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… soon to be installed in honor of Ted Hughes, UD looks at one of his poems.

September

We sit late, watching the dark slowly unfold:
No clock counts this.
When kisses are repeated and the arms hold
There is no telling where time is.

It is midsummer: the leaves hang big and still:
Behind the eye a star,
Under the silk of the wrist a sea, tell
Time is nowhere.

We stand; leaves have not timed the summer.
No clock now needs
Tell we have only what we remember:
Minutes uproaring with our heads

Like an unfortunate King’s and his Queen’s
When the senseless mob rules;
And quietly the trees casting their crowns
Into the pools.

*********************************************

Let’s look more closely.

September

[A funny month, neither here nor there. Summer still, but there are suggestions of fall. The poet locates his poem in this emotionally vulnerable season, its warmth and light and profuse life slowly being undone by something darker and colder. Transitional states make us, of course, think of time and its slow but unstoppable motion.]

We sit late, watching the dark slowly unfold:
No clock counts this.

[Lovers sit in a windowed room, embracing passionately and watching night come up. Engrossed in one another and in the soft gradual rhythms of the natural world, they don’t feel the passage of time. A perfect moment of infinite bliss. Yet the  word “late,” meaning not merely late at night but late in the summer season, already signals trouble.]

When kisses are repeated and the arms hold
There is no telling where time is.

[A repetition, or a deepening, of the first two lines, with the very nice formulation “arms hold.” We do not merely hold one another in a steady embrace; our arms, like some mechanical object we’ve successfully repaired, “hold.”  There’s a sense already of the tentative, jerry-built nature of this “hold.” Note also the linguistic care taken here, with variations of the soft s and the short i throughout – sit, this, kisses, is, is… Makes for a lulling feel which fits the lovers as they sit in a timeless trance.]

It is midsummer: the leaves hang big and still:

[See how he’s still doing it? It, is, mid, still…]

Behind the eye a star,
Under the silk of the wrist a sea, tell

[Infinity of light in the eye; oceanic endlessness in the body — This is love, which transcends time, which creates its own glorious world of permanence amid a world of impermanence.]

Time is nowhere.

We stand; leaves have not timed the summer.

[Now, in full night, the lovers get up to go to bed. Their passionate embraces are over. The poem is about to make a significant shift in mood and theme.]

No clock now needs
Tell we have only what we remember:

[From the idea of their needing no clock because their love triumphs over time, we move, with their standing up, to the idea of their needing no clock because they are so aware of their transience that they need no clock to remind them of it.]

Minutes uproaring with our heads

[Not only are they aware that they are slaves to time and not the eternal lovers they felt themselves to be before;  they positively scream with the painful awareness of their own brevity. Each minute uproars within their heads as they break away from their bliss into the world of time.]

Like an unfortunate King’s and his Queen’s
When the senseless mob rules;

[Off with their heads!  When the arms no longer hold, the head gets all mobbed up with the senseless, brutal world outside the beloved’s embrace.]

And quietly the trees casting their crowns
Into the pools.

[From an entire sea under the silk of the wrist we end in sad little pools into which the life of the lovers – their late summer leaves, their crowned heads, their crowning moment – is cast.]

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One Response to “To mark the Westminster Abbey memorial plaque…”

  1. Mr Punch Says:

    Very good. I do think, though, that in Britain September is more definitely autumnal than it is here.

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