Thursday, April 8, 2010

Two Poems for Spring


In earlier posts I mentioned William Carlos Williams, the American poet who was also a physician. You'll recall that poignantly funny poem about the man dancing alone and the poem about someone eating all the plums

His poems rely on sensual imagery to create meaning and because of the stark contrasts of the season—torrents of rain turn to brightest days and scrubby vines suddenly flower, this seems a perfect method for writing about what Spring means.

Spring and All


By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens; clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance —Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

Over the years, students have debated with me about who “they” are in line sixteen. The description “naked” evokes the idea of newborn child. Maybe this goes with the idea that the physician is driving from the hospital where he was caring for human beings though the rest of the poem’s imagery has to do with the outdoors and nature.

But these are entwined, aren’t they? The idea of spring and new birth? Especially when contrasted with those recovering in a hospital at the end of a muddy and lifeless road. I like the idea of “the stark dignity” of the entrance of life. Whether plant or human, it’s startling and messy but the importance gives it dignity.

Here’s a poem different in language use and style but one that also marvels at the powerful dignity and energy of life so astounding in spring:

Spring


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. —Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worth the winning-Gerard Manley Hopkins

A dear and brilliant student once told me this was just another dumb Christian spring poem and couldn’t we read something a little more edgy. I suppose the first line might scare someone into thinking that it is Hallmark-y, but I think what sets it apart (even if Christian, spring poems are not your thing), is the language use.

True, the poem celebrates, like most spring poems do, the beauty of re-emerging life. But this is a vital thing to celebrate. True the poem ends with a reference to the problems that began for man and for the earth in garden of Eden, but this is a reality we must face. The problems with people’s behavior and with the environment are realities a thoughtful person must consider. The poem says that Spring reminds us of what life was like before anything went wrong.

For just a few glorious days we can picture, and whirl around in a world that is as full of life and beauty and hope as it was meant to always be.

The marvelous and startling language can be difficult because this poet has a playful (some students say diabolical) tendency to alter the expected rhythm and to pun in a rare way by using a word as both a noun and a verb. Consider the lines, “Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush /Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring/ The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;”

I think in the phrase “thrush/ Through” thrush can mean the bird and it can mean the action of the bird. Either way, the line gives the picture of the bird swiftly winging past with the bright sound it its call.

But my favorite idea in this section is “Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens.” The eggs' blue shell connect them to the blue of the sky, to the grandeur of it, to our feeling of joy and amazement at seeing it. But the life the eggs contain hidden within their "little low heaven" suggests that the heavens themselves are full of the relentless power of life, hidden, sheltered. It suggests that our lives, held in a physical body as perfect and fragile as an eggshell, was meant to be something heavenly after all. 

Any thoughts dear readers? Any favorite poems about spring?

2 comments:

  1. We can still disagree about the thrush, but I love that Williams poem because he doesn't use any verbs until "spring approaches" and everything is action rather than static image after that.

    -Caleb

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  2. 1. William Carlos Williams is a funny guy. I read him in my creative writing class..
    2. You got me to like poetry with Hopkins. He's great.
    3. Daffodils by William Wordsworth and A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost

    -Jackie

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