South African poet Isobel Dixon’s verse collection Weather Eye was originally published in 2001. The titular poem, as a part of the compilation, is a free verse composition dedicated to her parents Ann and Harwood Dixon. It recounts the childhood days spent by the speaker (assumed to be the poet herself) in her home with her family. The deep love for her parents and the longing to return back in time are evidenced in her meticulous description of a typical summer day. South Africa as a country is rich in flora and fauna. Thus, she celebrates quotidian activities, an intermingling of different creatures and landscapes in her work of art.
The poem has a nostalgic tone and a sentimental mood. The stanzas are divided into quintets and sestets alternatively with the last one being a septet. A definite rhyme scheme is absent but there is a constant play of binaries between light and dark, and heat and coolness. The prominent themes running throughout the poem are familial love, nature’s bounty and time.
Weather Eye | Summary and Analysis
Weather Eye | Analysis, Stanza I
In summer when the Christmas beetles
filled each day with thin brass shrilling,
heat would wake you, lapping at the sheet,
and drive you up and out into the glare
to find the mulberry’s sweet shade
or watch ants marching underneath the guava tree.
The poem commences with a recall of the summer days when the speaker wakes up in the morning to an orchestra of beetles accompanying heat waves. The scorching sunbeams compel her to find shelter under a mulberry tree like the ants who find a resort under a guava tree. Nature plays a significant role in every living being’s life because it becomes a medium of interaction for different organisms. The poet employs a metaphor of a brass musical instrument to draw attention to the loud cry-like sounds of the beetles that fill the otherwise silent summer mornings. Heat’s personification as someone waking up the speaker and running hands over the sheet indicates its authoritative and dominating stance over all beings. The alliteration in “sweet shade” reflects the warm welcome the mulberry tree bestows on the speaker. Interestingly, it is not only humans who search for respite in the summers. Tiny organisms like ants end up digging for shade under a tree. The similarity between a man and an ant suggests the equal benevolence nature offers to both without any discrimination. Opposite to nature, humans differentiate amongst themselves like the racial issues inherent in South Africa during the Apartheid.
Weather Eye | Analysis, Stanza II
And in the house Mommy would start
the daily ritual, whipping curtains closed,
then shutters latched against the sun
and when you crept in, thirsty, from the garden,
the house would be a cool, dark cave,
The speaker moves from the outer scenery into the inner recesses of the house with her mother performing the household chores like “the daily ritual” displaying a religious and disciplinary attitude. The mother protects the house from the sun’s rays, transforming it into a “dark cave” leaving it cool and fresh. The imagery of the “dark cave” draws a contrast between the sunny light outside and the shady darkness inside. It is no less than heaven for the thirty speakers who return to the house after toiling in the sunlit garden.
Weather Eye | Analysis, Stanza III
an enclave barricaded against light
and carpeted with shadow, still
except the kitchen where the door was open
to nasturtiums flaming at the steps
while on the stove the pressure cooker chugged
in tandem with the steamy day.
The enjambment renders the house a further description as a safe zone prohibiting the entry of sunlight, giving it a rebellious character. Contrary to the entire house, the kitchen is still lit up due to its open door with flowers on its steps. The cooker like an engine release whistles one after the other and its steam merges with the steamy atmosphere of the summer afternoon.
Weather Eye | Analysis, Stanza IV
And in the evenings when the sun had settled
and crickets started silvering the night,
just home from school, smelling of chalk and sweat,
Daddy would do his part of it, the checking,
on the front verandah, of the scientific facts.
The hours shift to the evening when crickets replace the beetles which gives the night its silver touch. The alliteration “started silvering” exhibits beautiful imagery of stars twinkling at night. The speaker and other children like her return to their houses and encounter their fathers at the gate of the house, who interrogates their academics as all fathers usually do.
Weather Eye | Analysis, Stanza V
Then if the temperature had dropped enough
the stays were loosened and the house undressed
for night. Even the front door wide now
for the slightest breeze, a welcoming
of all the season’s scents, the jasmine,
someone else’s supper, and a neighbour’s voice –
The moderate evenings allow the curtains of the house to be let loose and the house is “undressed for the night.” The personification of the house as a person getting rid of its clothes is riveting as the house achieves temporary freedom from the curtain trappings. The open door allows the slightly cool breeze to enter the house contrary to the expulsion of the sunlight. The alliteration “season’s scents” grants the summer its distinctiveness which is also a token of remembrance for the speaker about her childhood years. Summers are the time when people avoid stepping out of their houseshouses duringduring the day and thus fail to meet other people around them. But the night gives an opportunity to listen to the neighbours’ voices and also their pets’. It gives an impression of life’s existence outside the four walls of the house.
Weather Eye | Analysis, Stanza VI
out walking labradors, the only time of day
for it, this time of year. How well the world
was ordered then. These chill machines
don’t do it half as true, the loving regulation
of the burning days. Somehow my judgment isn’t quite
as sure when faced with weather-signs. Let me come home
to where you watch the skies and keep things right.
For Ann and Harwood
The enjambment accelerates the poem towards the other events at night like walking out dogs which is only possible during the sunset hours in summer. The clouds of nostalgia suddenly engulf the speaker who reminisces about her past days with her family. She believes the world to be in order then in comparison to her current life. The “chill machines” refer to the air conditioners and other technological advancements that are successful in the creation of a barrier between humans and nature. Even though humans achieve relief due to mechanical intervention, they can never compete with the natural order. This last stanza introduces the first-person speaker to the readers who doubt her judgment. Since the global temperature is witnessing a rise every year with a warning by “weather-signs,” the speaker contemplates nature’s efficacy in providing measures against it. She addresses to the readers her yearning to come to their house where it is still possible to be under the guidance of a starlit sky and everything is right.