Content

Afternoons

Summer is fading:
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground.
In the hollows of afternoons
Young mothers assemble
At swing and sandpit
Setting free their children.

Behind them, at intervals,
Stand husbands in skilled trades,
An estateful of washing,
And the albums, lettered
Our Wedding, lying
Near the television:
Before them, the wind
Is ruining their courting-places

That are still courting-places
(But the lovers are all in school),
And their children, so intent on
Finding more unripe acorns,
Expect to be taken home.
Their beauty has thickened.
Something is pushing them
To the side of their own lives.

Analysis

Like ‘First Sight’, this poem connects the idea of seasons with the passage of time. “Summer is fading” immediately evokes a sense of loss in the emotive verb “fading”. Even the day is in its decline in the “afternoon” and the plural on the title gives a sense that the scene painted in the poem applies to many days, and to life in general.

The poem focuses on “young mothers”. Though these women are in fairly well off positions, with “husbands in skilled trades”, higher than the old middle-class women in ‘Faith Healing’, their lives are like the “hollows of afternoons”: there is a sense of the emptiness in domestic life, in which they now nothing but “an estateful of washing”. That they are “Setting free their children” gives a sense of their own entrapment, and desire to break away.

The seasons mark how time changes their lives. “The wind / Is ruining their courting places” now, as autumn and winter approach, and the juxtoposition of “And the albums lettered, / Our Wedding, lying / Near the television”, shows that their marriages and love have now, somehow, been pushed aside and reduced, casually placed beside the “jabbering set” (‘Mr Bleaney’) to never be viewed.

Despite still being “young”, their lives have been superseded, for those places are “still courting places / (But the lovers are all in school)”. Now they have entered into the snare of domesticity, children have replaced their place. Instead, their “children, so intent on / Finding unripe acorns” (a hint that though they are young now, they will eventually grow into the same cycle) “expect to be taken home”. The verb “expect” commands the women; their children and the thousand other domestic necessities trap them. “Their beauty has thickened” is a wonderful metaphor for captures the signs of age, the beauty of youth filling out…

The final two lines sum up the rest of the sad, sympathetic poem: “Something is pushing them / To the side of their own lives”. They have now become spectators in life (shown in their “assemble” to watch the children in the first stanza), and are powerless to prevent the unknown and threatening “something”, domesticity.

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