Image by Christopher Barker

Poem introduction

I'd like to finish with this one called 'The Lost Woman'. The more one reads poetry or novels, the more one realises that almost every writer has a lost woman somewhere or other - a woman he deserted, as in the case of Wordsworth - that applies to Wordsworth too, but I was thinking much more of "surprised by joy, impatient as the wind" - a daughter who died, mothers, mistresses, girlfriends, daughters, grandmothers, anybody. Every writer nearly always has a lost woman. And it was a great stimulus to me to suddenly realise that so had I and this is 'The Lost Woman'. And this is as far as I've got in speaking about this event.

The Lost Woman

The Lost Woman

My mother went with no more warning
Than a bright voice and a bad pain.
Home from school on a June morning
And where the brook goes under the lane
I saw the back of a shocking white
Ambulance drawing away from the gate.

She never returned and I never saw
Her buried. So a romance began.
The ivy-mother turned into a tree
That still hops away like a rainbow down
The avenue as I approach.
My tendrils are the ones that clutch.

I made a life for her over the years.
Frustrated no more by a dull marriage
She ran a canteen through several wars.
The wit of a cliché-ridden village
She met her match at an extra-mural
Class and the OU summer school.

Many a hero in his time
And every poet has acquired
A lost woman to haunt the home,
To be compensated and desired,
Who will not alter, who will not grow,
A corpse they need never get to know.

She is nearly always benign. Her habit
Is not to stride at dead of night.
Soft and crepuscular in rabbit-
Light she comes out. Hear how they hate
Themselves for losing her as they did.
Her country is bland and she does not chide.

But my lost woman evermore snaps
From somewhere else: 'You did not love me.
I sacrificed too much perhaps,
I showed you the way to rise above me
And you took it. You are the ghost
With the bat-voice, my dear. I am not lost.'


from Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1990), © Patricia Beer 1990, by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd. Recording from An Introduction by Hutchinson's Poetry Editor, by permission of the British Library Sound Archive and The Poetry Society.

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