Billy Mills

Augustus Young: A Notelet

Like many readers, my first encounter with the work of Augustus Young was through reading his 1972 New Writers’ Press collection On Loaning Hill and beyond the playful intelligence at work, one of the first things that struck me about him was that he is, at heart, a love poet, albeit a love poet of a particular, one might almost say peculiar, kind. And love poetry is a thread that runs through his work, through all the memoirs, satires, translations, and so on, especially in the various editions of his Dánta Grádha: Love Poems from the Irish and the late masterpiece m.emoire. However, for the purposes of this notelet, I want to focus on a short poem from On Loaning Hill, the first in a set of short, numbered pieces called ‘Lovelets’:

From a static point of view
Laburnum, Magnolia, Rhododendron
are more beautiful than you:

I saw you move among them
and their blossom turned to
insignificance.

This poem has something of the quality of an Elizabethan sonnet re-written by Imagist-era Ezra Pound. The Elizabethan strain of intelligent wit is something of a constant in Young’s work, particularly in the satires, but here it is reduced to an essence. Formally, the poem seems to me to owe something to the haiku; four of its six lines are seven syllables in length and the interplay, the intertwining of the human and natural reflects something of the Imagist borrowings form the Japanese.

However, what interests me most is the way sound patterns form part of the sense of the poem. The clipped, controlled, understated tone derives mainly from the preponderance of short vowels that provides a kind of sonic evenness that creates that sense of gentle realisation that is the pivot of the poem.

And sonically, that pivot is marked by one of the two long vowels in the poem, that first person singular pronoun that opens the second triad, the seeing eye that changes and is changed by the moment of love. These patterns of sound may not be consciously planned, but neither do they happen by accident. They are instances of the poet’s ear at its instinctive work. They are, in short, the poet’s work.

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The Duras Press

The Duras Press