Monday, April 26, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Umbra by Julian Heyes


I am born at sunrise,
my long shadow
obscuring the path ahead.

At noon I am a midday man,
each confident stride
outstripping my scrap of shadow.

And as sunset approaches
I shuffle,
the weight of my shadow
dragging me back by the heels.

When a child dies,
her long shadow lingers
and deepens mine.

                                   Julian Heyes

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Julian Heyes is a friend from the 1970s who has surfaced again, just recently, thanks to Facebook. Another friend, Simon Wright, started posting photos of us all at that time: perms, short shorts, high-waisted jeans - you know the sort of thing. And there's Julian with the shortest shorts of all and the best legs. 

Legs aside (and pretty shapely sideburns, too), Julian turned out to be rather good at, well,  everything. A Rhodes Scholar, even. He studied plant biology, and is now Professor of Postharvest Technology at Massey University. So it came as no surprise to discover, last week, that he wrote poems as well. 

Spotting the Tuesday Poem page on Facebook, Julian emailed me this poem. It came out of the blue and rather stopped me in my tracks.  I found the image of a child's shadow lingering and deepening the shadow of a grown man deeply affecting - and still do.  

I like the poem's simplicity, and the way it is both intimate and mythical all at once - the 'I' as ordinary man getting through the day, and as Everyman moving through life. An earlier title was 'This Transitory Life.' 

An Umbra is the darkest part of a shadow or, strictly, the part of the shadow where all light from a given source is excluded.  Thanks, Julian.

Tuesday Poem


T. Clear said...

I'm always a fan of the sparest of spare poems...this is so lovely, so succint.

Kay McKenzie Cooke. said...

It says so much about so much in a small space. I hope he keeps writing poetry! said...

This poem reminds me of a movie I saw some years ago at the Film Festival - I've cut and pasted the synopsis from Wiki "The film tells three different stories about women struggling for identity in Iran.[1] Hava is a young girl who, on her ninth birthday, is told by her mother and grandmother that she has become a woman. She may no longer play with her best friend, a boy, and must wear a chador when outside the home. Deciding that Hava was born in the middle of the day, her mother decides to let her postpone her fate until noon. Hava plays with her friend, waiting for the shadow to disappear from a stick pushed upright into the ground.[2]"

Hava's story was so simple and potent with the shadow moving towards Noon - something similar to the "death of a child".

Tim Jones said...

This is a lovely use of extended metaphor - it would be great to see more of Julian's work.