A SWEET disorder in the dress Kindles in clothes a wantonness : A lawn about the shoulders thrown Into a fine distraction : An erring lace which here and there Enthrals the crimson stomacher : A cuff neglectful, and thereby Ribbons to flow confusedly : A winning wave (deserving note) In the tempestuous petticoat : A careless shoe-string, in whose tie I see a wild civility : Do more bewitch me than when art Is too precise in every part.
By Robert Herrick
Fair Daffodils, we weep to see You haste away so soon; As yet the early-rising sun Has not attain’d his noon. Stay, stay, Until the hasting day Has run But to the even-song; And, having pray’d together, we Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you, We have as short a spring; As quick a growth to meet decay, As you, or anything. We die As your hours do, and dry Away, Like to the summer’s rain; Or as the pearls of morning’s dew, Ne’er to be found again.
When darkness hovers over earth, and day gives place to night, Then lovers see the Milky Way gleam mystically bright, And calling it the Way of Love they hail it with delight.
Joyce Kilmer, Summer of Love
by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.
In Minnesota, May is the month of trees even more so than the splendor of the fall. Minnesotan’s come out of a long winter eager for the warmth of spring. The bare and brown trees tease us all April long, with hints of green and growing things. But it isn’t until May that the canopy is filled with as many colors of green as the mind’s eye can imagine. Then, about the middle of the month, crab apples and lilacs fill our neighborhoods with their delights. By Memorial day their blossoms will be gone, their sweet smells a reminder to slow down, close your eyes and breath.
The beauty of this year’s greenness got me thinking about poems about trees. It’s what lead me to James Emanuel’s poem A Fool for Evergreen. Of course the most famous poem about trees is Joyce Kilmer’s Trees. I asked a good friend of mine who was in her 90’s at the time a few years back; “what are some of your favorite poems?” The first one she recited from memory was I think that I shall never see…. I was surprised. It feels like such a simple poem for her sophisticated and educated pallet. I hate to say I had even found Kilmer’s Trees a bit cliche prior to writing this entry. But of course I hadn’t realized Kilmer died in World War I as a young soldier, on a brave and fool hardy mission, in which lives were shed needlessly, as easily as petals fall from the trees. I had not stopped to listen to her reverence for the poem through her eyes until today.
Kilmer entered the army as a statistician for the New York National Guard in the summer of 1917, shortly after the death of his daughter Rose and the birth of his son. He left his wife and newborn son with visions of writing a book of prose and poetry based on his wartime experiences. The reality of being a soldier drained him of his creative energy and he wrote little during the final 9 months of his life. He arrived in France in November 1917 and like so many young men of that war, who thought there was glory to be found, found something else was waiting. By spring of 1918 he was volunteering for ever more dangerous assignments putting him in harms way at the front lines, possibly out of survivor’s guilt. On July 30, 1918 he was shot and killed while as an advance scout for the 165th Infantry Regiment in an open field, at the crest of a small hill, trying to identify the precise location of a nest of German machine guns that were raining down death upon his comrades.
I didn’t think about it until now, my friend who was born in the early 1920’s, that in her grade school years the healing from World War I had barely begun for the families scarred by its tragedies. She memorized Kilmer’s poem in grade school a decade after Kilmer’s death, probably from a lesson plan taught by a young female teacher; Kilmer’s poem both a way to honor those that they had known who had died in the war and as a primer for young students for a life long love of literature. The poem is sometimes looked down in the halls of literary criticism for its simplicity, an object that is not valid in my mind. Simple poems, in my opinion, are the foundation of literature that offer a foot path into the vault of our adult imaginations.
Do grade school children memorize poetry anymore? What poems will become their primers for healing for the dissonance of the past couple of years? Are the poems that this generation memorizes in childhood similar or different than the past? What literature is lurking beneath the beats of hip hop and Tik Tok, countless young people absorbing its artistic energy, without the rest of us even aware? A hundred years from now, what poems will people share with each other from this decade? Do you have a poem that has touched your heart in a different way these past two years that you will carry with you from here forward in a different light, a perfect light about you? In what form did that poem come to you? You may not even realize how it has buried itself under your skin until that day you find yourself saying it out loud to a friend….
by Joyce Kilmer
Tired clerks, pale girls, street cleaners, business men, Boys, priests and harlots, drunkards, students, thieves, Each one the pleasant outer sunshine leaves; They mingle in this stifling, loud-wheeled pen. The gate clangs to—we stir—we sway—and then We thunder through the dark. The long train weaves Its gloomy way. At last above the eaves We see awhile God’s day, then night again.
Hurled through the dark—day at Manhattan Street, The rest all night. That is my life, it seems. Through sunless ways go my reluctant feet. The sunlight comes in transitory gleams. And yet the darkness makes the light more sweet, The perfect light about me—in my dreams.
You have no place in this garden
thinking such things, producing
the tiresome outward signs; the man
pointedly weeding an entire forest,
the woman limping, refusing to change clothes
or wash her hair.
Do you suppose I care
if you speak to one another?
But I mean you to know
I expected better of two creatures
who were given minds: if not
that you would actually care for each other
at least that you would understand
grief is distributed
between you, among all your kind, for me
to know you, as deep blue
marks the wild scilla, white
the wood violet.
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
Far from this foreign Easter damp and chilly My soul steals to a pear-shaped plot of ground, Where gleamed the lilac-tinted Easter lily Soft-scented in the air for yards around;
Alone, without a hint of guardian leaf! Just like a fragile bell of silver rime, It burst the tomb for freedom sweet and brief In the young pregnant year at Eastertime;
And many thought it was a sacred sign, And some called it the resurrection flower; And I, a pagan, worshiped at its shrine, Yielding my heart unto its perfumed power.
Mirror in February
by Thomas Kinsella
The day dawns, with scent of must and rain, Of opened soil, dark trees, dry bedroom air. Under the fading lamp, half dressed – my brain Idling on some compulsive fantasy – I towel my shaven jaw and stop, and stare, Riveted by a dark exhausted eye, A dry downturning mouth.
It seems again that it is time to learn, In this untiring, crumbling place of growth To which, for the time being, I return. Now plainly in the mirror of my soul I read that I have looked my last on youth And little more; for they are not made whole That reach the age of Christ.
Below my window the wakening trees, Hacked clean for better bearing, stand defaced Suffering their brute necessities; And how should the flesh not quail, that span for span Is mutilated more? In slow distaste I fold my towel with what grace I can, Not young, and not renewable, but man.
March is a muddy dog Muddy boots, a muddy slog Muddy kitchen, muddy jeans In March we march in mud it seems.
With arms outstretched, shouting stop Barring all with broom and mop Parents tire of the constant chore, Cleaning foot prints from the floor.
If muddy March is your downfall, Show you’re not a neanderthal. Take off your shoes at the door, Don’t track across a nice clean floor!
And though in March it’s a bother, Grab the dog by the collar. Prevent paw prints on the carpet. Wash their feet before they’re on it.
Mud does not limit itself to farms, but there is an extra helping of mud if you have livestock and daily chores. Years ago I lived on a small acreage and had a few furry beasts, more pets than livestock. At the time we lived in an old two story farm house with good bones. One of its best features was a mud room, an entry area where you could disrobe out of work attire and take off your shoes or boots before entering the kitchen. It served as a containment area for the dog and cast as well so that you could wipe off their paws before allowing entry into the kitchen. The kitchen was enormous, bigger than the dining room with a large wood stove towards the center that made everything cozy.
This was a well built farm house from the early 1920’s, with traditional features like hard wood floors and leaded glass windows on the first floor. In the 1980’s the wood kitchen flooring had been covered over with indoor/outdoor carpeting with a rather ornate pattern, in browns and golds and dark greens. It wasn’t attractive or unattractive, it was practical because it was easy to clean and disguised whatever dirt remained when you inevitably tracked some inside. We were young and broke and so it was not on the top of the list to replace when we moved in but was on the bucket list to do someday.
Our son was only a little over two that first spring in the house and with a newly arrived puppy and cat that had moved from barn to house when it got cold we had our hands full. One Saturday morning in March we came down and had coffee, made breakfast and were chatting for awhile, catching up on the week and generally enjoying the warmth of the kitchen, when in near simultaneous movement we both looked down at our son who was sitting on the floor smiling up at us. In slow motion we watched as he raised his right hand up to his mouth realizing he was about to suck on the head of dead mouse like a pacifier. My wife let out a shriek that peeled paint off the ceiling and my son dropped it and started crying. A prodigious scrubbing occurred in the sink of his hands and face as my wife shuddered not wanting to know if the head of the mouse was wet. She looked at me uttering one of the classic lines that occur in marriages; “from now on, I want flooring in our kitchen I can see the dead mice.” I silently agreed as I winked at the cat and disposed of the offender.
Like Pastan’s sentiments below, I find that pets remind me that I am not as much in control of my life as I would like to believe. Pets introduce a level of unpredictablity that is both hilarious and heart breaking. Pets are a reminder of how fast life speeds by and to enjoy it like “anything can happen.”
The New Dog
by Linda Pastan
Into the gravity of my life, the serious ceremonies of polish and paper and pen, has come
this manic animal whose innocent disruptions make nonsense of my old simplicities-
as if I needed him to prove again that after all the careful planning, anything can happen.
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
— Margaret Atwood
by Sara Teasdale
The spring is fresh and fearless
And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight,
The lilac brimmed with dew.
Here in the moving shadows
I catch my breath and sing–
My heart is fresh and fearless
And over-brimmed with spring.
After several cold weeks, and taunting frosts, spring is finally busting out. Just when we thought we would never turn off our furnaces, the forecast has a high that starts with an 8 in it next week. Lilacs are scenting Minnesota air and a seemingly infinite variation of green abound everywhere I look.
Lilacs are magic. They are for Minnesota gardeners what might constitute as an aphrodisiac, inspiring more than a few to take a bath, scrub the dirt out from underneath their fingernails and get a hair cut. Lilacs and crab apple blossoms lead directly to lily’s of the valley, and from there it feels like almost anything’s still possible this summer. Almost anything, even baseball.
Here’s a little ditty I wrote this week, reminding myself not to take Spring so seriously this year…. Lighten up. It’s Spring!
by T. A. Fry
Lily of the valley’s dainty bells,
Faintly ring – Spring cast its spell,
Peonies and iris are on their way.
It’s worth the wait, to wait for May.
Go on, outside, look about!
Rains in May make mushrooms sprout.
Try peering at the forest floor,
Trillium and elves are more than lore.
Look down, then up, take a step,
Drink in the scent the lilacs wept. And if good fortune brings morels, Leave some for our friends – the elves.
Absent Place—an April Day—
To the Souls that snow—
Drift may block within it
Deeper than without—
Daffodil delight but
Him it duplicate—
Over The Land Is April
by Robert Louis Stevenson
OVER the land is April,
Over my heart a rose;
Over the high, brown mountain
The sound of singing goes.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain,
Love, do you hear me sing?
By highway, love, and byway
The snows succeed the rose.
Over the high, brown mountain
The wind of winter blows.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain
I sound the song of spring,
I throw the flowers of spring.
Do you hear the song of spring?
Hear you the songs of spring?
A Song of a Second April
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.
There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
In orchards near and far away
The grey wood-pecker taps and bores;
The men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.
The larger streams run still and deep,
Noisy and swift the small brooks run
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun,
Pensively,—only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.