Voices of the Air

BUT then there comes that moment rare
When, for no cause that I can find,
The little voices of the air
Sound above all the sea and wind.

The sea and wind do then obey

And sighing, sighing double notes
Of double basses, content to play
A droning chord for the little throats --

The little throats that sing and rise
Up into the light with lovely ease,

And a kind of magical sweet surprise
To hear and know themselves for these --

For these little voices: the bee, the fly,

The leaf that taps, the pod that breaks,
The breeze on the grass-tops bending by,
The shrill quick sound that the insect makes.

Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)

Katherine Mansfield ( also published as Kathleen Beauchamp)was a British writer of short stories born in Wellington, New Zealand. A master story teller her work is poetic, delicate and ironic. Her social circle included the likes of Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and most importantly his friend John Middleton Murry. They became lovers, though they did not marry until 1918. John Middleton Murry edited her work and published collections of her poems after her death. She lived a rather scandalous life; in 1909 she married, but left her husband after a few days; she became pregnant by another man and gave birth to a stillborn child in Bavaria. John Murray became second husband. When Murray had an affair with the Princess Bibesco, it wasn't the object to the affair she objected to but her letters to Murray.
    "I am afraid you must stop writing these love letters to my husband while he and I live together. It is one of the things which is not done in our world." (from a letter to Princess Bibesco, 1921)

Composed in 1916 in abab form Murray notes purportedly in his notes about Voices of the Air

    "Katherine Mansfield's practice was suddenly to spend several days in writing poetry, and then to abandon poetry wholly for months and years together. `Poems at the Villa Pauline' ... were written in curious circumstances. Villa Pauline was a four-roomed cottage on the shore of the Mediterranean where we lived in 1916. For the whole of one week we made a practice of sitting together after supper at a very small table in the kitchen and writing verses on a single theme which we had chosen. It seems to me now almost miraculous that so exquisite a poem as, for instance, 'Voices of the Air,' should have been thus composed"
One biography of Ms Manfield relates that when stricken with tuberculosis in 1918, she endured one therapy of spending a few hours every day on a platform suspended over a cow manger. She breathed odors emanating from below but the treatment did no good. Seeking a cure for her illness at the Gurdjieff Institute in France, run by the noted Armenian mystic Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff, whose methods combined spiritual and physical healing Gurdjieff’s basic thesis was that the harmony of life had been disrupted by the pressures of modern living. His commune was an attempt to restore balance through a regime that included physical exercise and labour. Residents were encouraged to walk about with arms outstretched for long periods, take part in dances, and rise early in the morning to do communal work. None of this, of course, would have been an ideal regime for a TB sufferer. She died there a few months after her thirty-fourth birthday. Her last words were: "I love the rain. I want the feeling of it on my face." Sources:

Author Intro: Jane Austen / Enovel:

Mansfield, Katherine:

Public domain text taken Selected Poetry of Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923):
Accessed October 28, 2001

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