Tuesday 1 November 2011

Clocks go back

There has been a long gap between posts - other projects (of which more soon) have taken up my time.

There is so little time to do everything one imagines to do.

Here is one more poem from David Henschel's Heres and Nows.

It refers to that time in England when we change from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time, a time when autumn is well-established, and the trees amaze with gold, copper and red.

This poem is not in the end difficult, but it repays close reading and re-reading. The gold of autumn is ground out of summer by time turning like a mill, and the crocus bulbs dug up by mistake foretell the spring that is to come. So the poem is about time, our relation to time and how that in turn relates to our desire for meaning.

Yet to me the poem is rooted in the present. The very act of digging focusses the mind on the now, as the spade cuts through the earth and finds hidden bulbs.

What does smirrh mean? My Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is silent. The word sounds Nordic. Perhaps it is the cold mist smearing the landscape. The only literary use of this word I could find on the web is in a book by John Nichols called The Last Beautiful Days of Autumn (1982). "...the spears of a million bare aspens - only moments ago bursting with resplendent foliage - create a soft gray smirrh across jagged hillsides."

Back to David's poem. For all the references to past and future, the poem takes its being from the damp-drip earth and greyspit sky - from the sensations of autumn now.

Clocks go back

The clocks are back
Two days gone – still
I can’t get round to it: the mill
Of time revolves on summer hours
When grinding autumn gold.
I shall get used to winter’s white and black
Its boney cold
The morning window’s frozen flowers;

But I was digging round the silver birch
The day clocks closed the summer down –
I’d quite forgotten having sown
Beneath the tangle I was forking out
Narcissi, snowdrops, crocuses.
It’s odd – I’ve registered before
How digging focuses
The spirit’s obstinately endless search
For hopeful signs of what life’s all about.

No doubt it needn’t be admired
(Signs do most often go together)
And yet it touched me deeper than the eye
That when I took the dog a walk, smirrh weather
Today at dusk, testing the novel clock,
Both damp-drip earth and greyspit sky
Glowed russet yet with setting summer fired.

I need – don’t you? – both backlook sigh
And the buried bulb-growth’s shock.