The Personality of Days

Welcome to Monday, the up-and-at-it day underpinned with a note of forced jollity used to chivvy oneself along. It’s easier to start the week when it is bright, like it was this morning, waking, as I did, to a light sifting of snow on which the sunlight bounced to sharpen the blue of the sky.

I was recently reminded that different days have different moods and personalities. It happened in a new café on my street, where Lara from Wicklow lamented January while she prepared my coffee. She told me her parents had escaped to the sun for the month while she’s trying to breakthrough with this new business. ‘Should I have a cinnamon bun with my coffee?’ I asked her. ‘What day is it?’ she answered. I was perplexed by her response. Why was the day of the week of relevance? On the counter, packed tight in the tray, the buns looked fresh out of the oven. Was she indicating that on certain days they might not be fresh? ‘Thursday,’ she said to herself, after consideration. ‘Yes, you should. There’s always room for a cinnamon swirl on a Thursday.’

And she’s right. It’s easy to be kind to oneself on a Thursday, the day of the week that holds a mix of achievement and expectation, a day when the back of the week has been broken, the bulk of one’s work should be done, and what’s left feels more manageable. Thursday is the bridesmaid of the week, shining, though not too much, the pressure of the good-time weekend hasn’t hit, but the good feeling about it has begun.

A while back, in trying to explore the personality of days, I matched each day to a poet. Why not?

MONDAY is Philip Larkin, bookish, serious with small heavy round spectacles pushed up high onto the bridge of his nose, tie made up in a tight Half Windsor. He wears a tweed jacket, not his best, but not one of the shabby weekend ones either. This one is a year or two old, one of those hanging to the right of the wardrobe (he has a system). To the right, weekday workwear. In the middle, weekend garb. To the left, jackets for parties and literary gatherings. Monday and he’s bound to the library. He smooths down what little hair remains on his crown with a little Brylcreem, lifts an umbrella from the coat stand by the stained-glass door, and pulls on a raincoat. He’s ready to walk the streets of Hull and begin the new week. “Days are where we live,” says Larkin soberly opening the door onto Monday.

TUESDAY is Stevie Smith, mousey and diffident, masquerading as a plain-clothes nun. But there is a giggle in her. A joke. Something playful that’s hidden, until you look more carefully and see a little rainbow in her eye – those eyes that point downwards at her cheekbones as though she is sad. Her mouth slopes like a tightrope walker’s pole as he regains his balance. Hers is a thinking mouth; she might even be chewing the inside of her lip. It’s lunchtime and she is taking a break to walk in Broomfield Park. Stevie is Tuesday, there is no hurry in her, she works evenly, steadily. “Pad, pad, pad,” says Smith, walking under a line of sycamores with laughter in her voice.

WEDNESDAY is Patrick Kavanagh, ponderously ploughtering ditches, lifting a blackthorn stick to address the farmer on the ridge beyond. Stuck in the middle of Ireland, he knows exactly what he needs to do to get out of his stuckness, but he’s not prepared to do it. He is mired in Wednesday, but he’s comfortable there. He is muddy, he is determined, he is resigned. He is an old horse pulling the plough. His bar is set low and his expectations are always met. He is both steady and flighty. He’s a dreaming realist. Jokes don’t make him laugh, they make him philosophical. “Here crows gabble over worms and frogs / And the gulls like old newspapers are blown clear of the hedges,” says Kavanagh as he jabs the ground with a sally rod pulled from the hedge.

THURSDAY is Sylvia Plath wanting to jump-start the weekend. She’s the one who tries to persuade everyone to get the weekend going early. She’s all cheer-girl American fun, all modern blonde bangs and everyone goes along with her until they realise that it’s not the weekend at all and that she’s burning out like a comet. Now she’s lying draped in the corner, overcome with a deep melancholy no-one wants to witness, lest it infects them. She whispers lines that frighten the others, things that nobody understands, yet the beauty of her words echoes in their heads, trapped there like a curse. “She lifts one webbed foot after the other / Into the still, sultry weather / Of the patients’ dining room,” they hear Plath say as they slip off home, leaving her there alone.

FRIDAY is WH Auden, rumpled and smoking and tired. He is done in. The tie has come off, three shirt buttons open. He pours himself a huge bourbon and decides to sit up all night and work. He’s been so productive since the benzadrine – given the old man a new lease of life, much more so than his young lover ever did – going off with other young men and coming back to him for food and board. Made him feel like a father, not a lover. He misses England, but not enough to go back. Sometimes he hears the bells of York Minster ringing in his pill-fuelled sleep, and he is a boy again, walking along the Petergate cobbles to school. Nowadays his version of partying all Friday night is to write more. “The world needs a wash and a week’s rest,” he mutters at the page. And maybe he does too. Sometimes we all need an early Friday night.

SATURDAY is Ted Hughes, mercurial, magnetic, gorgeous, grave, talented, tainted. You want this day to last forever. Languish in bed in the morning, roll in long grass in the afternoon, briefly stop for breath and stare up at the red kites circling in the sky, sit in the bow of a boat in the evening and watch his bare arms ripple as he casts a rod, read Tarot cards after dinner, then dance late into the night. He whispers lines of poetry into your ear, his eyes piercing yours from under a tumble of thick hair, his words spoken from a determined jaw. “Now I hold creation in my foot,’ Hughes says of a hawk, of some despot, of himself. “I am going to keep things like this.” But he didn’t keep anything, did he? Not her, or her, or her. Beware Saturdays, they may let you down, crash and burn, but they may also bring salvation.

SUNDAY is Mary Oliver, quiet and composed and wise. In winter she is draped in a pale blue pashmina, in summer she wears blush-coloured linen. Her silver hair is swept to one side, the sand at low tide, and she looks up with the wisdom of enlightenment. “One day you finally knew what you had to do,” Oliver says to us all. She is our high priestess. She doesn’t tell us what to do, but wills us to know for ourselves. It is the end of the week, the end of the line, the end of days. “Determined to save the only life that you could save,” she says, enigmatically. She makes us look back on the week we have lived, and challenges us to do better in the week to come.

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