We slept in the still of a late summer dusk When the warmth of the day still hung in the air And the windows yawned open, as all through the dog-days, To catch any breath of a breeze in the night We slept and at two or three in the morning The seasons changed place on their stage of the year. We woke to a white light flash, filling the room And a grumble of thunder far over the sea And a movement of cold caused the curtains to sway, Swung frames on the walls, blew papers about. Susurrus of rain we sensed far, rushing closer, So up out of bed we scrambled at once To shut all the windows, but not quick enough And a wind from the west slapped the house in the face Slammed windows unlatched, knocked a vase to the floor Then the sound of the rain, seething nearer and fast On the trees, on the grass, on the roads, on the glass Of the windows still open, our faces soon wet As we saw Summer flee, written out of the plot And September, the Diva, step into the spot.
September the Diva
It seems appropriate to offer you this as my first post in September.
It’s very nearly a year since I wrote this poem. I’d joined the Writers Abroad writing peer group, and I wrote the first draft as a response to one of their triggers. What the WA group call a “muse”. I think the trigger might have been change. I can’t now be sure. Anyway, I wrote it as a sprint in a free verse format. I posted it on the WA website and got some positive feedback as well as some constructive criticism. I was fairly happy with it, though I knew it wasn’t quite right.
That nagged at me. So a month or so later I came back to it, broke it apart and remolded it. Nearer to the heart’s desire as Fitzgerald/Khayyam might say.
It’s still not perfect, but when is a piece of writing ever? However, I’m pleased with the rhythm, and with most of the places where the rhythm catches like the wind gusting unexpectedly. I’m glad I managed the final rhyming couplet, and tip my hat to my friend Ulla Gabrielsson for the capitalised Summer. The initial capital makes of Summer an actor on the stage, chased off by September the Diva.
The word I’m least satisfied with is susurrus. Not for its obscurity, but only because it doesn’t really suit the sense of the line. I wanted something to suggest the sound of a curtain of rain falling at a distance, coming closer. The alliteration works but doesn’t the word itself seem more associated with wind and rustling?
I probably shouldn’t pick at it too much.
Encouraged by my WA colleagues, I submitted September the Diva to The Poet’s season-themed anthology for last winter. At the same time, I entered it in the competition they were running. To my great surprise it won the competition and first place in the Seasons anthology. This was the first time I’d submitted a poem for publication anywhere in ten years. Also the first time a poem of mine was published in perhaps forty years. I was walking around on the ceiling for a good 48 hours after.
A note on the illustration
The Diva started life as a picture of 19th century opera singer Jeanne Marcy. She sang at Brussels, Marseilles and Paris. The original collector’s postcard of her, from which this portrait is taken, shows her in role as Brünnhilde, Sieglinde or Helmwige from Wagner’s Ring cycle. (She sang all these parts at one time or another.) The Internet doesn’t seem to know when she died, but I don’t think the postcard can be more recent than about 1914, which makes it out of copyright. It’s also to be found in various forms around the Internet, mostly unidentified.
Summer, running away, is taken from an image that seems to be widely available on-line. Google image search gives me more than 300 hits none of which appear to be the original. I am not setting out to infringe anyone’s copyright with this, so if you can prove the picture is yours and want me to remove it, please get in touch.