The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis
George Rawlins writes:
These poems are from a book-length sequence that reimagines in fifty-seven sonnets the life of the 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton. At age sixteen, Chatterton invented the imaginary persona of a 15th-century poet he named Thomas Rowley and tried to pass off the poems as the work of a previously unknown priest to the literati of London. When that and other attempts to help his mother and sister out of poverty failed, he committed suicide at the age of seventeen. Decades after his death, he was credited by Coleridge and Wordsworth as being the founding spirit of Romanticism.
A Last August
In cruellest London where the mail comes twice and ten
a day, the streets loud with horses, windows
rattle with hooves on cobble, the stench
of horseshit shovelled high as the vicar's
coach house. Flies ply
our faces with an angel's urgency
who's burnt her wings
to cinders. In this heat, even the Brixton
whores won't come to your
Brooke Street attic, won't swive
for verses. You choose this August to give it up
for revolution. We're so close to free, yet
so far from compromise – the heart's a sack
to suffocate a nervous hare.
The Resurrection of Thomas Chatterton
If you could be shocked back from eternal
muck – prodigal returned, brother of Shelley's
righteous creature – heaven's maelstrom raging
above Romantic topcoats and the twitching
frogs of Galvani, you may still
dream a child's dream. Now, as you sleep,
the charwoman with the face
fireplace and empties the pot where
you heaved last night. An old English
word neither of us can recollect bubbles
like hard cider on the tongue. We slouch
in firelight, and sweet Mary recites
her pregnant prose as you, a newborn monster, rise.
George Rawlins received a BA from Ohio University and an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. He has recent publications in Chiron Review, The Common, New Critique (UK), New World Writing, Nine Mile, Plainsongs, and Sanskrit. He lives in California. His poetry collection, Cheapside Afterlife (April 2021, Longleaf Press at Methodist University), reimagines in fifty-seven sonnets the life of the 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton.