‘A cold dark keeps arriving, punctually, sooner’
Shortly after finishing her first collection, The Forage House (2013), the American poet Tess Taylor began interning on a small farm in rural Massachusetts, planting peppers and studying soil composition in the area. Heavily influenced by the work of Hesiod and John Clare, her next collection, Work & Days (2016) – which Stephen Burt called “our moment’s Georgic” – was inspired by that year of living close to and working the land. Describing her project in a recent interview in Mass Poetry, Taylor said “I spent time trying to weave continuities between old poetics of farming and new ones in ways that felt genuine. I wanted to feel the act of attempting to connect to food and the earth as radical”.
“Daylight Savings”, first published in the TLS in 2002, bears the mark of someone who pays close attention to the rhythms of the seasons. Taylor’s choice of the sonnet form and her repetitious rhyme scheme also echo our own human attempts to impose structure on the natural world, especially where time is concerned. Daylight Saving Time, or DST, was first proposed in 1895 by the New Zealander George Hudson, who worked as an entomologist and used the longer daylight hours in summer to collect his insect specimens. At first glance, the “extra hour” gained by the poem’s speaker also seems an unasked-for “gift”, reminding her of “easy August days” and “making the passing morning lighter”. Yet by the afternoon, she sees the downside of this strange bargain we strike each autumn: in order to gain that earlier light, we must also resign ourselves to the “cold dark” of a night that comes ever “sooner” as winter approaches. Like the dormant fields themselves, we must let our own “illusions” of summer finally “falter” as we admit the truth of another year’s inescapable passing.
How strange it is as we verge on November
and the fields go bare, and days grow tighter
to wake and find, as if from thin air
an unexpected gift: An extra hour.
This generosity recalls the summer’s
easy August days, time and desire
to make long love and read the paper,
both. Unanticipated leisure
makes the passing morning lighter.
The sun on empty vines and stubble fields seems cleaner.
Encroaching thoughts of cold seem further off.
Seem – that is to say, these are measured offers:
by afternoon the light’s late illusion falters.
A cold dark keeps arriving, punctually, sooner.
TESS TAYLOR (2002)