I have been looking back over old blog posts recently. My latest posts have focused on the First World War and issues I address in Shell Shocked Britain and readers of this blog know how much I love to discover new poems and poets; a wander around the Poetry Archive website being my favourite form of procrastination. This despite rumours that Bejewelled Blitz is my distraction of choice…
It is cool in Somerset today; nothing very new in that, but it really has felt as if ‘warm days will never cease’ in recent days. Autumn is a season I enjoy as a rule, only slumping into a depression after the new year, when I find the evenings truly dark, and the mornings little better. But it still feels a little early for To Autumn by John Keats (as much as I love it) so I thought I would post a poem I have only recently discovered. I think it neatly sums up the late summer feeling that persists despite increasing evidence that autumn is truly upon us. It is by American poet and translator Jennifer Grotz.
Before the moths have even appeared
to orbit around them, the streetlamps come on,
a long row of them glowing uselessly
along the ring of garden that circles the city center,
where your steps count down the dulling of daylight.
At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.
Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle
mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when
city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.
Sunglasses! the man softly exclaims
while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
huddled around a dropped piece of bread.
The penultimate stanza, with its line ‘spilling the crumbs of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street’ (though I am not sure why it isn’t ‘the street’, and am not sure I like it – any thoughts?) conjures up the tiny remnants of dead wood that refuse to find their way into the rubbish bag however hard one sweeps, and seem a metaphor for those last days out in late summer. Those romantic and organised enough to have proper picnics will have made their sandwiches and pies, eaten them under the branches of sleepy trees and have spilled the crumbs into the folds of the screwed up gingham cloth (or, more likely an old rug) which, when opened in the spring of the next year, will find the same crumbs clinging, desiccated, to the fibres. And ‘sunglasses!’ – how nice it is to find we still need them on into autumn as the sun burns early mist away and casts a gentle light over the afternoon.
Is it about ending? I am not so sure. How can we call it that, with a quarter of the year yet to come?