We’ve had the third coldest April in forty-five years in my little corner of the world. The thirteenth coldest since records have been kept. On the fourteenth snow came down thick and fast for maybe a half-hour. It even stuck to the grass. Then it was over as if it had never happened. Usually, the Pacific’s breath keeps our climate mild, even in mid-winter but this isn’t the first time it snowed in May.
We’re all hoping that May will be more like the month described in John Milton’s poem.
Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
Hail bounteous May that dost inspire
Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcom thee, and wish thee long.
Happy May Day!
In 1889 labor activists turned May Day turned into Labor Day in some parts of the world to commemorate the Haymarket riot in Chicago. It was a terrible event but I wish they’d left the joyous celebration of Floralia, to honor Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers alone, and been content to commemorate workers on the first Monday in September. I guess American influence has its limits.
May first was once considered to be the beginning of summer. A time to dance around the May Pole and for children to surprise friends by bringing them flower baskets, leaving them at the door or hanging them on the doorknob, knocking or ringing the bell, and running away. What a lovely surprise for the recipient.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.
She's all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus.
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.
Break of Day
‘Tis true, ‘tis day, what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise because ‘tis light?
Did we lie down because ‘twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.
Light hath no tongue, but is all eye;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well I fain would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honour so,
That I would not from him, that had them, go.
Must business thee from hence remove?
Oh, that’s the worst disease of love,
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.
When I go for walks, I try to pay attention to things that get overlooked.
Moss. Dead leaves. Blooming flowers. Wilting flowers. Raindrops. All sorts of small and seemingly unimportant things.
And, yes, I stop to smell roses and to pet moss. My hands like the feel of moss. It’s like botanical velvet. A carpet for fairies. I touch bark, feel the roughness. Like a child, I pick up leaves and pretty rocks and take them home. Is that because I never grew up?
As people get older, they too get overlooked and dismissed as unimportant, with nothing to offer.
I’m hardly the only person who has discovered the beauty of small, overlooked things, but the faster the world goes, the faster time flies, we forget to stop and look. Stop and to touch. To listen. And think.
Writers notice even the smallest details and describe them. Walt Whitman watched “A noiseless patient spider” and compared the filaments it casts to his soul, flinging gossamer filaments, hoping they’ll catch on something. Another soul. Another heart. Some of us cast gossamer filaments that never catch anywhere or catch on the wrong thing. Because of Whitman’s spider and Charlotte, I’ve never looked at spiders the same way.
Robert Frost noticed “A Considerable Speck” scuttling across the page where he’d been writing. How easy it would be to drown it with a drop of ink. The speck is so tiny it seems to have no room for feet, let alone a brain, yet it moves with purpose and seems aware of the threat represented by Frost’s pen. Of course, the poet doesn’t drown the speck but lets it go on its way. I no longer drown or squash specks. Most of the time. Fruit flies don’t count. Spiders do.
I fell in love with Japanese culture when I was in high school. I can’t remember if it was in my creative writing class when I discovered haiku. I was enchanted by the three-line, seventeen syllable poems. Or maybe I fell in love with Japanese culture at the Seattle Asian Art Museum while gazing at netsuke, tiny exquisitely sculpted fobs that fastened inro boxes to an obi. I love how the artists often depicted tiny creatures, frogs or beetles, in remarkable detail.
A Noiseless Patient SpiderWalt Whitman - 1819-1892
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
(This poem is in the public domain)
has been part of my life since forever, or so it seems. It’s a Latvian thing, but
not just a Latvian thing. People around the world love poetry.
Latvians write verse into greeting cards that already come with verse printed inside. It makes the greetings more personal. My mother would burst into spontaneous poetry reciting when the mood struck. She also enjoyed writing verse, not for publication, for her own enjoyment. We always had books of poetry at home. Latvian kids don’t get Christmas gifts just for being kids. We had to earn them. Come December, local Latvian associations had Christmas celebrations just for children. We had to sing a song or recite a verse in order to receive our gift. I still remember the poem I recited about white snowflakes falling on pine needles.
confess. In one high school English class paperback anthologies of poetry were
handed out to the students at the beginning of the semester. It was comprised
of poems from Chaucer to Frost. At the end of the semester the teacher
collected the anthologies. I “forgot” to return mine. I still have it. I have
no regrets about my “forgetfulness.”
high school friends and I had intellectual pretentions. We read heavy duty
novels by Russians—Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Pasternak. I also went through a
Steinbeck and Erich Maria Remarque phase that went way beyond All Quiet on the Western Front. We wrote
stories as well as read them. We admired the art of Salvador Dali. For
graduation one of my girl friends gave me a collection of poetry by T.S. Eliot.
I still have that book, too. I still admire his work.
have never stopped reading poetry. Poetry lifts my spirits. It makes me smile.
It makes me think. I don’t always understand the poetry I read. That doesn’t
matter. There are pleasures in verse that go beyond analyzing the meaning. I
read and re-read my favorites and eventually understanding blossoms.
of my favorite poets are Billy Collins and Marge Piercy. This morning I read
six poems, three by each of them. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that
there were poems in both books that I haven’t read. My favorite verses may get
ten, twenty readings, while others get overlooked.
Okay. I just went online and read a fourth poem by Collins, “Introduction to Poetry.” He wants readers to “waterski across the surface of a poem” and not try to torture meaning out of it. When I was majoring in English I had more than enough of “beating them with a hose to find out what (they) really mean.” Now I’m content to water ski across the surface. That’s one reason I love Collins’ poetry. Their surfaces are eminently skiable. Sometimes I fall off the surface and into the deeper meaning of the verse.
Piercy writes very sensuous poetry. She writes about old shoes, her heavy purse
and “Persimmon Pudding.” Who knew persimmon pudding could be so sexy? Piercy
uses lush, vivid imagery, which brings to life the objects she writes about. I
will never look at old shoes the same way again. In my favorite of her poems,
she compares the full moon to a white cat. In another beloved poem, toes are
teaches me to see. Poetry teaches me that others have the same feelings as I. I
am not alone in the world.
I try to get my friends to read and love poetry. I’ve had no success that I’m aware of. Those who like poetry continue to like it. Those who don’t, don’t. I’m going to keep trying. How can I not share what I love with those whom I love?