Even bees, the little almsmen of spring bowers, know there is richest juice in poison flowers.
On Seeing the Elgin Marbles
by John Keats
My spirit is too weak—mortality Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep, And each imagined pinnacle and steep Of godlike hardship tells me I must die Like a sick eagle looking at the sky. Yet ‘tis a gentle luxury to weep, That I have not the cloudy winds to keep, Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye. Such dim-conceived glories of the brain Bring round the heart an indescribable feud; So do these wonders a most dizzy pain, That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude Wasting of old Time—with a billowy main— A sun—a shadow of a magnitude.
“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Instructions on Not Giving Up
by Ada Limon
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees that really gets to me. When all the shock of white and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin growing over whatever winter did to us, a return to the strange idea of continuous living despite the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then, I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
by John Clare
The spring is coming by a many signs; The trays are up, the hedges broken down, That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines Like some old antique fragment weathered brown. And where suns peep, in every sheltered place, The little early buttercups unfold A glittering star or two–till many trace The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold. And then a little lamb bolts up behind The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe, And then another, sheltered from the wind, Lies all his length as dead–and lets me go Close bye and never stirs but baking lies, With legs stretched out as though he could not rise.
“I am two fools, I know, For loving, and for saying so.”
The World’s Last Night
by John Donne
What if this present were the worlds last night?
Marke in my heart, O Soule, where thou dost dwell,
The picture of Christ crucified, and tell
Whether that countenance can thee affright,
Teares in his eyes quench the amasing light,
Blood fills his frownes, which from his pierc’d head fell.
And can that tongue adjudge thee unto hell,
Which pray’d forgivenesse for his foes fierce spight?
No, no; but as in my idolatrie
I said to all my profane mistresses,
Beauty, of pitty, foulnesse onely is
A signe of rigour: so I say to thee,
To wicked spirits are horrid shapes assign’d,
This beauteous forme assures a pitious minde.
Holy Sonnet: XII
by John Donne
WHY are wee by all creatures waited on?
Why doe the prodigall elements supply
Life and food to mee, being more pure than I,
Simple, and further from corruption?
Why brook’st thou, ignorant horse, subjection?
Why dost thou bull, and bore so seelily
Dissemble weaknesses and by’one mans stroke die,
Whose whole kinde, you might swallow and feed upon?
Weaker I am, woe is mee, and worse than you,
You have not sinn’d, nor need be timorous.
But wonder at a greater wonder, for to us
Created nature doth these things subdue,
But their Creator, whom sin, nor nature tyed,
For us, his Creatures, and his foes, hath dyed.
The impulse to create is pure, self sufficient, its own reward or punishment.
Vernon Scannell, A Proper Gentleman.
by Vernon Scannell (1922 – 2007)
My son aged three fell in the nettle bed. ‘Bed’ seemed a curious name for those green spears, That regiment of spite behind the shed: It was no place for rest. With sobs and tears The boy came seeking comfort and I saw White blisters beaded on his tender skin. We soothed him till his pain was not so raw. At last he offered us a watery grin, And then I took my billhook, honed the blade And went outside and slashed in fury with it Till not a nettle in that fierce parade Stood upright any more. And then I lit A funeral pyre to burn the fallen dead, But in two weeks the busy sun and rain Had called up tall recruits behind the shed: My son would often feel sharp wounds again.
Happy Easter. It is a late spring after a cold winter in Minnesota. In my part of the world, regardless the date Easter falls, the minute a farmer puts down his fork after eating ham on Easter Sunday, they think its time to start planting. Patience will be required this year, as the soils are still too wet, the frost is still in the ground, and fields are not fit for spring planting activities to commence. Fresh snow fell across much of the state in the past week. A patient April reigns supreme.
I am personally in need of a James Wright kind of spring; one where in a flourish I suddenly blossom, a spring where the world is in a hurry to become a kaleidoscope of color. We don’t always get what we want. We don’t even get what we need sometimes. In the words of my Mother, a wise, long time kindergarten teacher, “you get what you get, so don’t get upset.” It works for what’s left on the cookie plate and for dealing with mother nature.
In contemplation of Easter’s story of sacrifice, I ponder if human kind is capable of evolving from a state of conflict to a process of resolution or is all peace a solitary and temporary detente? I spent time reviewing religious sonnets with Easter themes and came away from all of them feeling grim. Not the kind of emotion I wanted to share today. Instead I decided to think of Easter as a prayer for our collective sons. What do we wish for our children? Happiness, prosperity, a life well lived. When are we going to stop sending sons (and daughters) into contrived battles of our own making and set them free to live their own lives? Conflict is a generational curse, passed down as an obligation, an inheritance, unless people have the courage to change course. Who will change the course of the war in Ukraine? If it left to the battle field, the conflict will only be seeded deeper in the fertile Ukrainian soil. Easter can also be a story of transformation, rejuvenation, re-birth, the best of what Spring has to offer. What re-birth awaits for you in the coming month? What transformation do you summon the courage to awaken?
by Mihaela Moscaliuc
for my son, enwombed
May you harvest your language from the alphabet of butterflies, may their wings brushstroke your name on translucent scrolls, filter air for your breath, teach you flight the way I can’t.
May you preserve the wisdom with which you arrive, the metaphors through which you’ll first parse the world, the moon always a ripe banana, always within reach.
May your fingers tease and probe all truths. It’s not the grain of sand, as we hold dear, but organisms wayward in their drift that, trapped, abrade the oyster’s flesh.
Errant breather smothered into loveliness, the pearl has its own song. If you drag it ashore
language loses meaning, so bring your ear to the ocean floor. There, neither fish nor son, eavesdrop.
Neither fish nor son yet, call sister sister and lie awhile by the echo. While there, bless the echo and learn
Give me my rein, my syce! Give me my rein!
I have a need of it, an absolute need,
To climb upon the bounding back again
And curb the bad, mad gambols of my steed.
‘Tis strange we are thus parted—by no lust
Of mine, but rather blind, unwearied force
That worked upon the sinews of my horse,
And drove me from him, howling in the dust.
Now he is neither gentle, kind nor quiet,
And he strives (though vainly) to outleap his girth,
While right and left the armed hooves are hurled.
Oh Destrier! bethink thee that this riot
Shall, in the end, bring neither rest nor mirth….
Only the heaviest bit in all the world.
By Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son
From weariness I looked out on the stars And there beheld them, fixed in throbbing joy, Nor racked by such mad dance of moods as mars For us each moment’s grace with swift alloy. And as they pierced the heavens’ serene deep An envy of that one consummate part Swept me, who mock. Whether I laugh or weep, Some inner silences are at my heart. Cold shame is mine for all the masks I wear, Belying that in me which shines and sings Before Him, to face down man’s alien stare— A graceless puppet on unmeaning strings, I that looked out, and saw, and was at rest, Stars, and faint wings, rose-etched along the west.
by Léonie Adams – 1899-1988
When I stepped homeward to my hill, Dusk went before with quiet tread; The bare laced branches of the trees Were as a mist about its head.
Upon its leaf-brown breast the rocks Like great grey sheep lay silentwise, Between the birch trees’ gleaming arms, The faint stars trembled in the skies.
The white brook met me half-way up, And laughed as one that knew me well, To whose more clear than crystal voice The frost had joined a crystal spell.
The skies lay like pale-watered deep, Dusk ran before me to its strand And cloudily leaned forth to touch The moon’s slow wonder with her hand.
Why has our poetry eschewed The rapture and response of food? What hymns are sung, what praises said For home-made miracles of bread?
University of One
by Franz Wright
And I’ve lost my fear of death here, what death? There is no such thing. There is only mine, or yours– but the world will be filled with the living. Mysteriously (heavy dear sky-colored book), too, I have been spared the fate of those who love words more than what they mean! My poem is not for example a blank check in pussyland anymore, nor entry in the contest for the world’s most poignant suicide note. Now I have to go–, but meet my friend Miss April snow.
by James Wright
All right. Try this, Then. Every body I know and care for, And every body Else is going To die in a lonliness I can’t imagine and a pain – I don’t know. We had To go on living. We Untangled the net, we slit The body of this fish Open from the hinge of the tail To a place beneath the chin I wish I could sing of. I would just as soon we let The living go on living. An old poet whom we believe in Said the same thing, and so We paused among the dark cattails and prayed For the muskrats, For the ripples below their tails, For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making under water, For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman. We prayed for the game warden’s blindness. We prayed for the road home. We ate the fish. There must be something very beautiful in my body, I am so happy.
Writing poetry is talking to oneself; yet it is a mode of talking to oneself in which the self disappears; and the product’s something that, though it may not be for everybody, is about everybody.
The Death of A Toad
by Richard Wilbur
A toad the power mower caught, Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim, Low, and a final glade.
The rare original heartsblood goes, Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies As still as if he would return to stone, And soundlessly attending, dies Toward some deep monotone,
Toward misted and ebullient seas And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia’s emperies. Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear To watch, across the castrate lawn, The haggard daylight steer.
In the spring of 2019, all the factors aligned for a small explosion of baby toads the end of May everywhere in Minneapolis. It had to be the right combination of moisture, temperature and soft moon light for toad pick up bars. Regardless suddenly in every back yard, every front yard and in every school yard, where there was even a tiny bit of grass and shade there were baby toads in multitudes. Fortunately the lawn that I was helping to keep cut, was tiny, with ample places for baby toads to hop off to safety. The first mowing, with Wilbur’s poem firmly in my mind, I went slow, mowing around them mindfully, even leaving some grass uncut where there were too many toads to let pass in the pedestrian zone. But the things that help baby toads prosper are the same things that nurture grass, and so with the lawn turning into the rough at the U. S. Open after a week and it being even harder to see them, I tearfully admit there was some carnage. Okay, there was lots of carnage, the herd was thinned. By mid June I was still trying as best I could to mow around the survivors, but I began to realize that sometimes when I purposefully went on the other side of a toad I spotted in my path, it would at the last minute jump into harms way, possibly suicidal over the loss of his pals from this evil contraption built to torment them from the week ago, or on a fools errand, sent by the toad general to make a mighty stand against the steel tank. It never ended well, no ceremonial burial beneath the rhubarb like Wilbur, no 21 gun salute. By August I stopped trying. I realized I actually killed less, and by now we were down to maybe .001% of the original population, if I just moved in a straight line at a reasonable speed and let them get out of the way. The survivors had figured it out as long as I acted consistently, the tornado staying in tornado alley where it belongs.
Despite my first hand summer long reality TV experience with Richard Wilbur’s famous poem, you would think I had figured it out then. In fact, Wilbur’s poem just made me more annoyed as the summer passed, I disliked it all the more. It felt pointless, the poem and all the toad slaughter. It wasn’t until the Ukraine war began, and men, women and children, unarmed, are being attacked by tanks, that I suddenly had a connection to Wilbur’s poem. I have no idea what Wilbur intended when he wrote it, but it feels to me like the poetic narration to the CNN clip of the family killed in a mortar attack crossing the street in Kyiv, their deaths replayed over and over again on YouTube, their heart blood seeping out on the pavement.
The problem right now, for me, is that its harder and harder to believe that good always defeats wrong, that light always overcomes darkness. Does it? Not for that family. Not for George Floyd. And maybe the point of Wilbur’s poem is to remind us of this fact; sometimes you have to get lucky and hop at just the right moment in the right direction.
Last night on the way home from work I stopped by my local Trader Joe’s to pick up a few things. There was a car alarm on a late model Toyota going off a few cars away in the parking lot, blaring its sad song. I went in and shopped and came out and it was still at it. Just as I started pulling out of my parking spot, a man approached me, shivering, asking if I could roll down my window. I stopped and we looked at each other for maybe two seconds. We were the same age. He was conspicuously under dressed for the current temperature and wind chill. He had fear in his eyes and I realized I probably did too. The spate of high profile car-jackings across the Twin Cities the past year running through my mind and he probably thinking the same, “is this guy crazy?” I rolled down my window. He said; “I am the biggest idiot in the world, but I think I locked my keys in my car, and I set off the alarm trying to get in, can you help me?” A white person calls the police when you lock your keys in your car and they send out a nice young cop to unlock it for you, even free of charge in Elk River, or they dispatch a tow truck with a door jimmy. In Minneapolis, black men do not call the police to help them open their cars. I said; “sure, hop in.” He guided me to his house about 4 miles away, and he said as we pulled up, “I will be right back, I know where my extra key is, it will only take a minute.” He looked me up and down briefly. His eye’s downcast, imploring silently, unsaid; “are you going to take off the minute I get out?” I didn’t. He came back in about 3 minutes. We drove back and chatted the whole way. I asked him “where are you from?” He said, “Queens”. I asked, “Mets or Yankees?” He laughed, “Yankees!” I said “damn, those Yankees eat the Twins for breakfast.” He laughed again and said, “you have no idea how much I appreciate this.” As we approached his car, he hit the fob and the alarm stopped. I fist bumped him as he climbed out, winked and said, “We were on a mission from God!”, doing my best Blues Brothers imitation. He smiled and said, “I loved that movie. I still lived in New York when Belushi died.” To which I thought, man, was that death pointless….
by Richard Wilbur
Berkeley did not forsee such misty weather, Nor centuries of light Intend so dim a day. Swaddled together In separateness, the trees Persist or not beyond the gray-white Palings of the air. Gone Are whatever wings bothered the lighted leaves When leaves there were. Are all The sparrows fallen? I can hardly hear My memory of those bees Who only lately mesmerized the lawn. Now, something, blaze! A fear Swaddles me now that Hylas’ tree will fall Where no eye lights and grieves, Will fall to nothing and without a sound, I sway and lean above the vanished ground.