The poem July Man seems to be a slightly muddled expression of sadness at first reading. Clearly the focus of the poem, identified in the simple couplet from l19: “In the sound of the fountain
you rest, at the cinder-rim, on your bench”
is an elderly man taking his ease in a city park or piece of open ground. He sits on the cinder rim of a fountain suggesting both old age and the endless rushing of time in the metaphor of the fountain which is heard behind him. Possibly the fact that it is not seen suggests that the old man is as unaware as the narrator of time passing him by. The free verse used in the poem helps to suggest this sense of a lack of control or awareness of events since the lack of any clearly identifiable pattern to the poem is suggestive of similarly pattern-free lives.
The July man is placed at the opening of the poem in a description which blends compound adjectives and homophonic devices to establish both his character and his purpose within the poem. “July man” is itself a juxtaposition of ideas which becomes clear at once. Far from a happy, warm response to the title, the initial “old” places the man at the centre of a list of negatives. He is “rain-wrinkled” and “time-soiled”, two compounds which concisely locate him as aged and probably homeless – he is a figure of the aged wanderer who permeates literature in the form of the Wandering Jew amongst other ideas – and he is also in mourning as far as the ear responds to the homophonic “morning man” who “weeps for the dust of the elm trees” in an image which recalls the Christian funeral service as well as providing further clear description of the focal figure. In the final stanza, the man is illuminated by the sun and becomes representative of the weight of the human condition, but before this, the narrator watches and notices the mundane. He is a drinker of cheaply made vegetable alcohol. He is as much of an outcast as the “potato peelings” he distils and is, like them...
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