Stevie Smith, ‘A House of Mercy’

A House of Mercy

It was a house of female habitation,
Two ladies fair inhabited the house,
And they were brave. For although Fear knocked loud
Upon the door, and said he must come in,
They did not let him in.

There were also two feeble babes, two girls,
That Mrs. S. had by her husband had,
He soon left them and went away to sea,
Nor sent them money, nor came home again
Except to borrow back
Her Naval Officer’s Wife’s Allowance from Mrs. S.
Who gave it him at once, she thought she should.

There was also the ladies’ aunt
And babes’ great aunt, a Mrs Martha Hearn Clode,
And she was elderly.
These ladies put their money all together
And so we lived.

I was the younger of the feeble babes
And when I was a child my mother died
And later Great Aunt Martha Hearn Clode died
And later still my sister went away.

Now I am old I tend my mother’s sister
The noble aunt who so long tended us,
Faithful and True her name is. Tranquil.
Also Sardonic. And I tend the house.

It is a house of female habitation
A house expecting strength as it is strong
A house of aristocratic mould that looks apart
When tears fall; counts despair
Derisory. Yet it has kept us well. For all its faults.
If they are faults, of sternness and reserve,
It is a Being of warmth I think; at heart
A house of mercy.

Stevie Smith’s (1902 – 1901) poetry is known for a combination of “caprice and doom.”  Her poems are very witty, but also unsettling.