Muriel Spark claimed that: “Although most of my life has been devoted to fiction, I have always thought of myself as a poet.”

Stewart Conn reflects on what marks her as a “Mistress of Unease,” at the Hawthornden Lecture Theatre, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh (today, 12.45-13.30), with readings by Gerda Stevenson.

Here are two of Spark’s disturbing, atmospheric pieces in The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry (EUP, 2005).


As stated below, we were not expecting . . .

All the same, you had better show him the sleeping

Beauty upstairs with her powder still intact,

While the whole court on sentry duty, believe it,

Propped in their wigs a century exact,

Deplore her blunder, or rather misconceive it.


And you had better and better deliver

The bat from her tresses, dispose for a kiss

That bluff on her webby mouth, for suppose he should call it,

And give her a nudge, and she takes the hint, and this

Beauty be a cloud of powder over her pallet?

                    THE YELLOW BOOK

They did not intend to distinguish between the essence

Of wit and wallpaper trellis. What they cared

Was how the appointments of the age appeared

Under the citron gaslight incandescence.


Virtue was a vulgar, sin a floral passion

And death a hansom at the door, while they

Kept faith with a pomaded sense of history

In their fashion.


Behind the domino, those fringed and fanned

Exclusive girls, prinked with the peacock’s eye

Noted, they believed, the trickle of a century

Like a thin umbrella in a black-gloved hand.