Some achieve lasting fame through epics that define a nation’s culture, its heritage, and cannot help but grind their way through bits and pieces into the hearts and minds of its people, as was the case with last week’s spotlight, but others do in few words what others struggle birth reams and reams of them. Such is the case with this week’s spotlight: short fiction writer and poet Kathleen Beauchamp, better known by her pen name: Katherine Mansfield.
This New Zealand writer was a woman blessed to write at the dawn of one century and the end of another. Born at the tail-end of the 1800s, Katherine was born to a socially prominent family, but did not suffer from the head-in-the-sand effect so many in her situation often did. Even as a young girl, she looked out at her home and saw beyond love and friends and nature–she saw alienation, saw repression of the natives around her, and wrote sympathetically for them in her literature. She was a modernist, drew inspiration from writers like Oscar Wilde, was a friend of people like Virginia Woolf, and traveled extensively where she could, becoming one of the era’s many bohemians.
She was also, from what historians now see, a rather unique individual of her time in that she pursued love not just to the accepted boundaries of the time–she was a bisexual, and wrote about it rather openly in her journals. However, one of the great trials of her young life came in the form of tuberculosis, which prevented her from returning to her homeland. It would also lead to her death at 34, though not before publishing volumes of short stories, many of which are still considered some of the best fiction of her time–pieces like The Fly and Prelude continue to be shared today.
Much of her writing reflects her childhood in New Zealand, focusing heavily on the notion of remembrance, but one piece of hers I’ve always found touching was a dedication to her brother, Leslie. Leslie died in 1915, as soldier fighting in WWI on the fields of France. They were close, these two, and his sudden death both traumatized and invigorated Beauchamp’s work, setting her to furious new paces in her scribbles, and sending her spiraling ever deeper into the sanctuary of nostalgia–memories of the land and the home they both had shared.
And thus, without further adieu, I offer unto you a most haunting poetic remembrance this week…
To L.H.B. (1894-1915)
Last night for the first time since you were dead
I walked with you, my brother, in a dream.
We were at home again beside the stream
Fringed with tall berry bushes, white and red.
“Don’t touch them: they are poisonous,” I said.
But your hand hovered, and I saw a beam
Of strange, bright laughter flying round your head
And as you stooped I saw the berries gleam.
“Don’t you remember? We called them Dead Man’s
I woke and heard the wind moan and the roar
Of the dark water tumbling on the shore.
Where–where is the path of my dream for my eager
By the remembered stream my brother stands
Waiting for me with berries in his hands…
“These are my body. Sister, take and eat.”