Northumberland House

By Stevie Smith 1902–1971 Stevie Smith
I was always a thoughtful youngster,
Said the lady on the omnibus,
I remember Father used to say,
You are more thoughtful than us.

I was sensitive too, the least thing
Upset me so much,
I used to cry if a fly
Stuck in the hatch.

Mother always said,
Elsie is too good,
There’ll never be another like Elsie,
Touch wood.

I liked to be alone,
Sitting on the garden path,
My brother said he’d never seen a
Picture more like Faith in the Arena.

They were kindly people, my people,
I could not help being different,
And I think it was good for me
Mixing in a different element.

The poor lady now burst out crying
And I saw her friend was not a friend but a nurse
For she said, Cheer up duckie the next stop is ours,
They got off at Northumberland House.

This great House of the Percies
Is now a lunatic asylum,
But over the gate there still stands
The great Northumberland Lion.

This family animal’s tail
Is peculiar in that it is absolutely straight,
And straight as a bar it stood out to drop after them
As they went through the gate.

November 1964

Source: Poetry (June 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2012
 Stevie  Smith


Calling Stevie Smith's Not Waving but Drowning "the best collection of new poems to appear in 1957," Poetry contributor David Wright observed that "as one of the most original women poets now writing [Stevie Smith] seems to have missed most of the public accolades bestowed by critics and anthologists. One reason may be that not only does she belong to no 'school'—whether real or invented as they usually are—but her work is so . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, The Mind, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality


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