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Radical Middle

July 2, 2014 | by

John_Constable_-_A_View_at_Hampstead_with_Stormy_Weather_-_Google_Art_Project

John Constable, A View at Hampstead with Stormy Weather, ca. 1930.

July 2 is the midpoint of the year—we’re 182 days into 2014 with 182 to go. This is obscurely depressing, although there is something neat about its falling on a Wednesday. It’s all downhill from here, you might say—although sometimes people use that expression as a positive, meaning smooth sailing, so take it as you will.

Everyone finds New Year’s Day dreary. But summer, for all its promise of leisure and romance and ease, has an urgency that is sad in its own way. From the moment it starts, it’s on the wane—days ever shorter, relentlessly shifting sands in a Wizard of Oz–style hourglass. Outside my window, someone is actually playing “Summertime” on a saxophone. He’s probably thinking that we are in New York in hot weather, and it is iconic. The pressure is immense. The high-pressure weather is stifling.

Ashbery touched on it. “Soonest Mended” is about much more than the mundane, although it conjures the mundane vividly. Amidst the dissection of proverb—and allusions to pressures of art, and youth, and time—he manages to put into words the particular melancholy of the midpoint.

Alas, the summer’s energy wanes quickly,
A moment and it is gone. And no longer
May we make the necessary arrangements, simple as they are.
Our star was brighter perhaps when it had water in it.
Now there is no question even of that, but only
Of holding on to the hard earth so as not to get thrown off
With an occasional dream, a vision: a robin flies across
The upper corner of the window, you brush your hair away
And cannot quite see, or a wound will flash
Against the sweet faces of the others, something like:
This is what you wanted to hear, so why
Did you think of listening to something else? We are all talkers
It is true, but underneath the talk lies
The moving and not wanting to be moved, the loose
Meaning, untidy and simple like a threshing floor.

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