Glory be to God for yellow fruit

Bananas are back! We are celebrating their return with gusto. Also the mangos have arrived from their northern climes, sweet and succulent, smelling of paradise. But king among the yellow fruits is lemon. My favourite thing at the moment is pasta with lemon, chilli and garlic - unbelievably good. Lemon with thyme on chicken or potatoes works a treat, and lemon desserts beat chocolate hands down in my book. I can't sufficiently rhapsodise this fruit. But Pablo Neruda could. Here's his mouth-puckeringly exquisite poem “A Lemon.”

Out of lemon flowers
on the moonlight, love's
lashed and insatiable
sodden with fragrance,
the lemon tree's yellow
the lemons
move down
from the tree's planetarium

Delicate merchandise!
The harbors are big with it -
for the light and the
barbarous gold.
We open
the halves
of a miracle,
and a clotting of acids
into the starry
original juices,
irreducible, changeless,
so the freshness lives on
in a lemon,
in the sweet-smelling house of the rind,
the proportions, arcane and acerb.

Cutting the lemon
the knife
leaves a little cathedral:
alcoves unguessed by the eye
that open acidulous glass
to the light; topazes
riding the droplets,
aromatic facades.

So, while the hand
holds the cut of the lemon,
half a world
on a trencher,
the gold of the universe
to your touch:
a cup yellow
with miracles,
a breast and a nipple
perfuming the earth;
a flashing made fruitage,
the diminutive fire of a planet.

Still the unresting castles thresh

I can't remember enjoying an essay on a poet by a novelist as much as I enjoyed Martin Amis on Philip Larkin in the Financial Times. Amis's essay is rich, pungent, razor sharp and unshakeably convinced of Larkin's greatness. It's lovely watching him dismantle the criticism that makes Larkin ‘minor’ because of its own misguided snobbery, and kick away some of the rubble of correctness that still litters writerly lore. It's refreshing to read someone interested primarily in literary effect, and mostly regardless of politics, reputation, or canon.

Amis cites the concluding lines of “The Trees” as an example of Larkin's “instantly unforgettable” quality, and his ability as a phrasemaker of many registers. It has a particular resonance this week as the last, yes the very last, week of winter. Cold, naked Canberra is coming into bud; blossoms are blossoming, green shoots are shooting. Amis calls the poem an “onomatopoeic prayer for renewal.” Like other Larkins, it has a demotic simplicity that's deceptive. Rhyme and heavy alliteration disguise the complexity of thought, the deep ambivalence of a primarily ironic cast of mind. He wants to but can't quite believe the promise: the trees almost say, seem to say, that life is renewable, but it's a trick, he knows the truth. But he's caught by beauty anyway, and the trees have the last tantalising word.

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Intimations of mortality

I confess to returning Brenda Walker’s Reading by Moonlight to the library unfinished. It’s an intimate, meandering meditation on how books helped her survive breast cancer and its treatment, at points very lyrical. Adrift in dark waters, her lights are works of imaginative literature and what others have written about death, love, family, and loss. I read the first few chapters and found myself a tearful mess. I resolved not to finish it, but still there followed one of the most piteous and unshakeable moods of gloom I’ve had this many a day; a realisation that though nothing’s wrong yet, by getting married I’ve knowingly signed up for eventual wrenching loss; combined with a generalised regret at the lot of humans who must all bid a bittersweet goodbye - for me never far from the surface.  Dawkins or Hitchens or somebody like that wonders why Christians don’t look eagerly for death. At one level he’s right, and we do, but at another, we could hardly be human if we didn’t feel the pathos of this ultimate severance. John Ames, the hero of Gilead, is sure of his salvation, but nonetheless filled with sadness at the ending of his long loved life.  In Gethsemane, Jesus is ‘overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ a state which must have comprehended more than the simple fear of pain or loss of friends. I believe in the resurrection – the remedy for mortality – but that belief has never made my heart hard to the thought of going. Like Walker, I find that literature helps. My gloom was dissipated by a good sleep, a kind spouse, and a dose of poetry. This is that skylark Hopkins (a better guide than Hitchens or Dawkins) and his poem “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and the Comfort of the Resurrection.”

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle in long lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indignation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief's gasping, joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

A brittle heaven

Enough of Christmas - the new year is upon us, and Christmas is again a year away. I thought this poem by Emily Dickinson was apt for anyone meditating new year's resolutions as I am.  This time of year always fills me with hopes, always convinces me that there is a centre toward which my life will at last converge. Usually lasts till about March.

Each life converges to some centre
Expressed or still;
Exists in every human nature
A goal,

Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be,
Too fair
For credibility's temerity
To dare.

Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,
To reach
Were hopeless as the rainbow's raiment
To touch,

Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;
How high
Unto the saints' slow diligence
The sky!

Ungained, it may be, by a life's low venture,
But then,
Eternity enables the endeavoring

Made in Heaven

We are wed and honeymooned, and life continues on. When I reflect on our wedding day it's with mingled emotions. The things I prayed hardest for in the weeks preceding were good health and fine weather. Neither of these prayers were answered. In spite of ill health and foul weather, we managed to plight our troth (troths?) in some joy, but I have a lingering grizzle, not unlike my lingering cough, and the lingering drizzle outside, about my unanswered prayers.

It's quite unreasonable, I know. Especially when I think about the texts we chose and the words Alistair spoke over us. Our reading was Deuteronomy 11:8 - 21, and Al talked about the land we were entering as a land of hills and valleys, joy and sorrow. Joy follows sorrow, he said, as birth follows death, and spring follows winter. We promised to love each other in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, in plenty and in want. Why shouldn't this unfaltering love in a faulty world begin on our wedding day? Why should I expect an eerie brightness to fall on that day when every day thereafter would be a pied beauty, a dappled thing?

I'm also coming slowly to see the truth of the poem we chose: Robert Frost's “The Master Speed.” 

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still -
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.

Life is only life. A wedding day is not a special day. It is only the first day. The first of many travels, through hills and valleys, through winters and springs, together wing to wing and oar to oar.