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Kirke White

Posted 12-10-2010 at 04:41 AM by Steve Bucknell
Updated 01-15-2011 at 03:39 PM by Steve Bucknell
I think Henry Kirke White only ever really wrote one poem. That poem ranged restlessly across the landscape of his limited experience always seeking a scene of repose “far from the unquietness of life.” Moments in his poetry find a peace and serenity he never had in life. Reading him feels like keeping him company at this great distance in time, standing with him, looking up at “Orion in his arctic tower.”

His name fades into literary history, yet an attentive reader can still see why Southey, Wordsworth and even Byron thought he had a gift. There is an easy musicality and directness to his style that is charming.

The only book he published in his lifetime , in1803, Clifton Grove, a Sketch in Verse, with other Poems drew some attention and enjoyed a brief popularity after his death from TB when he was 21. A great generation of poets such as Keats and Clare tower around him and he will go on being little noticed or anthologised.( Although I see copies of his poems easily obtainable on Amazon.) Here is a fragment from a poem he left unrevised after his death:

From ‘Fragments’:


Loud rage the winds without.- The wintry cloud
O’er the cold north star casts her flitting shroud;
And Silence, pausing in some snow-clad dale,
Starts as she hears, by fits, the shrieking gale;
Where now, shut out from every still retreat,
Her pine-clad summit, and her woodland seat,
Shall Meditation, in her saddest mood,
Retire o’er all her pensive stores to brood?
Shivering and blue the peasant eyes askance,
The drifted fleeces that around him dance,
And hurries on his half-averted form,
Stemming the fury of the side-long storm.
He soon shall greet his snow-topt cot of thatch,
Soon shall his ‘numb’d hand tremble on the latch,
Soon from his chimney’s nook the cheerful flame,
Diffuse a genial warmth throughout his frame;
Round the light fire, while roars the north wind loud,
What merry groups of vacant faces crowd;
These hail his coming – these his meal prepare,
And boast in all that cot no lurking care.
What, though the social circle be denied,
Even Sadness brightens at her own fire-side,
Loves, with fixed eye, to watch the fluttering blaze,
While musing Memory dwells on former days;
Or Hope, blest spirit ! smiles – and still forgiven,
Forgets the passport, while she points to Heaven.
Then heap the fire - shut out the biting air,
And from its station wheel the easy chair:
Thus fenced and warm, in silent fit, ‘tis sweet
To hear without the bitter tempest beat
All, all alone – to sit, and muse, and sigh,
The pensive tenant of obscurity.

Henry Kirke White (March 21, 1785 - October 19, 1806.)
From Poems, Letters and Prose Fragments of Kirke White. Ed.J.Drinkwater.Muses Library.

Or Should The Day

Or should the day be overcast,
We'll linger till the show'r be past;
Where the hawthorn's branches spread
A fragrant covert o'er the head.
And list the rain-drops beat the leaves,
Or smoke upon the cottage eaves;
Or silent dimpling on the stream
Convert to lead its silver gleam;
And we will muse on human life,
And think, from all the storms of strife,
How sweet to find a snug retreat
Where we may hear the tempests beat,
Secure and fearless,- and provide
Repose for life's calm eventide.
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