Green leaves and blossoms

Do you ask what the birds say? The Sparrow, the Dove,
The Linnet and Thrush say, ‘I love and I love!’
In the winter they’re silent — the wind is so strong;
What it says, I don’t know, but it sings a loud song.
But green leaves, and blossoms, and sunny warm weather,
And singing, and loving — all come back together.
But the lark is so brimful of gladness and love,
The green fields below him, the blue sky above,
That he sings, and he sings: and for ever sings he —
‘I love my Love, and my Love loves me!’

I came across this bit of Coleridge in the Children’s Book of Verse I was reading to Olivia this morning. It’s the same book I had as a child, with illustrations by Eric Kincaid. I remember the pictures of Tennyson’s mermaid and merman, dreamy in undersea green and purple, and Jack Frost and Winter the Huntsman, spangled and delicate in silver and snow white. But it was this bit of spring carolling that caught my eye today. I’ve been watching the buds and blossoms, the beginnings of leaflife on all our neighbouring trees. Some of the cherries, peaches and other blossomers are finished already. The Japanese maple and the claret ash finally have their first tiny fronds. I’m not quite as attentive to birdsong, though I hear our local birds — magpies, mynahs, crows  — begin when I’m awake as the sun rises, putting the baby back to bed, hoping for another hour or so of sleep. For my own sake as much as Olivia’s, I call our attention — hers glancing, peripatetic; mine fragmented, addled by media — to these birds and buds, gracing our garden with their slow unfolding. Helping her notice this waking world and its green resurrection, bringing it to the blooming, singsong regions of her imagination, is one of the deeper joys of this season, this springtime of her life and mine.


Another winter afternoon. It's many months since I wrote anything here, or wanted to, or had the time. As I wrote in the wake of my first baby, babies seem inimical to writing. Now we are four, I think how leisurely life was then, how much less we had to do with one than with two. Again, it's wonderful, but I wonder at how anyone copes, especially the ones on their own, and the ones who might as well be. I wonder at how normal frantic is, and how frantic normal is. I have this recurring thought that this is the middle, the midstream. We are in the midst of life: in the thick of work and the lark, the plunge of parenting. Enrollments and appointments and payments. The relay run of playgroup and play dates and library books. The buckling of belts, the folding and unfolding of prams. The duck into the chemist, the dash into the grocery store, kids in tow. Wipes for everything; a veritable infinity of washing. Nappies in handbags and on bedside tables - places that used to hold books. And all this before we even begin down the still more crowded route marked 'School.' I try to remember all those sayings about short days, long years, passing seasons; try to relish the moments with a delicious baby and a delightful four-year-old, at the same time trying to remain clean and sane, on a modicum of sleep. My daydreams are about hot showers (with the door closed) in minimalist hotel rooms with thick, crisp sheets and stacked towels, little islands of silence and cleanliness. One day, maybe. But not for years yet. Not till we make landfall on the other side of infancy. I think about the Frost poem from our wedding -

 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...

That power - if we ever had it - seems remote in the rush of everything.  But in the middle of all this locomotion, this cataract called 'normal,' there are days, hours, when all is calm, all is bright. Sometimes they last long enough for me to write about them. 

These wild solitudes

Another of my long silences. This one denotes a winter of discontent, a hibernation from which I am just now emerging; I write this sitting in some afternoon sun, on one of the milder days we’ve had. My malaise was in part a result of morning sickness (I’m expecting another baby in the summer) and in part a reaction to the coldest winter we’ve had in thirty years. (I used to enjoy the cold; now I’m just cold.) My retreat was also prompted by a gnawing despair about the world. Whichever way you look, fears, failures, horrors, hypocrisies. The worsening of everything.

I withdrew into the shallows. I ate and slept and did my chores, read nothing of substance, heard the buzz of news but not the older songs of the earth. Outdoors was cold and dark, so I stayed indoors, where it was still cold, and just as dark.

Now, though, my sickness has passed, and the sun is shining. The cold is far from finished but there are buds on the trees, blossoms on some of the more prodigious cherries. The world is, if anything, more frightening, but I am less afraid. I begin to think the shallows were not the place to hide. They offered me nothing. They made life thinner. Another time, I’ll brave the cold, and try to live deeply in spite of my lassitude and the world’s alarms. 

Once, in the doctor’s waiting room, I managed to choose poetry over news, and I was rewarded with another American romantic I didn’t know—William Cullen Bryant. Here are a few lines of his “Winter Piece” that spoke to my languor and showed me how, in the bleakest landscape, I might find light.

The time has been that these wild solitudes,
Yet beautiful as wild, were trod by me
Oftener than now; and when the ills of life
Had chafed my spirit—when the unsteady pulse
Beat with strange flutterings—I would wander forth
And seek the woods. The sunshine on my path
Was to me a friend.
                                                 …When shrieked
The bleak November winds, and smote the woods,
And the brown fields were herbless, and the shades,
That met above the merry rivulet,
Were spoiled, I sought, I loved them still; they seemed
Like old companions in adversity.
Still there was beauty in my walks…
But Winter has yet brighter scenes—he boasts
Splendors beyond what gorgeous Summer knows;
Or Autumn with his many fruits, and woods
All flushed with many hues. Come when the rains
Have glazed the snow and clothed the trees with ice,
While the slant of sun of February pours
Into the bowers a flood of light. Approach!
The incrusted surface shall upbear thy steps,
And the broad arching portals of the grove
Welcome thy entering. Look! the massy trunks
Are cased in pure crystal; each light spray,
Nodding and tinkling in the breath of heaven,
Is studded with its trembling water-drops,
That glimmer with an amethystine light.
But round the parent-stem the long low boughs
Bend, in a glittering ring, and arbors hide
The glassy floor…
There the blue sky and the white drifting cloud
Look in. Again the wildered fancy dreams
Of spouting fountains, frozen as they rose,
And fixed, with all their branching jets, in air,
And all their sluices sealed. All, all is light;
Light without shade.

Don't you hear the goldenrod whispering goodbye?

On this last day of Autumn, two poems by Mary Oliver. I love her tender, friendly observation of the woods and waters near her home, and her gentle, companionable way of bringing the lovely world to our notice. The first one is called "Song for Autumn." I found a couple of different versions but took this one from Poetry magazine, which I take to be authoritative. Also because in the other versions the pond 'vanishes', but how much more lyrical that it should 'stiffen' with the coming cold. 

Don't you imagine the leaves dream now
     how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
     nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
     the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the birds that will come - six, a dozen - to sleep
     inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
     the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
     stiffens and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
     its long blue shadows. The wind wags
its many tails. And in the evening
     the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way. 

The second is "Fall Song." It is less fanciful, more conventional as an autumn poem, having a  melancholy undertow and a sense of longing, but it is by no means derivative. It has strikingly original images, like the 'black subterranean castle of unobservable mysteries'. For a poet whose strength is observation, the 'unobservable mysteries' are in part what pull her towards the more melancholy view, yet her final vision is bright with illumination, as true as anything in verse.

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.