Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spring And All*

Ault Park daffodils on April 10, right before it started raining and never stopped.

It is hard to concentrate. It's like I've returned to high school and the shining sun and humid air has me completely restless and drunk on the smell of lilacs and the sight of daffodils. Which is then only pulled out from under me when it starts pouring rain again. And again. And Again.

April is, indeed, the cruelest month.

APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain.

T.S. Eliot, 1922
The Wasteland

Consider this my spring poetry thesis (from dead white guys), because as I thought of that stanza, which I memorized a hundred years ago not because I had to, but because I couldn't not remember it, I thought of about a half-dozen more poems about spring and April that cut to the quick of this jarring season.

Leave it to poets to take the freshness of spring, when everything is supposed to be hopeful and new, to remind us of this yearly rollercoaster of longing and wishful thinking.

Eliot's "lilacs" brought my mind to Walt Whitman's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, Whitman's public mourning over the assassination over President Lincoln, and the "sprig of lilac" he intends to lay at his coffin.

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Walt Whitman, 1865

Every returning spring, Walt? Ouch.

Since studying Wordsworth in English litch-rah-cha I can't see a daffodil and not think of the lines:

I wandere'd lonely as a cloud…

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils

Wordsworth, 1804

But whatever joy and promise Wordsworth gave me in his Daffodils, Ted Hughes took it away when I read his Daffodils in Birthday Letters, his deathbed response to his wife, Sylvia Plath's, suicide.

Our lives were still a raid on our own good luck.
We knew we'd live forever. We had not learned
What a fleeting glance of the everlasting
Daffodils are. Never identified
The nuptial flight of the rarest epherma-
Our own days!
We thought they were a windfall.
Never guessed they were a last blessing.

Ted Hughes, 1998

Read the whole poem. Go ahead. And I challenge you to find me a more heartbreaking, nostalgic, bittersweet and remorseful poem about spring and death and relationships. Or daffodils, for that matter.

Now that we are all duly hopeful for better, sunnier days while filled with regret over gray skies and rain, who wants wine?!

Come over, we'll discuss. New topic: How to disable your car's airbag, because if we're gonna be up all night boozing over heart-wrenching spring poems we'll wanna die in the crash.

But let me end on a sunny note of spring here.

Though April remains the cruelest month, ee cummings' joyful, made-up words 'mud-luscious' and 'puddle-wonderful' from In Just make mud and rain seem fun, no? I could no more explicate this poem than I could cure heart disease (what, in the hell, are you talking about, ee?) but In Just has a vibe to it like it's a wet and wonderful spring whatever planet he's living on.   

* Of course the title of this post is after a William Carlos Williams poem of the same title, with the title parenthesis, By the Road to the Contagious Hospital. So, you know, there's that ray of sunshine too.

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