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This report is taken from PN Review 188, Volume 35 Number 6, July - August 2009.

May with its Light Behaving Neil Powell

It’s one of those lines which might be plausibly cited as a touchstone of poetic greatness: simple and memorable and inscrutable. Is it the behaving that’s light - the frolicsome joys of spring - or the light that’s behaving, its shifting and dancing shadows so much more beguiling than the brutal cut-and-thrust of high summer? Both, dear boy, both. Years ago, the line was used as the title for one of those little loosely themed anthologies which sometimes graced concert intervals on the radio. It’s Auden, of course; and, yes, it’s May.

Almost everyone seems to agree that in Suffolk May and October are the best months - although these days October can quite often stretch through most of November and May begin, as it did this year, in mid-April. One special pleasure is that angled light, more nuanced than summer’s bland glare. Another is those reticent plants whose flowers at first seem almost indistinguishable from their new leaves: grey-white against grey-green of the sorbus in my garden, a tree so lovely now that I’ll try to forgive it for the waxy uncompostable litter it will drop in autumn; or lime-green against deeper green of alexanders, the Roman herb which thrives on coastal verges. And a third is the fragility of it all: a week of sunny calm is abruptly succeeded by those rough winds who do indeed shake the darling buds. An evening of steady rain on the garden pond prompts a dozen or perhaps twenty ...


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