A Prayer in Spring
By Robert Frost
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
It was my birthday this week, I turned a speed limit. A most excellent age to be I have decided! Gone are the pretensions that I’ll get in better shape and run a marathon again. Instead, I’ve settled comfortably into a modest layer of middle age fat and come to grips that better only implies getting more comfortable with my infirmities and eccentricities. The good thing is mostly everything still works as a factory original. There are only a few age spots on the chassis and though it’s in need of an oil change, that can be arranged.
A birthday tradition going back a number of years is for me to see Greg Brown at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. The Cedar is a miserable, uncomfortable, stifling hot theater whose air conditioning never works because it’s a non-profit. It is located in the arm pit of the West Bank of the University of Minnesota. Neither he, nor the venue, nor the aging hippies attending, have changed much, the smell of pot overwhelming on the patio during intermission.
Why do I put up with going to the Cedar when there are umpteen better venues to see live music in the Twin Cities? It’s because it’s where I have to go to see Greg. I like to remember when sitting on folding chairs in a shit hole made me feel right at home. It grounds me that I haven’t gotten too big for my breeches. I can sweat right alongside the white-collar ex-hippies who all wish he would give up on this place and go play the Turf Club where the toilets don’t have a line half way around the lobby and the whole place doesn’t stink of urine from the homeless pissing on the concrete outside The Weinery next door. (Wish I was making this up, but even fiction can’t get that creative).
Brown plays the Cedar every year around my birthday. He has the current distinction of being the musician I have seen play live, more than any other, only because I have been going to see him since 1979 on the West Bank. Back then at the long since defunct Coffee House Extempore, the venue that the musicians headlining on Prairie Home Companion would often play for tip money the night before going on air with Garrison Keillor.
I have aged with Greg. I remember him as a lean, leather clad long-haired hipster, then as a rotund, overweight middle-aged hick in overalls, to now a slimmed down old man in a felt hat and faded sport coat. I remarked last night when he walked on stage, “damn he’s lost some weight” and the three overweight men all around me, looked at me wishing they had too.
Greg is not a great singer. He’s an average guitar player. What he is, first and foremost is an outstanding story-teller. His songs get under my skin. His music is the music of the midwest, the music of my landscape, the music of my experience. It is music that has marked time in my life and will continue to do so. Greg is the father of Pieta Brown, also one of my favorite musicians. Great songsmanhip runs in their blood.
Greg talked about his love of poetry and specifically William Carlos Williams last night. He admitted he lifted the title for his song Spring and All from WCW before he played it. I think WCW would be honored. Although Brown’s lyrics are not in any way related to the poem, they have one thing in common; each is the genuine voice of the artist that created them.
Spring And All
by William Carlos Williams
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 wild carrot 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