Friday, February 3, 2017

Poem: One Tuesday in Summer by James McAuley

Well, 2016 went out, and 2017 came in, and I am back, looking bronzed and fit. You'll have to take my word for it, of course, but that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

For a month when I tried not to do anything, I feel January was pretty productive. I wound up with a lot of thoughts about OUTREMER, and I've even started laying the groundwork for the second draft, in a leisurely sort of way. February is shaping up to be rather frantic, so we'll see how far I get with it.

One thing that's happening this year: someone is having a centenary. James McAuley is not just (in my opinion) one of the greatest Australian poets ever (and a bonafide Aussie larrikin), but Wikipedia credits him with engineering "a significant setback for modernist poetry in Australia". He's also simply a personal favourite. And he was born on October 12, 1917 - a hundred years ago this year.

So it seems appropriate for the first post of 2017 to be a poem by James McAuley. Here's one that's been a favourite for several years.

One Tuesday in Summer
James McAuley

That sultry afternoon the world went strange.
Under a violet and leaden bruise
The air was filled with sinister yellow light;
Trees, houses, grass took on unnatural hues.

Thunder rolled near. The intensity grew and grew
Like doom itself with lightnings on its face.
And Mr Pitt, the grocer's order-man,
Who made his call on Tuesdays at our place,

Said to my mother, looking at the sky,
'You'd think the ending of the world had come.'
A leathern little man, with bicycle-clips
Around his ankles, doing our weekly sum,

He too looked strange in that uncanny light;
As in the Bible ordinary men
Turn out to be angelic messengers,
Pronouncing the Lord's judgments why and when.

I watched the scurry of the small black ants
That sensed the storm. What Mr Pitt had said
I didn't quite believe, or disbelieve;
But still the words had got into my head,

For nothing less seemed worth of the scene.
The darkening imminence hung on and on,
Till suddenly, with lightning-stroke and rain,
Apocalypse exploded, and was gone.

By nightfall things had their familiar look.
But I had seen the world stand in dismay
Under the aspect of another meaning
That rain or time would hardly wash away.


Sophia White said...

Glad you're back! Modernist poetry could certainly use another setback, at least in America. I've got a workshop class that started with poetry (loosely so called), and it's driving me batty. The book we're reading for that class is writing in almost all genres, selected by high-school students as being the sort of thing they enjoy reading. I don't know whether to be more angry or sad at the kind of taste in literature the average American teenager has.

Oh, and I know it's been a while, but I don't have an Amazon account, and though my father does, he hasn't read Pendragon's Heir yet (though I keep saying he should), so I shouldn't be saying things in his name about a book he doesn't know much about. So I can't post my review there. Is there something else I could possibly do?

Joseph J said...

"bronzed and fit" - for some reason I picture Brad Pitt (no relation to the grocer) as Achilles, or Bertie Wooster at the beach trying not to look like a pasty Englishman.

Jamie W said...

Great poem. I love how the subtlety of the rhyme-scheme parallels the celebration of the ordinary.

Suzannah said...

Sophia, James McAuley is always worth a read :). Thanks so much for being willing to spread the word about PENDRAGON'S HEIR. You can recommend it to friends, give copies for birthdays, or leave a review on Goodreads; all that would be immensely helpful. However, I'd also encourage you to get an Amazon account specifically for the purpose of being able to review books that you enjoy. The more reviews an author has on Amazon, the better her chances of promoting and selling the book, which means that leaving reviews specifically on Amazon is one of the most powerful things an ordinary reader can do for the cause of good books generally. :)

Joseph - let's go with Bertie!

Jamie, have you read much of McAuley's poetry? I've got a few other favourites on the blog here, which you can catch on the Review Index, but make sure you don't miss his rousing manifesto A Letter to John Dryden.

Jamie W said...

I have, a bit! I was actually able to talk my academic advisors into letting me include him on an independent reading list (which is subject matter for an oral exam), so there's more of his work in my future.... :-)

A Letter to John Dryden is one of my favorite things, along with Lewis's To Roy Campbell, of which it always reminds me.

Suzannah said...

Ooh, Jamie, I thoroughly approve of that. What a terrific idea!

Annie said...

Excellent poem!

Suzannah said...

Glad you like it, Annie :)


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