Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Stevie Smith: Mother, What Is Man? asked Little Bog-Face


Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) in a bog, coastal Washington
: photo by Keith Weller (Agricultural Research Service / U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)

Dear Little Bog-Face,
Why are you so cold?
And why do you lie with your eyes shut? --
You are not very old.

I am a Child of this World,
And a Child of Grace,
And Mother, I shall be glad when it is over,
I am Bog-Face.

File:Brown Lake Bog OH.jpg

Virgin boreal acid bogs at Brown's Lake Bog, Wayne County, Ohio: photo by U.S. National Park Service, 2004

Stevie Smith: Bog-Face, from Mother, What Is Man? (1950)


Nin Andrews said...

Oh, this is great! What a funny woman she was. A woman, yes? I was on a humor panel once and Mark Halliday brought in Stevie poems-- and then was a little irked because people didn't know what to make of them.

TC said...

Nin, Yes, a woman indeed, Florence Margaret Smith, born 1902 in Kingston upon Hull. She was small and frail as a child (later on as well), and got the name "Stevie" as a girl because of a perceived resemblance to a well-known jockey. Her father ran off to sea when she was three, her mother then moved to North London, where Stevie would spend her whole life -- most of it, after her mother's death when she was sixteen, with her mother's sister Madge ("my Lion Aunt"). Her fifth through seventh years were spent in a t.b. sanitorium, where, as she later related, she developed a curious morbid fascination with death, which survives as an undercurrent all through her brilliantly witty, funny (and often quite dark) work. She is the happy exception to the rule that all poets are preserved "live" on YouTube. But there are ten seconds of her voice -- talking about Death -- as a prelude to Vic Chesnutt's interpretation of her best-known poem, here. It's not a bad matchup, at that, Vic and Stevie.

She never married, though there were beaux in the picture. All one might wish to know on this subject is summed up in this characteristic bit of brilliance.

On two mornings out of three, I'd name her as my favourite poet. On the third morning, I would call the morgue and ask them to have a tray ready. (With hors d'oeuvres for the orderlies, of course.)

TC said...

It might be added that an inhouse poll has nominated a second alltime favourite Stevie Smih poem: Drugs Made Pauline Vague.

ACravan said...

The images you've chosen to go with this poem, seen on the cusp of winter, are remarkable, and although the poem itself isn't necessarily the ideal way to commence Sunday following a slightly grave (in retrospect) Saturday evening (all's well that ends well; I'm alive), you shouldn't look a poem-gift-horse in the mouth. I first learned about cranberry bogs from my aunt who worked in public relations for Ocean Spray, the cranberry products company. I don't like cranberries at all, but I do love the bogs and bog lore. A few years ago, in keeping I think with the theme of this poem, we visited a museum exhibition in Dublin of the "bog men" who were preserved in such a remarkable state over centuries that you might have thought to ask them the questions asked here. Curtis

TC said...


Simply imagining what they might have replied... the mind boggles.

(As it were.)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Adding to the bog humor, with a serious, um, undercurrent, there is Margaret Atwood's wonderfully wry "The Bog Man" from her outstanding story collection, "Wilderness Tips" -

I do so love "Drugs Made Pauline Vague", Tom ... so this has my vote, as well as your "On the third morning ...", which seems also to be a very fine opening for a Stevie Smith style poem ...


TC said...


She has influenced my epistemology.

And I love a cranberry!