Margaret Avison is a well-known poet in Canada and around the world. Her thesis has transcended time and space, and it is now widely read and discussed. One such poem is July Guy. Avison’s poetry questions the truth of growing old, the experience acquired over age, and the facets of life that remain a mystery to mankind. Avison employs a variety of literary instruments, including sound, diction, and syntax, to elaborate on her thematic message. Readers can only successfully decipher the message behind her poems by critically analyzing and evaluating those machines.
Mood In her poem July Man, Margaret Avison challenges aging, and places significant emphasis on the intricacies of human life, drawing attention both to the negative aspects as well as the hopeful ones. At its core, Avison’s poetic tone offers a pivotal critique of humanity, through the character she presents that is the July Man, which in turn reveals the transient nature of the human soul. When reading through her poem, July Man, one becomes increasingly aware of an expression of sadness within the tone of the poem at the beginning. The ‘July Man’ as purposed by the poem, constitutes a juxtaposition of ideas. He is described as being “rain wrinkled” and time-soiled.” These are indicators that the July man is old, and by extension, has experienced various cruelties of life that have left his frail and desolate. The July Man is a representation of a wanderer, who has aged and who “weeps for the dust of elm trees.” He embodies the human spirit of adventure, while simultaneously portraying the mundanity of life and the quest for new meaning in life. This can be noted when he is illuminated by the sun, as with each day, hope manifests itself in human existence and is the reason for our continued life in this world.
Avison’s July Man also extenuates a profound use of wording in order to convey the poet’s message. Her choice of words, particular adjectives, paints a picture of a nostalgic theme, laden with a description of the various elements of life that the July Man found to be beautiful or admirable in the past. For instance, the analogy of the potato as enumerated by Avison, is a testament to the changes that take place in life, with the rotting of the potatoes and its consequent peeling being representative of the past occurrences that the July Man once thought to be good, but because of the passage of time, have since become but nostalgic memories. Avison also uses diction to explicate the once flourishing cities that the July Man has experienced in his past endeavors. “In this grass-patch, this city gardener’s place, under the buzzing populace’s.” Avison, through diction, is able to paint a vivid picture not only of the July Man but of humanity’s descent from advancement to depravity. “The rushing river of cars” as extenuated by Avison, describes the nature of the world, always moving, never stopping and never looking back. However, she contrasts this perpetual movement of the world, with the stillness of the heart, “a heart-stopping” as she puts it. July Man, in this instance, uses diction in order to extenuate the paradox between life as an ever moving existence, and the ability of human beings to reflect upon a moment of significance, thereby existing in that moment.
The poem, in some instances, does little in the way of syntax. This can be attributed to the need for the poet to utilize diction in the freest possible manner. Syntax in most cases imposes constraints on the words that a poet can employ to the poem. Because of this, Avison in her poem disregards syntax, particularly in the first stanza. As the reader goes through the first stanza, it seems more like a long enumeration of consciousness, which lacks traditional syntactical structure, and with respect to this, the stanza is unclear as to whether it speaks on the July Man or the potatoes. Margaret fully utilizes the literary freedom that is available to her, and in this regard, pays little tribute to syntax in place of proper and concise diction that serves to convey her message, arguably in a much better way than syntactical structure could have.
As is the case with many poets, Avison utilizes literary devices such as tone, syntax, and diction in order to achieve poetic prowess. The tone of the poem is a somber one, as the July Man stanzas take the reader on a ride, through the memories of the man, from the rush of a city as evident through the river of cars, the “Sunday Strollers and summer evening families” among others. Avison portrays such themes through diction and the use of select wording that define paint a picture of the July Man and the wisdom, or lack thereof he portrays in his old age. Margaret Avison extenuates both the hope of humanity and simultaneously the despondency of life as we know it.