beastly beauty, Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature, Heinemann Award for Literature, Joan Hassall, Order of the British Empire, Pamela Whitlock, Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, Royal Society of Literature, Ruth Pitter
Lightless, unholy, eldritch thing,
Whose murky and erratic wing
Swoops so sickeningly, and whose
Aspect to the female Muse
Is a demon’s, made of stuff
Like tattered, sooty waterproof,
Looking dirty, clammy, cold.
Wicked, poisonous, and old;
I have maligned thee! . . . for the Cat
Lately caught a little bat,
Seized it softly, bore it in.
On the carpet, dark as sin
In the lamplight, painfully
It limped about, and could not fly.
Even fear must yield to love,
And pity make the depths to move.
Though sick with horror, I must stoop,
Grasp it gently, take it up,
And carry it, and place it where
It could resume the twilight air.
Strange revelation! warm as milk,
Clean as a flower, smooth as silk!
O what a piteous face appears,
What great fine thin translucent ears
What chestnut down and crapy wings,
Finer than any lady’s things—
And O a little one that clings!
Warm, clean, and lovely, though not fair,
And burdened with a mother’s care;
Go hunt the hurtful fly, and bear
My Blessing to your kind in air.
Ruth Pitter (1897 – 1992) English poet. Less widely-known these days than she deserves to be; recipient of many honours and awards, including the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the William Heinemann Award, the Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature; in 1974, she was named a “Companion of Literature“, the highest honour given by the Royal Society of Literature, and in 1979 was appointed a CBE (Order of the British Empire) in honour of her contributions to English literature.
There are a couple of really worthwhile recent customer reviews of Pitter’s Collected Poems on Amazon com, one titled A Poet of Amazing Grace (“…Coming from a lower-middle-class background that evidently inoculated her against snobbery, she had a lively sympathy for animals and for poor people, whom she portrays with a mixture of humor and respect. (Her cat poems leave all others in the dust.) It would be nice if the ecologists would claim her, for no poet had a keener sense of the endangered beauty of the natural world, or the feminists, for her spirituality is staunchly feminine. But polemics were not her style; one senses instead a constant struggle to hold on to the glimpses of something beyond the murk of the twentieth century or not yet touched by it. In short, this book is an Arabian Nights treasure.); the other, Like an English Garden (“These poems are quiet, but they offer an intense and visionary beauty…”)
“The Bat”, along with five other poems by Ruth Pitter, makes an appearance in the anthology I have to hand, All Day Long: An Anthology of Poetry for Children, 1954, compiled and annotated by Pamela Whitlock. Beautiful wood engravings by Joan Hassall grace the text. The dust-cover informs the reader that the included poems will all have a strong appeal to children even though comparatively few of them have been specifically written for children. I hold this collection close to my heart: a desert-island volume of verse. And this particular selection from Ruth Pitter’s oeuvre is especially for you, MAPyk! :)
eldritch: /adj./ weird, unearthly, ghostly or sinister
crape (pronounced with a long a sound): /noun/ the archaic spelling of crepe, a light, thin fabric with a wrinkled surface; as adjective, crepey, or as in the poem, crapy (still a long a sound)