About the book
Before and After the Darkness is the companion volume to the collections Inside the Stretch of the Heart and The Dream of Stairs: A Poem Cycle. The last of these was privately printed as a posthumous memorial volume in 1975, a year after Susan Noble’s untimely death in 1974 at the age of 31.
Susan wrote the poems in batches of half a dozen or more, from 1965 onwards, in what she described as manic bursts of creativity, announcing with her typically light-hearted ironic self-depreciation, ‘The muse has struck me!’ But these poems are anything but light-hearted, and even a first reading will reveal clearly that levity is not on the menu in a universe ‘Where there are no jokes / And people do not pretend.’
Susan’s output in the final ten years of her life was prolific and to mark the fortieth anniversary of her death, the poems in this present collection have been published for the first time, together with a revised, expanded edition of The Dream of Stairs.
Three other volumes of her poems are being simultaneously published: Collected Poems, incorporating the above three poetry collections in one volume; as well as two works of fiction: A Flock of Blackbirds, featuring a selection of Susan’s short stories and novellas, and her novel Drifting Between Empty Tramlines.
Many of the poems in Before and After the Darkness and Inside the Stretch of My Heart were triggered by the quotidian experience of living and working in central London in the late 1960s and early 1970s, yet beneath the fragile surface of her acute observations of domestic and office life in the city, intensely spiritual insights are being played out, sometimes delicately, sometimes shockingly, but always movingly.
About the author
Brought up in South London, Susan Noble, was the second of three children. Her childhood was enriched by being part of a large and closely-knit Jewish family. Unfortunately stricken by polio (then known as infantile paralysis) in her early years, Susan went through life with a degree of physical handicap which she was to overcome with courage and determination.
Educated at Croydon High School, Susan studied English at Somerville College, Oxford. After graduating, Susan worked in London, first at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, dictating books for transcription into Braille, and later at the National Central Library in London, where she qualified as a Chartered Librarian.
Susan’s exceptional sensitivity was reflected in the prolific outpouring of poems that make up Before and After the Darkness, Inside the Stretch of My Heart and The Dream of Stairs. In these intense, haunting poems, she chronicles her personal response to the world around her, while vividly portraying the inner landscape of her mental and emotional struggle.
One’s first impression of Susan was of fragility. She was an acutely sensitive person, but her physical and emotional fragility really masked a very great spiritual strength. Her sensitivity indeed was not directed only towards herself, but towards others. She was sensitive to the needs of others, and her strength and also perhaps some of her inner conflicts came from a deep desire for goodness which could not be matched in reality by the world as she found it.
Susan passionately wished to be independent; she struggled for it from the time she went to university, and throughout her work as a librarian, and she was able to maintain it to the very end. There was an intellectual and emotional intensity which burned within her and which predominantly found outward expression in her writing and when she expressed herself thus she did so with great imaginative power and also with an uncompromising honesty and integrity.
Rabbi Dr David Goldstein
Sample manuscripts from Before and After the Darkness
Day and Night