Henry Kirke White – The Dance Of The Consumptives

26 May

Today I wanted to share some a beautiful and eerie fragment of an unfinished drama called “The Dance of the Consumptives” written by a rather obscure English poet Henry Kirke White (1785-1806) said to have been written n his earlier phase though I am not sure how old he would have been exactly because he died so young as it is. You can read the whole text of this eccentric unfinished drama here.

Henri Le Sidaner, Ronde des jeunes filles, crayon graphite, 1897

These lines specifically have been haunting me for some time now, but now, at last, the perfect imagery came to my mind. The drama is about death arriving dressed as consumption to flush a young girl’s cheek and take her away to the other world. Dancing young girls in drawings of the French painter Henri Le Sidaner perfectly fit the mood of the drama. With their pale attire and fluid, ghostly forms they almost looks like ghostly maidens who fell prey to the consumption and have now arrived to welcome a new soul into their eerie, ghostly circle dance:

In the dismal night air dress’d,
I will creep into her breast:
Flush her cheek, and bleach her skin,
And feed on the vital fire within.
Lover, do not trust her eyes,—
When they sparkle most, she dies!
Mother, do not trust her breath,—
Comfort she will breathe in death!
Father, do not strive to save her,—
She is mine, and I must have her!
The coffin must be her bridal bed!
The winding-sheet must wrap her head;
The whispering winds must o’er her sigh,
For soon in the grave the maid must lie:
The worm it will riot
On heavenly diet,
When death has deflower’d her eye.

Henri Le Sidaner, La Ronde, c 1900

7 Responses to “Henry Kirke White – The Dance Of The Consumptives”

  1. Byron's valet 26th May 2020 at 11:17 pm #

    ‘When I have thoughts that I may cease to be’ from Keats springs to mind…..

    Liked by 2 people

  2. spooksoul 27th May 2020 at 12:07 am #

    Was White a consumptive as well? “Upon his death a large amount of unfinished poetry was found among his papers, which later formed the basis for the work that would cement his status as a promising poet who died before his prime.” (quoted in https://romantic-circles.org/gallery/henry-kirke-white-boy). Thank God he didn’t burn everything. There is something a bit grotesque about the joined hands in the 1897 Le Sidaner drawing, as well as in the background on the far upper right. First time hearing about both the writer and the artist, thanks for the details.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 28th May 2020 at 9:36 pm #

      Hmm I don’t know. I was also wondering what he died of, since he did die so young. I read that he was overexerted by work, so perhaps his body was weak due to something else, like consumption. It certainly wasn’t an unusual disease in those times. Thank you for reading!


  3. elisabethm 27th May 2020 at 7:16 am #

    What a poem! Haunting indeed!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Michael Hill 27th May 2020 at 12:24 pm #

    You find some weird and wonderful things, I was just wondering what you thought of ” Tam o Shanter ” with the Witches and Warlocks and all.


    • Byron's Muse 28th May 2020 at 9:33 pm #

      I haven’t read “Tam o Shanter”, but hearing that it had witches and such stuff in it, I think I shall!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael Hill 29th May 2020 at 4:25 am #

        Hi, I’,m not a great fan of poetry but the story with the witch “Nannie” fascinated me, I was reading something about the Cutty Sark, I think it was one of the fastest Tea Clippers ? and I was wondering about the its strange name and found its figurehead was “Nannie” the witch named from “Tam o Shanter “

        Liked by 1 person

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