Monday, October 17, 2011

"Autumn Evening"

Today was one of those "golden clear-blue autumn days" (to quote Steve Forbert's song "Search Your Heart" from Streets of this Town).  But these bright days are becoming ever shorter.

                         Autumn Evening

Autumn is easy, when disappointed leaves make scenes
At parting for ever from perennial boughs,
When naked laburnums in small front gardens pose
Their glistening limbs obliquely in the chilly rain.
Summer, too beautiful to appreciate,
Prints many yellow copies of defeat;
The brown sensations blow about the street
Or, thrown away by the wind, obstruct the grates.
But most in the earlier evenings someone's face
Flares for a moment at a match, or the lamplight
Cleans the darkness from a smudgy bough:
It is myself, and the mind descends like night
With infinite possibilities of truth
Upon the terraces that have taken place.

Stanley Cook, Woods Beyond a Cornfield: Collected Poems (1995).  Stanley Cook (1922-1991) was born in Yorkshire and worked as a teacher there for most of his life.  His poems contain an interesting mixture of both the urban and rural features of the area.  Thus, for example, you find poems by him titled "M1 at Woolley Edge" and "Leaving Huddersfield by the A616." His poetry deserves a wider audience.

I cannot say that I have ever fully puzzled out the last three lines of "Autumn Evening."  The final line -- "upon the terraces that have taken place" -- I find particularly elusive.  What are "the terraces"?  Serried rows of houses in a Yorkshire town?  The empty boughs of trees?  Or something more abstract?  Or none of the above?  But the line is beautiful whether or not I know exactly what it means.  I am content to leave it at that.

                 Algernon Newton, "The Surrey Canal, Camberwell" (1935)

4 comments:

S R Plant said...

I see what you mean but for me it's difficult to imagine “terraces” meaning anything other than the terraced houses that dominated Northern English towns, and still do for all I know (but then I'm biassed as I was brought up in such a house – we even had a “naked laburnum”!).

ghostofelberry said...

In Huddersfield at least, where i lived for nearly 30 years, "the terraces" generally means terraced council houses. There is a weird contrast between the beauty of the landscape thereabouts, and the general ugliness of the buildings, the newest being the ugliest of course. There are areas where terraces seem to have sprung up overnight like mushrooms, ruining an otherwise wild place. They indeed seem to have "taken place", meaning they happened, and they have seized a place. However, there is (perhaps) a sense of a fait accompli, that here they are, abrupt, not fitting, like an unexpected event, and they are a part of the autumn also, with no single answer, no human explanation. One can imagine someone from a few centuries before, coming to 2011 and feeling that these buildings have "taken place" like a sex crime. But they are also human dwellings; and in a weird way they half-fit in Huddersfield, in their awkwardness and affront. It is a wild landscape and not fit for nice cottages or explanations or comfort. The people are savage and half-bestial, as i well know, for i am of that stock.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Plant: I agree. I suppose it is the unusual (for me, at least) phrase "that have taken place" that throws me for a loop. But elberry's comment (see above) has certainly helped me out on the use of that phrase in connection with terraced houses.

As always, thank you for your thoughts, and for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

ghostofelberry: thank you very much for your thoughts on "the terraces that have taken place" -- your explanation of the use of "have taken place" in this context makes wonderful sense. The idea that they sprang up like mushrooms -- that they simply happened -- is right on the mark.

And here is the serendipitous part (which you may already be aware of): Stanley Cook was, like you, a resident of Huddersfield. He taught at Huddersfield Polytechnic from 1969 to 1981. Small world, as they say!

Thank you for visiting again, and for your solution to my conundrum.