! I took that oath.

When I went out to see the corpse,
The four months’ babe that died so young,
I judged it was seven pounds in weight,
And little more than one foot long.

One eye, that had a yellow lid,
Was shut – so was the mouth, that smiled;
The left eye open, shining bright –
It seemed a knowing little child.

For as I looked at that one eye,
It seemed to laugh, and say with glee:
“What caused me death you’ll never know –
Perhaps my mother murdered me.”

When I went into court again,
To hear the mother’s evidence –
It was a love-child, she explained.
And smiled, for our intelligence.

“Now, Gentlemen of the Jury, said
The coroner – “this woman’s child
By misadventure met its death.”
“Aye, aye,” said we. The mother smiled.

And I could see that child’s one eye
Which seemed to laugh, and say with glee:
“What caused my death you’ll never know –
Perhaps my mother murdered me.”