An excellent selection of some of the better-known and some of the previously uncollected poems of one of the 20th century’s least known but most accomplished poets. Ruth Pitter‘s first book of poems was published with the help of Hilaire Belloc in 1920; her work was admired and praised by Yeats, Larkin, Skelton and Gunn; she was the first woman to win the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1955, and was awarded a CBE in 1979. She died in 1992.
My personal favourite in this large chapbook from HappenStance is “Smoky Kettle, Stinging Nettle”, for its magical incantation of life and afterlife, of love and loss, of the countryside and all things human:
Lily my darling,
Toad and starling,
Fox in wood,
O be there, be there again,
When my end I shall attain,
When the knot is all unravelled,
And the tangled path is travelled.
But the poem is not typical of her work, and was not previously collected in a book. More commonly her style is like the beginning of ‘Spectrum’:
A little window, eastward, low, obscure,
A flask of water on the vestry press,
A ray of sunshine through a fretted door,
And myself kneeling in live quietness:
Heaven’s brightness was then gathered in the glass,
Her usual style is quiet, understated, with simple metre and rhyme scheme. Often there is a religious element–she was a friend of, and was influenced by, C.S. Lewis–and even an element of Anglican hymns. But none of that was enough to stop the militantly atheist Philip Larkin from including four of her poems in The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. And I found enough of interest in this 44-page chapbook to warrant ordering a copy of her ‘Collected Poems’, to explore further.