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Witchcraft: New Style

Lascelles Abercrombie 1881 (Ashton upon Mersey) – 1938 (London)

The sun drew off at last his piercing fires.
Over the stale warm air, dull as a pond
And moveless in the grey quieted street,
Blue magic of a summer evening glowed.
The sky, that had been dazzling stone all day,
Hollowed in smooth hard brightness, now dissolved
To infinite soft depth, and smoulder'd down
Low as the roofs, dark burning blue, and soared
Clear to that winking drop of liquid silver,
The first exquisite star. Now the half-light
Tidied away the dusty litter parching
Among the cobbles, veiled in the colour of distance
Shabby slates and brickwork mouldering, turn'd
The hunchback houses into patient things
Resting; and golden windows now began.

A little brisk grey slattern of a woman,
Pattering along in her loose-heel'd clogs,
Pushed the brass-barr'd door of a public-house;
The spring went hard against her; hand and knee
Shoved their weak best. As the door poised ajar,
Hullabaloo of talking men burst out,
A pouring babble of inflamed palaver,
And overriding it and shouted down
High words, jeering or downright, broken like
Crests that leap and stumble in rushing water.
Just as the door went wide and she stepped in,
'She cannot do it!' one was bawling out:
A glaring hulk of flesh with a bull's voice.
He finger'd with his neckerchief, and stretched
His throat to ease the anger of dispute,
Then spat to put a full stop to the matter.

The little woman waited, with one hand
Propping the door, and smiled at the loud man.
They saw her then; and the sight was enough
To gag the speech of every drinker there:
The din fell down like something chopt off short.
Blank they all wheel'd towards her, with their mouths
Still gaping as though full of voiceless words.
She let the door slam to; and all at ease,
Amused, her smile wrinkling about her eyes,
Went forward: they made room for her quick enough.
Her chin just topt the counter; she gave in
Her bottle to the potboy, tuckt it back,
Full of bright tawny ale, under her arm,
Rapt down the coppers on the planisht zinc,
And turned: and no word spoken all the while.

The first voice, in that silent crowd, was hers,
Her light snickering laugh, as she stood there
Pausing, scanning the sawdust at her feet.
Then she switcht round and faced the positive man
Whose strong 'She cannot do it!' all still felt
Huskily shouting in their guilty ears.

'She can't, eh? She can't do it? ' — Then she'd heard!

The man, inside his ruddy insolent flesh,
Had hoped she did not hear. His barrel chest
Gave a slight cringe, as though the glint of her eyes
Prickt him. But he stood up to her awkwardly bold,
One elbow on the counter, gripping his mug
Like a man holding on to a post for safety.

The Man:
You can't do what's not nature: nobody can.

The Woman:
And louts like you have nature in your pocket?

The Man:
I don't say that —

The Woman:
If you kept saying naught, No one would guess the fool you are.

Second Man:
Almost
My very words!

The Woman:
O you're the knowing man!
The spark among the cinders!

First Man:
You can't fetch
A free man back, unless he wants to come.

The Woman:
Nay, I'll be bound he doesn't want to come!

Third Man:
And he won't come: he told me flat he wouldn't.

The Woman:
Are you there too?

Third Man:
And if he does come back
It will be devilry brought him.

The Woman:
I shall bring him; —
Tonight.

First Man:
How will he come?

The Woman:
Running: unless
He's broke his leg, and then he'll have to come
Crawling: but he will come.

First Man:
How do you know
What he may choose to do, three counties off?

The Woman:
He choose?

Third Man:
You haven't got him on a lead.

The Woman:
Haven't I though!

Second Man:
That's right; it's what I said.

The Woman:
Ay, there are brains in your family.

First Man:
You have
Some sort of pull on him, to draw him home?

The Woman:
You may say that: I have hold of his mind.
And I can slack it off or fetch it taut.
And make him dance a score of miles away
An answer to the least twangling thrum
I play on it. He thought he lurkt at last
Safely; and all the while, what has he been?
An eel on the end of a night line; and it's time
I haul'd him in. You'll see, to-night I'll land him.

Third Man:
Bragging's a light job.

The Woman:
You daren't let me take
Your ey
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Lascelles Abercrombie

Lascelles Abercrombie was a British poet and literary critic, one of the "Dymock poets". more…

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