Friday, March 13, 2009

Poetry Friday: Knoxville: Summer 1915

This short prose poem is gorgeous in its simplicity and rhythms, and in the power of its final lines.

It opens with the gentle, rocking rhythms of a summer night, the routines that soothe and reassure, the people and mundane events so familiar. With lyrical precision, Agee conjures an evening we can see, hear, taste, breathe in. And then, just as we are languidly dozing with the narrator, we see and feel something different, something powerful and sad, and often real and true.

Knoxville, Summer 1915

--James Agee

It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds’ hung havens, hangars.

People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt; a loud auto; a quiet auto; people in pairs, not in a hurry, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber.


After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

Read the entire piece here (scroll about 2/3 of the way down the page for the text.)

You can listen to it Samuel Barber's version of it, set to music, here.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup.


  1. That is ... what word is best here, to encapsulate the gentle power of this piece? ... captivating.

  2. Oh thank you for the poem and for Barber. I love Barber but don't know this work. How gorgeous, how heartfelt, how evocative. I'll be listening to it again.

  3. I need some of that kind of slow!

  4. I adore this! You might like my recent poem...

    Hope you will stop by! Oh..and I am following on Twitter! :)