A Few Lines for the Winter-Weary

The Hollow ~ Chris Mousseau

As January ended in Prince Edward County, Ontario, this is the view that greeted Chris Mousseau: a jumble of snow and branches decorating a local hollow. When I came across it on Chris’s Country Gardening site, it brought to mind Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man,” a poem capable of evoking the strange sense of hollowness that sometimes sets in during the wait for spring.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Comments always are welcome.
For more information on poet Wallace Stevens, please click here.

Midwinter Spring

Crow Poison  ~ Nothoscordum bivalve

A member of the lily family, this delicate native — sometimes called Crow Poison and sometimes false garlic — is one of our earliest spring wildflowers. On the morning of January 7, a scattering of these plants, basking in dew-drying sunlight alongside a Brazoria County road, brought to mind a portion of T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding.”

Midwinter spring is its own season,
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice on pond and ditches
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?
                                             “Little Gidding” ~ T.S. Eliot

Comments always are welcome.
For the complete text of “Little Gidding,” please click here.

Welcoming the Christmas Guest

Scarlet Catchfly ~ Silene subciliata

 

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice — it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances — but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.
                                                    Making the House Ready for the Lord ~  Mary Oliver

Comments always are welcome.

The Sound of One Leaf Falling

 

Listen.
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Although no frost occasioned the fall of this November leaf at Brazos Bend State Park, it seemed a fitting illustration for Adelaide Crapsey’s cinquain titled “November Night.”

Invented by Crapsey (1878–1914), her cinquain form relies on traditions seen in Japanese tanka and haiku, including compressed language and formal structure. The five unrhymed lines of a cinquain follow strict requirements; they consist of two, four, six, eight, and two syllables. In addition, Crapsey sought to create the sort of unexpected “break,” or juxtaposition of thoughts, typical of haiku.

Perhaps like Etheree Taylor Armstrong, who invented the poetic form known as the etheree, Crapsey was as interested in the technical problems of her form as in the poetic sentiments they included. As a reviewer in The Independent noted:

To her genuine poetic ability Miss Crapsey added a considerable technical knowledge of metrics. In the verse form which she invented and called the cinquain she has done some of her best work—clear cut ideas sharply focused: single impressions etched in a few significant lines.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more about Adelaide Crapsey and her poetry, please click here.

The Importance of Names ~ The Flowers

The Nature Conservancy’s Love Creek Preserve near Medina

After poetic reflections on the importance of names for the natural world’s trees, birds, and rocks, it seemed fitting to end the series by considering the names of the flowers that surround us.

When I began roaming in nature, I often was confused by names given to the plants I encountered. In the photo above, the red flowers — a species of Gaillardia — were introduced to me as Indian blanket, blanketflower, firewheel, and brown-eyed Susan. On the other hand, some people called the yellow flowers blooming among the Gaillardia coneflowers; others called them brown-eyed Susans.

It’s a common problem. For two years, I assumed a friend meant a certain spring-blooming yellow wildflower when she mentioned her love of ‘buttercups.’ In fact, her ‘buttercup’ was my ‘pink evening primrose,’ a flower also known as showy evening primrose, Mexican evening primrose, pink ladies, and pink buttercup. Eventually, we sorted out our confusion: learning in the process that using the flower’s scientific name, Oenothera speciosa, could have eliminated hours of good-natured argument.

Oenothera speciosa ~ aka pink evening primrose, aka buttercup

Scientific names can be long, difficult to spell, and harder to pronounce, but the two-part naming system formalized by Carl Linnaeus serves an important purpose. His system categorizes plants by genus and species, and every two part name, like Oenothera speciosa, refers to only one plant.

Eventually, as I became more comfortable with the system, the thought of having a little fun with binomial nomenclature — those two-part names — occurred to me. When the phrase “the naming of plants” came to mind, it evoked T.S. Eliot’s wonderful poem, The Naming of Cats, and a parody was born.

If you’re not familiar with Eliot’s poem, you can hear a recording of him reading it here. If you’ve long enjoyed the poem, you’ll hear it echoing below. Whether Linnaeus would approve, I can’t say, but I’m sure that Eliot would. If nothing else, it makes the world of binominal nomenclature less intimidating, and much more fun.

The naming of plants? It really does matter.
It isn’t correct to think all are the same.
You may think at first I’m indulging in patter,
but I tell you — a plant must have four different names!
First comes the name that tells us its genus —
Gaillardia, Ilex, Solanum, or Phlox;
Clematis and Salvia,  Silphium, Quercus —
the Latin is easy, not hard as a rock.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
some for the cactus and some for the canes —
Monarda, Justicia, or even Lantana
make lovely and sensible Latinate names.
And then, every plant needs a name more particular,
a name that’s specific and quite dignified;
else how could it keep all its stems perpendicular,
spread out its anthers, or blossom with pride?
For namings of this sort, I ‘ll give you fair dozens:
lyrata, drummondii, frutescens, and more —
crispus, limosa, punctatus, texensis —
those names help describe what we’re all looking for.
Of course, there are names by which most people call plants,
like violet, hollyhock, iris, and thyme;
there’s nothing more common than sweet dandelions,
or peaches, or rhubarb for making our wine.
But above and beyond, there’s one name left over,
and that is the Name that you never will guess;
the Name that no researcher ever discovers —
which the plant itself knows, but will not confess.
When you notice a bloom in profound meditation,
its rays sweetly folded, or its leaves well-arrayed,
its mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
of the seed of a thought of a thought of its Name:
its sturdy and windblown,
sunkissed and shadowed,
deep and firm-rooted most singular Name.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For an extraordinarily useful and detailed exploration of scientific names, please click here.