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[Manuscript Poem] “Colomen”

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Mary Webb. “Colomen.” Manuscript poem, five leaves, first three leaves 10″ x 8″, final two leaves 8″ x 6″, on thin, off-white wove ruled paper, fifty-seven lines in four stanzas, brown ink, with one correction. Colomen is the Welsh word for “dove.” The poem tells of the love between a lady and a wandering portrait painter, his subsequent forced departure by her “proud and haughty” family, and the lady’s suicide beside the portrait he had painted of her. Webb was only in her mid-forties but increasingly suffered from attacks of vertigo, migraine headaches and depression. Webb uses the imagery of doves in this poem to symbolize her sadness and grief. “She would be free of the distress / That men call joy, the littleness / That men call life — as birds are free. / So in the dewy morning hour / She hanged herself within the tower.” This narrative poem allegorizes the breakdown of Webb’s relationship with Henry, who had become infatuated with Kathleen Wilson, a student, twenty-three years his junior, whom he was tutoring and would marry in September 1929, twenty-three months after Webb’s death (Coles, Mary Webb, 1990, p. 144). Henry discovered “Colomen” among his wife’s papers after her death.