Monday, October 15, 2012

"Desire For Something None Can Say"

Thomas Hardy's old woman "raking up leaves" in his "Autumn in King's Hintock Park" brought to mind the opening lines of the following poem by A. S. J. Tessimond.  Beyond this, I'm not sure that the poems have much in common -- apart from autumn.

                                                Noel Spencer (1900-1986)
                                            "Cloth Hall Mills, Dewsbury"

                    Autumn

Already men are brushing up
    Brown leaves around the saddened parks.
At Marble Arch the nights draw in
    Upon expounders of Karl Marx.

By the Round Pond the lovers feel
    Heavier dews, and grow uneasy.
Elderly men don overcoats,
    Catch cold -- sniff -- become hoarse and wheezy.

Grey clouds streak across chill white skies.
    Refuse and dirty papers blow
About the gutters.  Shoppers hurry,
    Oppressed by vague autumnal woe.

The cats that pick amongst the empty
    Gold Flake boxes, sniffing orts
From frowsy fish-shops, seem beruffled,
    Limp of tail and out of sorts.

Policemen are pale and fin-de-siecle.
    The navvy's arm wilts and relaxes.
With more than usual bitterness
    Bus-drivers curse impulsive taxis.

A general malaise descends:
    Desire for something none can say.
And autumn brings once more the pangs
    Of this our annual decay!

A. S. J Tessimond, Collected Poems (edited by Hubert Nicholson) (Bloodaxe Books 2010).

My response is:  "Ah, it isn't that bad!"  However, I do understand what he means by "vague autumnal woe."  Although I never feel "oppressed" by it. Wistful perhaps.  Bittersweet perhaps.  But never "oppressed."

I also understand what he means by "desire for something none can say." But I wouldn't link it to "a general malaise" that "descends" with autumn. After all, isn't "desire for something none can say" a description of the human condition in general, rather than just a feeling peculiar to autumn? I only presume to speak for myself, of course.

                                  Trevor Makinson, "Street Scene" (1948)

9 comments:

William A. Sigler said...

You always make me feel so un-erudite (I mean this in the best possible way!), Mr. Pentz. That Tessimond poem is absolutely stunning, perfect except for the paint-by-numbers ending that you are dead-on in challenging.

Thanks for increasing my poetic vocabulariy in such pleasurable increments.

bruce floyd said...

Perhaps, perhaps not, Tennyson captures better than Tessimond that mysterious chord autumn sounds in the human heart:

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Sigler: thank you for the kind words -- I'm intent on doing my small part to spread the word about Tessimond's poetry. As for "erudite": nah, not me! But I appreciate the thought.

Yes, the ending is a bit too pat, isn't it?

Thanks for dropping by again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Floyd: thank you for "Tears, idle tears." It provides a nice complement to Tessimond's poem.

As always, thanks for visiting.

Shelley said...

Thanks for the poem. As a writer, I think it's hard to use a word like "frowsy"--carries a pretty heavy patronizing load.

Stephen Pentz said...

Shelley: thank you for visiting again, and for your thoughts.

However, I'm afraid I don't see how "frowsy" "carries a pretty heavy patronizing load." "Patronizing" to the fish-shops? To the owners of the fish-shops? To the patrons of the fish-shops? To the cats sniffing the rots of the fish-shops? I don't get it.

The OED defines "frowzy/frowsy" as (sense 1) "ill-smelling, fusty, musty" and (sense 2) "having a dirty, untidy, soiled, neglected appearance." Thus, for instance (I'm sure you are aware of this example), Philip Larkin refers to "the fusty bed" in Mr Bleaney's rented room. With all due respect to fish-shops in London, I can well imagine that these descriptions might fit at least some of them.

In sum, I cannot see how "frowsy" can possibly "carr[y] a pretty heavy patronizing load."

Signed,
Perplexed.

Stephen Pentz said...

Shelley: P.S.: that should be "orts", not "rots". Spell-check strikes.

Andy McEwan said...

Interesting poem, Mr Pentz, and one I was hitherto unaware of. I don't know that Tessimond would have expected the reader to take his autumnal observations too seriously. He ends with mention of "our annual decay" which, to my mind, suggests it's just a cyclical malaise we go through each autumn and, after all, we Brits like a good moan from time to time, particularly about inclement weather. It's not all "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, you know".
Keep up the good work!

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr McEwan: thank you for stopping by again, and for your thoughts.

Yes, you are right. I should have taken into more account Tessimond's cynical and comic sides (which can at times be quite pronounced). I agree that one needs to read the poem with those sides in mind: he is probably poking fun both at himself and his fellow Englishmen/women. I appreciate your insight into that.

Thanks again.