Week 423: Summer Sun, by George Barker

Continuing last week’s theme of lost love, this week something in a very different style by George Barker (1913-1991), a colourful character who was associated with a neo-romantic 1940s movement known as the New Apocalyptics. It’s not a group whose poetry I feel much affinity for, its diction too strained and artificial for my taste, and even this poem seems to me very uneven: I can’t be doing with fishlipped lovers kissing catastrophes, but I feel the fourth stanza in particular does achieve a memorable lyric quality. An influence on the group was Dylan Thomas, and one Dylan Thomas is, well, I won’t say more than enough, but I will say enough. And yet, despite the fact that the movement was supposedly in reaction against the poetry of the thirties, it seems to me that the echoes I detect here are much more those of Auden than of Dylan Thomas.

Summer Sun

I looked into my heart to write
And found a desert there.
But when I looked again I heard
Howling and proud in every word
The hyena despair.

Great summer sun, great summer sun,
All loss burns in trophies;
And in the cold sheet of the sky
Lifelong the fishlipped lovers lie
Kissing catastrophes.

O loving garden where I lay
When under the breasted tree
My son stood up behind my eyes
And groaned: Remember that the price
Is vinegar for me.

Great summer sun, great summer sun,
Turn back to the designer:
I would not be the one to start
The breaking day and the breaking heart
For all the grief in China.

My one, my one, my only love,
Hide, hide your face in a leaf,
And let the hot tear falling burn
The stupid heart that will not learn
The everywhere of grief.

Great summer sun, great summer sun,
Turn back to the never-never
Cloud-cuckoo, happy, far-off land
Where all the love is true love, and
True love goes on for ever.

George Barker


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