SONG AT SUMMER’S END
Down in the park the children play
rag-happy through the summer’s day
with dirty feet and freckled faces,
laughing, fighting, running races.
Dull against the smoky skies
the summer’s heavy burden lies,
leaden leaves on tired trees
lacking supple limbs like these.
The skyline shows the shape of life,
tomorrow’s world of sweat and strife,
fifty stacks and one grey steeple.
Down the street come factory people,
folk who used to play on swings
dodging chores and apron-strings
to wrestle on the grass and run
barefoot with the fleeting sun.
Some of the kids are sailing boats:
the first leaf drops unheeded, floats
and dances on the muddy pond.
Shadows from the world beyond
lengthen, sprawl across the park;
day rolls onward towards the dark.
From the clock-tower wreathed in smoke,
Time speaks gravely, stroke on stroke.
A R D Fairburn
When I became interested in New Zelaand poetry A.R.D.Fairburn was one of our leading lights. He has since rather dropped below the radar. But I’ve been re-reading him.
Last weekend there was a neighborhood children’s party near-by. As I listened to the shouts, squeals and laughter, Fairburn’s lines vaulted into my mind, ‘rag-happy down in the park the children play.” He wrote in depression days when ‘rag-happy’ was an accurate description. It still is, in too many instances, but the sound of children at play is a constant through the generations. That carefree merriment of youth, how regrettable is its erosion over time. It’s a very urban poem. Of course, today’s children tend to face an office future, rather than an industrial one. Also, of course, childhood is not all merriment.
In my youth there might have been a war on and our parents were recovering from the depression years but my cousins and I played noisily together. My mother’s parents had 18 grandchildren. 11 of us met a few years ago for a cousin’s reunion. As I looked around the room, faces wrinkled by the years, another line from this poem also sprang to mind. ‘Time speaks gravely stroke by stroke.’ What power lies behind that word ‘gravely’ as the generations pass through. The poet's words span time.