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Columbine: Fairies and Chimneys is a collection of lovely little poems in which fairies feature prominently and chimneys are hardly mentioned at all. The poems, written nearly a hundred years ago, use a very fresh and simple language which would appeal to just about everyone, I should think, however young or old they may be.

Some of the poems are from the point of view of a little girl called Mary who can see fairies. Not only that, but the fairies who live at the bottom of her garden accept her as their queen, which is a very rare honour. Though a few of her poems are about other things, like balloons and beetles and family, most have fairies. I especially like the one comparing what her Daddy does to what fairies do.

Differences

Daddy goes a-riding in a motor painted grey,
He makes a lot of snorty noise before he gets away;
The fairies go a-riding when they wish to take their ease,
The fairies go a-riding on the backs of bumble bees.

Daddy goes a-sailing in a jolly wooden boat,
He takes a lot of tackle and his very oldest coat;
The fairies go a-sailing, and I wonder they get home,
The fairies go a-sailing on a little scrap of foam.

Daddy goes a-climbing with a knapsack and a stick,
The rocks are very hard and steep, his boots are very thick;
But the fairies go a-climbing (I’ve seen them there in crowds),
The fairies go a-climbing on the mountains in the clouds.

Other poems seem to be in an older voice, like the one about the fairy in Oxford Street and “A Fairy Went A-Marketing” – perhaps an aunt. There is something auntish about them. There is a sad one about German fairies, which seems to expect rather a lot of fairy-kind and comes to a dreadful conclusion (though not a true one, I believe). And in this one a fairy is speaking:

Invitation

If you will come and stay with us
You shall not want for ease;
We’ll swing you on a cobweb
Between the forest trees.
And twenty little singing birds
Upon a flowering thorn
Shall hush you every evening
And wake you every morn.

If you will come and stay with us
You need not miss your school,
A learned toad shall teach you,
High-perched upon his stool.
And he will tell you many things
That none but fairies know—
The way the wind goes wandering,
And how the daisies grow.

If you will come and stay with us
You shall not lack, my dear,
The finest fairy raiment,
The best of fairy cheer.
We’ll send a million glow-worms out,
And slender chains of light
Shall make a shining pathway—
Then why not come to-night?

This last one is perhaps my very favourite:

The Fairies Have Never a Penny to Spend

The fairies have never a penny to spend,
They haven’t a thing put by,
But theirs is the dower of bird and of flower
And theirs are the earth and the sky.
And though you should live in a palace of gold
Or sleep in a dried-up ditch,
You could never be poor as the fairies are,
And never as rich.

Since ever and ever the world began
They have danced like a ribbon of flame,
They have sung their song through the centuries long
And yet it is never the same.
And though you be foolish or though you be wise,
With hair of silver or gold,
You could never be young as the fairies are,
And never as old.

There are twenty-five poems altogether, and in some editions extra poems on birds are included. Click the fairy bar above to see all the poems from Fairies and Chimneys.

Laura - illustrated by Arthur RackhamRobin: In “Goblin Market”, a nineteenth century poem by Christina Rossetti, Laura is tempted into tasting the delicious fruits offered by the goblins, and afterwards pines when she cannot get any more. Fairy food has long been said to trap humans in fairyland – just as eating the food of the Underworld stops people from returning to the upper world. In this poem the goblin men bring it into the human world and it leaves people fatally dissatisfied with ordinary food and ordinary life.

“Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy”

Laura and Lizzie are aware of the conventional wisdom:

“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?…”
“Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”

However…

“Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat’s pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.”

Paying with a curl of her golden hair, Laura gorges herself on the delicious fruit: “sweeter than honey from the rock”. She expects to get more the next night – but no, she can never again hear the cry “Come buy, Come buy” although her sister still does.

Lizzie eventually tries to buy some fruit for her sister, but the goblin men become furious when she will not eat:
Lizzie - illustrated by Arthur Rackham
“One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.”

Exciting, isn’t it? This is not how market traders usually behave, even when you ask for your money back. You can hear as well as read the full poem here: Goblin Market. As to what those goblin men were up to, and how wicked they really were, I am sure I cannot tell you. The Victorian Web has some interesting – and some bizarre – thoughts on the subject.

A Fairy's Child by Robert Graves


Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,.
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal-chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
From a world more full of weeping than he
can understand.

by William Butler Yeats (1965-1939)

The little Christmas tree was born
And dwelt in open air;
It did not guess how bright a dress
Some day its boughs would wear;
Brown cones were all, it thought, a tall
And grown-up Fir would bear.

O little Fir! your forest home
Is far and far away;
And here indoors these boughs of yours
With coloured balls are gay,
With candlelight, and tinsel bright,
For this is Christmas Day!

A dolly-fairy stands on top,
Till children sleep; then she
(A live one now!) from bough to bough
Goes gliding silently.
O magic sight, this joyous night!
O laden, sparkling tree!

by Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973)

In an opal dream cave I found a fairy:
Her wings were frailer than flower petals –
Frailer far than snowflakes.
She was not frightened, but poised on my finger,
Then delicately walked into my hand.
I shut the two palms of my hand together
And held her prisoner.
I carried her out of the opal cave,
Then opened my hands.
First she became thistledown,
Then a mote in a sunbeam,
Then – nothing at all,
Empty now is my opal dream cave.

by Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)

The Fairies' Dance by Richard Doyle

The fairies are dancing — how nimbly they bound!
They flit o’er the grass tops, they touch not the ground;
Their kirtles of green are with diamonds bedight,
All glittering and sparkling beneath the moonlight.

Hark, hark to their music! how silvery and clear —
‘Tis surely the flower-bells that ringing I hear, —
The lazy-wing’d moth, with the grasshopper wakes,
And the field-mouse peeps out, and their revels partakes.

How featly they trip it! how happy are they
Who pass all their moments in frolic and play,
Who rove where they list, without sorrows or cares,
And laugh at the fetters mortality wears!

But where have they vanish’d? — a cloud ‘s o’er the moon,
I’ll hie to the spot, — they’ll be seen again soon —
I hasten — ’tis lighter, — and what do I view? —
The fairies were grasses, the diamonds were dew.

And thus do the sparkling illusions of youth
Deceive and allure, and we take them for truth;
Too happy are they who the juggle unshroud,
Ere the hint to inspect them be brought by a cloud.

by Carolina Eliza Scott (1777-1853)



Robin:
A lovely piece of misdirection by this band of dancers. Taking advantage of a change in the light is always to be recommended. Of course it is always easier when the human is all-too-willing to provide not only an “explanation”, but a moral!

Robin: Poetry about fairies goes back many centuries. Back in the fourteenth century, the father of English poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer, mentioned fairies in the Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath describes the fairies as a vanished breed, which I see as one expression of the ancient tendency of every human generation to believe that they are less romantic and more sceptical than the last.

When good King Arthur ruled in ancient days
(A king that every Briton loves to praise)
This was a land brim-full of fairy folk.
The Elf-Queen and her courtiers joined and broke
Their elfin dance on many a green mead,
Or so was the opinion once, I read,
Hundreds of years ago, in days of yore.
But no one now sees fairies any more.

Fairies actually do appear in two anonymous mediaeval poems, Sir Orfeo and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Sir Orfeo rescues his wife from the fairy king, in an English retelling of the Orpheus myth. The Green Knight is recognized by King’s Arthur’s men as a were fade – mediaeval for a faerie man. The knight has green hair, green skin, and green clothes, bears a giant axe in one hand, and a holly bob in the other.

The Green Knight

Two centuries later, Sweet Will Shakespeare wrote enchanting fairy lyrics for the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and for Ariel in The Tempest.

Where the bee sucks, there suck I
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily:
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

Oberon’s speech “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme grows” is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved verses.

From the same time, Edmund Spenser’s long poem The Faerie Queen is set in Faerieland and presents the Virtues through the doings of the Arthurian knights. The Faerie Queen, Gloriana, is Queen Elizabeth I in allegorical disguise. She sends forth the knights on their adventures from her romantic feudal court.

Robert Herrick in the next century wrote poems on Oberon’s Palace and Feast, while Michael Drayton wrote a mock-epic, Nymphidia; here he describes the fairy palace:

This palace standeth in the air,
By necromancy placed there,
That it no tempests needs to fear,
Which way soe’er it blow it.
And somewhat southward toward the noon,
Whence lies a way up to the moon,
And thence the Fairy can as soon
Pass to the earth below it.

The walls of spiders’ legs are made,
Well mortised and finely laid;
He was the master of his trade
It curiously builded;
The windows of the eyes of cats,
And for the roof, instead of slats,
Is covered with the skins of bats,
With moonshine that are gilded.

In the eighteenth century fairy poetry was represented by Thomas Tickell’s Kensington Gardens, which reveals the secret history of the London park. Again fairies are consigned to the distant past:

The landscape now so sweet we well may praise:
But far, far sweeter in its ancient days,
Far sweeter was it, when its peopled ground
With fairy domes and dazzling towers was crown’d.
Where in the midst those verdant pillars spring,
Rose the proud palace of the Elfin king…
Their midnight pranks the sprightly fairies play’d
On every hill, and danc’d in every shade.
But, foes to sun-shine, most they took delight
In dells and dales conceal’d from human sight:

These fairies of Kensington Gardens are revived in The Little White Bird in the early twentieth century, when they befriend the baby Peter Pan.