Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Can We Ever Lose Interest in Life?

(The Gardener by Paul Cézanne, 1839-1906,
French Post-Impressionist artist)

We have come to the end of our month of poems about spring. Those verses were in anticipation. Now the year’s at the spring and we can celebrate the season’s actual arrival.

How can we ever lose interest in life?
Spring has come again
And cherry trees bloom in the mountains.

~ Ryokan (1758-1831), Japanese poet, hermit, and Buddhist monk

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


(Spring — March, April, May, 1565 by Peter Bruegel
the Elder, 1529?-1569, Dutch landscape painter)

This painting is one of Bruegel’s intriguing glimpses of life in the Netherlands during the sixteenth-century. (Click on the image to see an enlarged version of the picture.) It is in two parts, reflecting the divisions of the society. At the top, in the back, by the manor house, is life as experienced by the landowner and his family and friends, dressed in their finery, feasting, dancing, and listening to music. Across the moat, in the foreground, lies the French formal garden of this wealthy family. The farm workers are tending to the grain and fruit crops, the lambs and calves, the bees for honey and wax, and the sheep for wool. Connecting the two worlds is the lady of the manor, seen guiding the planting of seeds as she stands by the worker on the ladder at the right.


Watching hands transplanting,
Turning and tamping,
Lifting the young plants with two fingers,
Sifting in a palm-full of fresh loam, —
One swift movement, —
Then plumping in the bunched roots,
A single twist of the thumbs, a tamping and turning,
All in one,
Quick on the wooden bench,
A shaking down, while the stem stays straight,
Once, twice, and a faint third thump, —
Into the flat-box it goes,
Ready for the long days under the sloped glass:

The sun warming the fine loam,
The young horns winding and unwinding,
Creaking their thin spines,
The underleaves, the smallest buds
Breaking into nakedness,
The blossoms extending
Out into the sweet air,
The whole flower extending outward,
Stretching and reaching.

~ Theodore Roethke (1903-1963), American poet

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


(Springtime in the Village by Daniel Garber, 1880-1958,
American Impressionist painter)

“Oh, there are a lot more cherry trees all in bloom! This Island is the bloomiest place. I just love it already, and I’m so glad I’m going to live here. I’ve always heard that Prince Edward Island was the prettiest place in the world, and I used to imagine I was living here, but I never really expected I would. It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it?”

~ Anne Shirley, as she arrived in Avonlea from the orphanage, to be adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, from the novel
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery


If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

~ Billy Collins, born 1941, American poet

Monday, March 28, 2011

From an April

(Rain by Gustave Caillebotte, 1848-1894,
French Impressionist painter)

“So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what rewards might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from his book
Letters to a Young Poet


Again the woods smell sweet.
The soaring larks lift up with them
the sky, which weighed so heavily on our shoulders;
through bare branches one still saw the day standing empty —
but after long rain-filled afternoons
come the golden sun-drenched
newer hours,
before which, on distant housefronts,
all the wounded
windows flee fearful with beating wings.

Then it goes still. Even the rain runs softer
over the stones’ quietly darkening glow.
All noises slip entirely away
into the brushwood’s glimmering buds.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Austrian poet and writer, from a new translation of his poems by Edward Snow

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Widow’s Lament in Springtime

(Springtime by John Henry Twachtman, 1853-1902,
American Impressionist painter)

Even as life begins anew in spring, grief still makes its way through the heart.

“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. And I am going round in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?” ~ C. S. Lewis, from his book A Grief Observed


Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirty five years
I lived with my husband.
The plum tree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turned away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

~ William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), American poet and practicing physician

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Lover and His Lass

(Spring Bouquets, wood engraving
by Gertrude Hermes, 1901-1993,
English wood engraver, sculptor,
and print maker)

From As You Like It, Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of young love and false identities.


In a part of the forest:

First page:

Shall we clap into’t roundly, without hawking
or spitting, or saying we are hoarse, which are the only
prologues to a bad voice?

Second page:

I’ faith, i’ faith, and both in a tune,
like two gypsies on a horse.

While the two pages dance around Touchstone, the clown, and his intended bride, Audrey, one of the pages sings this song:

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green cornfield did pass,
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
Those pretty country folks would lie,
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

And therefore take the present time,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
For love is crowned with the prime
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

~ William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English poet and playwright

Friday, March 25, 2011


(Kindergarten, 1948, by Willy Ronis, 1910-2009,
French photographer)

One of the many sweet melodies of spring is the sound of young children at play outside at recess.


Sound the Flute!
Now it’s mute.
Birds delight
Day and Night;
In the dale,
Lark in Sky,
Merrily, Merrily to welcome in the Year*.

Little Boy
Full of joy;
Little Girl,
Sweet small,
Cock does crow,
So do you;
Merry voice,
Infant noise,
Merrily, Merrily to welcome in the Year.

~ William Blake, 1757-1827, English poet, painter, engraver, and mystic visionary

* to welcome in the Year — in England, under the Julian calendar, March 25 was, for all practical purposes, the date marking the beginning of the year; that date moved to January 1 with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

In the Christian liturgical calendar, March 25 is also known as Lady (or Lady’s) Day, celebrating the feast of the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary that she was to be the mother of Christ, nine months before the feast of the nativity of Christ.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Birds of Scotland

(Black-Billed Cuckoo by John James Audubon, 1785-1851,
French-American ornithologist and painter whose book
Birds of America is a remarkable catalogue of more than
700 native bird species)

By tradition, the song of the cuckoo heralds the true arrival of spring.


How sweet the first sound of the cuckoo’s note;
Whence is the magic pleasure of the sound?
How do we long recall the very tree,
Or bush, near which we stood, when on the ear
The unexpected note cuckoo! again,
And yet again, came down the budding vale!
It is the voice of spring among the trees;
It tells of lengthening days, of coming bloom;
It is the symphony of many a song.

~ James Grahame (1765-1811), Scottish poet

For many decades, until the 1940s, readers of The London Times would rush to announce the arrival of first cuckoo of the season.

This is one typical “first cuckoo” letter to the paper:

April 3, 1907


To the Editor of The Times.

Sir, — I wonder whether many of your readers have heard the cuckoo at this unusually early date? I heard him two or three times this afternoon, and I find that others in these parts heard him this morning. The Sussex legend that the cuckoo is let out of a basket by an old woman at Heathfield Fair — about the middle of April — marks the season when his arrival is commonly observed.

Yours faithfully,
W. J. Courthope
The Lodge, Wadhurst, Sussex, April 1

Not to be outdone, another Times reader staked his competing claim the next day:

April 4, 1907


To the editor of The Times.

Sir, — Referring to Mr. W. J. Courthope’s letter in your to-day’s issue, I can claim to have heard an earlier cuckoo.

On Sunday afternoon, outside the little village of Friday Street, in Surrey, I was delighted and surprised to hear the bird’s “wandering voice” quite close at hand. That was on March 31.

Yours, &c.
David A. Horner
Lisdale, Epsom, April 3

Sometimes, however, shenanigans were afoot, as revealed in a short article published February 6, 1948, in The Times:


At the end of January residents in the Northstead area of Scarborough were claiming to have heard the first cuckoo. But yesterday Mr Hezekiah Johnson, a corporation road-cleaner, said: “I wait until a crowd gathers at the Northstead bus-stop and then I go into the park nearby and do the cuckoo. They all take it in.” He added: “I used to do the nightingale when I had my teeth in.”

To hear the song of the cuckoo yourself, click on this link (you may have to cut and paste):

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Paris in the Springtime

(Lovers at the Top of the July Column, Paris, 1957, by
Willy Ronis, 1910-2009, French photographer)

It is always the best time to be in Paris — you will love it the first or last time you see the city; in April, May, and June and any other month of the year; and in the seasons of winter, springtime, summer, and fall.


Ev’ry time I look down
On this timeless town,
Whether blue or gray be her skies,
Whether loud be her cheers
Or whether soft be her tears,
More and more do I realize

I love Paris in the spring time,
I love Paris in the fall,
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.
I love Paris ev’ry moment,
Ev’ry moment of the year.
I love Paris,
Why, oh, why do I love Paris?
Because my love is near.

~ Cole Porter (1891-1964), American composer and lyricist, from the musical Can Can, 1953

To listen to the radiant Miss Ella Fitzgerald’s version of this ballad, click on the link (you may have to cut and paste):

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


(Feathers in Bloom by Marc Chagall, 1887-1985,
Russian-French artist)

Today is the first anniversary of this blog. It began it with the poem below, a particularly lively exhibition of the rhetorical device of personification.

Even though the forecast for tomorrow is “unseasonable cold accompanied with snow,” it seems fitting to post the poem again. We’re rejoicing in the an-ti-ci-pa-tion, as Carly Simon sang in her hit song.


I’m shouting
I’m singing
I’m swinging through trees
I’m winging skyhigh
With the buzzing black bees.
I’m the sun
I’m the moon
I’m the dew on the rose.
I’m a rabbit
Whose habit
Is twitching his nose.
I’m lively
I’m lovely
I’m kicking my heels.
I’m crying “Come Dance”
To the fresh water eels.
I’m racing through meadows
Without any coat
I’m a gamboling lamb
I’m a light leaping goat
I’m a bud
I’m a bloom
I’m a dove on the wing.
I’m running on rooftops
And welcoming spring!

~ Karla Kuskin, born 1932, American poet

Monday, March 21, 2011

Young Orchard

(Fruit Trees in Bloom by Claude Monet, 1840-1926, French
Impressionist painter)

Monet is famous for his series of paintings of water lilies, poplars, haystacks, and the Rouen Cathedral. Over the years, he also painted many different images of trees in blossom, including plum, olive, apple, and lemon.


These trees came to stay.
Planted at intervals of
Thirty feet each way,

Each one stands alone
Where it is to live and die.
Still, when they are grown

To full size, these trees
Will blend their crowns, and hum with
Meditating bees.

Meanwhile, see how they
Rise against their rootedness
On a gusty day,

Nodding one and all
To one another, as they
Rise again and fall,

Swept by flutterings
So that they appear a great
Consort of sweet strings.

~ Richard Wilbur, born 1921, American poet and translator

Sunday, March 20, 2011


(A Lilac Year, woodcut by Gustav Baumann, 1881-1971,
German-born American painter)

“Hopkins would never settle for being a dreamy little nature poet, a devotee of the pretty, and therefore a pretender of love. For how can you love weeds and thrush’s eggs and not love man? If God delights in the making of chestnuts, the more does he delight in making beings who can delight also in his making of chestnuts and everything else. Therefore, man, his labor and his ingenuity, must also be praised; for the quirky beauty of man’s own creativity, as evinced in sickles and ice-tongs and flails and adzes, reflects its source, the beauty of God.”

~ Anthony Esolen, from his book
Ironies of Faith: The Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring —
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J. (1844-1899), British poet whose work has had a profound influence on modern poetry

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ten Thousand Flowers

(Untitled, 1969 by Mark Rothko, 1903-1970,
American painter)


Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men (1183-1260), Chinese poet

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Magic Mountain

(The Boardwalk at Toronto’s Beaches by William
Kurelek, 1927-1977, Canadian artist and writer)

Soon, the happy day will come when, once again, we’ll cast off our winter jackets and coats and hats and scarves and gloves and boots, and raise our faces to the warm sun.


Sultry Octobers, cool Julys, trees blossom in February.
Here the nuptial flight of hummingbirds does not forecast spring.
Only the faithful maple sheds its leaves every year.
For no reason, its ancestors simply learned it that way.

~ Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004), Polish poet, essayist, and translator, and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Deciduous Spring

(Birds and Plants, design for wallpaper and
textile, by C. F. A. Voysey 1857-1941, English
engineer, architect, and artist)

Flora and fauna can become a bit rambunctious in spring.


Now, now the world
All gabbles joy like geese, for
An idiot glory the sky
bangs. Look!
All leaves are new, are
Now, are
Bangles dangling and
Spangling, in sudden air
Wangling, then
Hanging quiet, bright.

The world comes back, and again
Is gabbling, and yes,
Remarkably worse, for
The world is a whirl of
Green mirrors gone wild with
Deceit, and the world
Whirls green on a string, then
The leaves go quiet, wink
From their own shade, secretly.

Keep still, just a moment, leaves.

There is something I am trying to remember.

~ Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), American poet and writer

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A little madness in the Spring

(Spring by René Magritte, 1898-1967, Belgian Surrealist


A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown —
Who ponders this tremendous scene —
This whole Experiment of Green —
As if it were his own!

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lines Written in Early Spring

(Spring in Giverny, 1890, by Claude Monet, 1840-1926,
French Impressionist painter)

William Wordsworth, the Romantic poet that he was, found the source of happiness in Nature. He had less hope in Mankind.


I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

~ William Wordsworth (1770-1850), English poet

Monday, March 14, 2011


(Spring by Carl Larsson, 1853-1919, Swedish painter
and interior designer)

“And some say not that some existing things are moving, and not others, but that all things are in motion all the time, but that this escapes our perception.” ~ Aristotle, from his book Physics


Always it happens when we are not there —
The tree leaps up alive into the air,
Small open parasols of Chinese green
Wave on each twig. But who has ever seen
The latch sprung, the bud as it burst?
Spring always manages to get there first.

Lovers of wind, who will have been aware
Of a faint stirring in the empty air,
Look up one day through a dissolving screen
To find no star, but this multiplied green,
Shadow on shadow, singing sweet and clear.
Listen, lovers of wind, the leaves are here!

~ Mary Sarton (1912-1995), American poet, and writer of novels and memoirs

Sunday, March 13, 2011


(Spring in the Country by Grant Wood, 1891-1942,
American painter)

This famous verse from Ecclesiastes (3:1-9) reminds us of life’s order of events and prepares us for the future:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

~ from The Authorized King James Version of the Bible, marking the 400th anniversary of its publication this year. “The scholars who produced this masterpiece,” wrote Winston Churchill, “are mostly unknown and unremembered. But they forged an enduring link, literary and religious, between the English-speaking people of the world.”


It was a perfect day
For sowing; just
As sweet and dry was the ground
As tobacco dust.

I tasted deep the hour
Between the far
Owl’s chucking first soft cry
And the first star.

A long stretched hour it was;
Nothing undone
Remained; the early seeds
All safely sown

And now hark at the rain,
Windless and light,
Half a kiss, half a tear,
Saying good-night.

~ Edward Thomas (1878-1917), British poet

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In the Green Morning, Now, Once More

(Advertisement for my favorite fragrance,
Muguet des Bois or lily of the valley
perfume by Coty, published in 1948)

“And because the breath of flowers is far sweeter in the air (where it comes and goes like the warbling of music), than in the hand, therefore nothing is more fit for that delight than to know what be the flowers and plants that do perfume the air.”

~ Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, essayist, and statesman


In the green morning, before
Love was destiny,
The sun was king,
And God was famous.

The merry, the musical,
The jolly, the magical,
The feast, the feast of feasts, the festival
Suddenly ended
As the sky descended
But there was only the feeling,
In all the dark falling,
Of fragrance and of freshness, of birth and beginning.

~ Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966), American poet and writer of short stories

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Year’s Awakening

(Hoosick River by Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma”
Moses, 1860-1961, American painter)

“When I got to the bottom of the lane, I set my bicycle against a bank and picnicked on a fence. A beautiful Jay in all the glory of his spring plumage flew screaming across the lane into a spinney of larch trees opposite. He seemed to resent the intrusion of a human being in such an infrequented spot. I was glad to find the white Periwinkle still ‘trailing its wreathes’ on the bank, but the flowers were only in bud, and the violets too were just uncurling their buds under their fresh green leaves. Among the notes of the numerous birds I recognized those of the Thrush, Blackbird, Hedge Sparrow, Sky-lark, Wren, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Green-finch, Pied Wag-tail and Yellow Bunting. The latter was especially conspicuous, perched up on top of the hedge with his bright yellow plumage, repeating his cry — one can hardly call it a song — with its last, peculiar, long drown out note, over and over again. ‘A little bit of bread and no che-ese,’ the country people liken it to. In Cumberland they say it says, ‘Devil, devil, dinna touch me-e.’ This bird is called ‘Yeldrin’ and ‘Yellow Yowlie’ in Scotland. I noticed that the white Periwinkle blossoms have five petals, while the blue have only four. I wonder if this is always so.”

~ Edith Holden, part of the entry of March 10, 1906, from the book
The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady


How do you know that the pilgrim track
Along the belting zodiac
Swept by the sun in his seeming rounds
Is traced by now to the Fishes’ bounds
And into the Ram, when weeks of cloud
Have wrapt the sky in a clammy shroud,
And never as yet a tinct of spring
Has shown in the Earth’s appareling;
O vespering bird, how do you know,
How do you know?

How do you know, deep underground,
Hid in your bed from sight and sound,
Without a turn in temperature,
With weather life can scarce endure,
That light has won a fraction’s strength,
And day put on some moments’ length,
Whereof in merest rote will come,
Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;
O crocus root, how do you know,
How do you know?

~ Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English novelist and poet

Thursday, March 10, 2011

After the Winter

(Irises by Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890, Dutch
Post-Impressionist painter)

“In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), English poet, from his poem Locksley Hall


Some day, when trees have shed their leaves
And against the morning’s white
The shivering birds beneath the eaves
Have sheltered for the night,
We’ll turn our faces southward, love,
Toward the summer isle
Where bamboos spire the shafted grove
And wide-mouthed orchids smile.

And we will seek the quiet hill
Where towers the cotton tree,
And leaps the laughing crystal rill,
And works the droning bee.
And we will build a cottage there
Beside an open glade,
With black-ribbed blue-bells blowing near,
And ferns that never fade.

~ Claude McKay (1889-1948), American poet and novelist, active in the Harlem Renaissance

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Lent Lily

(Narcissus, or Daffodil or Lent Lily, by
Pierre-Joseph Redouté, 1759-1840, French
botanist and watercolorist)

“When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water-side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers a few yards higher up; but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, unity, and life of that one busy highway.”

~ Dorothy Wordsworth (sister of William), the entry of April 15, 1802, from her book
Grasmere Journal


’Tis spring; come out to ramble
The hilly brakes around,
For under thorn and bramble
About the hollow ground
The primroses are found.

And here’s the windflower chilly
With all the winds at play,
And there’s the Lenten lily
That has not long to stay
And dies on Easter day.

And since till girls go maying
You find the primose still,
And find the windflower playing
With every wind at will,
But not the daffodil,

Bring baskets now, and sally
Upon the spring’s array,
And bear from hill and valley
The daffodil away
That dies on Easter day.

~ A. E. Housman (1859-1936), English poet and classicist

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dear One Absent This Long While

(Wooden Bridge over a Stream, sketch
by Beatrix Potter, 1866-1943, English
writer, illustrator, sheep breeder, and
conservationist, and creator of Peter
Rabbit and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, among
many others)

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Lisa Olstein, the poet below, conducted by a representative of the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC). She gave her answer off the cuff.


Please revise the following sentence — “Though every muscle in his body urged him not to, Sanderson crept toward the tinted windows of the gray-green Caprice.”

Lisa Olstein:

Sanderson crept.
Every muscle, urge him
toward caprice. Urge him
forward toward windows
tinted gray-green in the body.
Urge him not to.


It has been so wet stones glaze in moss;
everything blooms coldly.

I expect you. I thought one night it was you
at the base of the drive, you at the foot of the stairs,

you in a shiver of light, but each time
leaves in wind revealed themselves,

the retreating shadow of a fox, daybreak.
We expect you, cat and I, bluebirds and I, the stove.

In May we dreamed of wreaths burning on bonfires
over which young men and women leapt.

June efforts quietly.
I’ve planted vegetables along each garden wall

so even if spring continues to disappoint
we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain.

I have new gloves and a new hoe.
I practice eulogies. He was a hawk

with white feathered legs. She had the quiet ribs
of a salamander crossing the old pony post road.

Yours is the name the leaves chatter
at the edge of the unrabbited woods.

~ Lisa Olstein, born 1972, American poet

Monday, March 7, 2011

Early Spring

(Seeds, hand-colored wood engraving by Sandy Connors,
found at

She was better known for her novels and a three-volume autobiography than for her poems, but Janet Frame once called poetry “the highest form of literature because you can have no dead wood in a poem.”


Nothing doing
except at the foot of the stem
closest to earth
a rub of green leaf

almost in bloom;
a winter-lost bud
found, clothed again by the storm
of memory’s green dust.

~ Janet Frame (1924-2004), a novelist and poet from New Zealand, from her collection The Pocket Mirror

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bird Language

(Little Bird by Norval Morrisseau, 1931?-2007, Canadian
Ojibwa artist)

Birds, like the rest of us, speak in different languages, with varied accents.

The first time I heard a rooster crow, it did so in German, “Kikeriki!” — pronouncing it kikəˑriˈki. Then I learned English after I moved to Canada, where the roosters translated this cry into “Cock-a doodle-do.”


Trying to understand the words
Uttered on all sides by birds,
I recognize in what I hear
Noises that betoken fear.

Though some of them, I’m certain, must
Stand for rage, bravado, lust,
All other notes that birds employ
Sound like synonyms for joy.

~ W. H. Auden (1907-1973), English-born American poet and essayist

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Empedocles on Etna

(Primrose, or “first rose,”
one of the earliest spring
blooms, wood engraving by
George Mackley, 1900-1983,
English painter and engraver)

“You must experience it in your own home first. You must make your house, your family, another Nazareth, where love, peace, joy, unity reign. And then you will be able to reveal that and to give it to your next door neighbor.

“That’s why I beg of you: try to find your poor here, first in your own home. Don’t allow anybody to be lonely, to feel unwanted, unloved, but especially your own, especially your neighbor. And then someone who is blind. Just go and read the newspaper, just do some shopping for somebody, just go and clean a little bit, nothing more.”

~ Mother Teresa (1910-1997), Albanian-born Indian Catholic nun, from her talk at the opening of her Sisters’ new center in Liverpool, May 1979, in
Daily Readings with Mother Teresa, edited by Teresa de Bertodano


Is it so small a thing
To have enjoyed the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought,
To have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes?

~ Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), English poet and critic

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thanks to Flowers

(The Flower Seller by Diego Rivera, 1886-1957, Mexican
painter and muralist)

Among the good books to be found in the library there are many to help readers enjoy and understand poetry. One such volume is Sleeping on the Wing: An Anthology of Modern Poetry with Essays on Reading and Writing by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell, the poet below. The two writers discuss the works of twenty-three American poets published since the mid-nineteenth century and give useful advice to aspiring poets.


Not only the cultivated ones in parks
and gardens, unfolding immaculate petals
on a terrace or trellis, and not just
the wild ones, kissed by elegant birds
in jungle foliage, or brightening roadsides
and meadows, blossoming anyplace that anything
can blossom, but thanks also to flowers
blooming in paintings, on carpets, pottery,
fabrics of dresses and draperies or wherever
the real or invented colors and shapes
of flowers lift the mood of a scene,
as they are snipped from bushes, gathered
in cordless bunches, tied in ribbons
or arranged in rare bouquets for precious vases.
Perfect by nature for gift and centerpiece,
they perfume ballrooms, backyards and prairies,
and, indoors or out the window, they gladden
celebrations and refresh every country
and season, for, even in iciest winter.
The word flower thrives in every language,
adorning what everyone says and imagines
with the beautiful thought of flowers
which teach by timeless example
that life goes by anyway; you might as well

~ Kate Farrell, born 1946, American poet

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Instinct of Hope

(Bird and Berries, a wood engraving)

What first alerted me was the sudden sound of dozens of chattering birds. I looked out the window over my desk and saw flashes of brown and muted red against the white snow, a flock of robins hopping and flying about. The birds had dropped in on the garden to feed on the orange berries left on the bittersweet vines.

This took place in the middle of January — they were tourists, obviously, whose flights south to Florida had been delayed.


Is there another world for this frail dust
To warm with life and be itself again?
Something about me daily speaks there must,
And why should instinct nourish hopes in vain?
’Tis nature’s prophesy that such will be,
And everything seems struggling to explain
The close sealed volume of its mystery.
Time wandering onward keeps its usual pace
As seeming anxious of eternity,
To meet that calm and find a resting place.
E’en the small violet feels a future power
And waits each year renewing blooms to bring,
And surely man is no inferior flower
To die unworthy of a second spring?

~ John Clare (1793-1864), English Romantic poet

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Light exists in Spring

(Morning Sun by Harold Knight, 1874-1961,
English painter)

Emily Dickinson spent much of her time up in her room in the house in Amherst, Massachusetts, looking at life from her window. There was much to see.

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other Period —
When March is scarcely here.

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
On Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It’s Spring

(Nosegay of Violets by Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528,
German printmaker and painter)

We’ve just gone through a long and harsh winter here in New England.

The weathermen seemed to be in competition with the Eskimos, who are said to have thirty-three terms for snow. In their forecasts, the meteorologists spoke of snowflakes, a dusting of snow, snow flurries, a snow event, falling snow, a period of snow, more snow, a mixture of rain and snow, accumulating snow, blankets of snow, increasing snow, snow showers, snow squalls, sleet and rain and snow, ice and snow, icy snow, drifting snow, gusting snow, slushy snow, wet snow, heavy snow, freezing snow, record snow, feet of snow, ocean-effect snow, snow shovels, digging out of the snow, school snow days, snow drifts, snow on the roofs, dangerous snow on the roofs, and finally, thankfully, melting snow.


Spring unfurls its blue ribbon
To flutter in the air again;
Sweet, familiar breezes
Brush the earth with promises.
Violets, already dreaming,
Are eager to arrive.
Listen — a harp in the distance!
Yes! It’s you, Spring!
I knew you were coming!

~ Eduard Mörike (1804-1875), German poet