Juice and Joy

“What is all this juice and all this joy?” Gerard Manley Hopkins asks of Spring. And no sooner does he sing the push and fuss, the ballyhoo, of a sea sky blue slurred song of fresh thrushes than he announces the sound of a melancholy note, a bell of vespers, the turning of the promise of spring, spring’s quick morning suddenly fallen, the promise of its baby blue sky now overcast, what was in the seed of his poem from the beginning, “a strain.”

Is spring for the earth painful? It might be, born in a bed of industrial pollution, which even in Hopkins’s time was already something to brood over, and in spring he’s already grieving.

Not for Hopkins will spring last, and every spring grieves for its unwinding even as it unwinds in juice and joy. It’s the climate change of the “Sea of Faith” again that seems to sully his spring. To his coy mistress he does not even bother calling. He doesn’t want to make the sun run; he wants to see it stand still.

And Hopkins twists Herrick’s argument’s ear, and Herrick’s sin of staying becomes for Hopkins a sin of leaving. Where in Herrick, Corinna is told,

And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying,

in Hopkins, the children are told:

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.

Hopkins does not seem to sing to the virgins. Somehow, he’s unable to seize his day. Hopkins disliked cages: “This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.” In Hopkins, spring is not sustainable, but this abstract thought becomes itself a cage. And age is a cage.

So it was of Hopkins and his springs and falls I thought as I walked past this Flowering Japanese Crabapple tree the other day. And I remembered a line from Hopkins’s poem, “God’s Grandeur”: “And for all this, nature is never spent.”

041220141136 Flowering Japanese Crabapple 1

At least, I think it’s a Flowering Japanese Crabapple. Hopkins would probably know. He despaired, among the many things he seems to have despaired over, of the toil and wear and tear already evident upon nature of the effects of urbanization and industrialization. Yet here I saw these lovely blooms persisting, in the middle of the city, surrounded by construction. For the tree, as you can now see in the pic below, is a caged skylark. But it’s been there awhile, wedged into a corner of a parking lot up against an old brick apartment house, but it continues to sing to me, and will sing to you, too, and to anyone who cares to take a walk in spring. Alas, as Hopkins and the carpe diem poets remind us, spring won’t last, so get it while you can, while the juice still runs freely and the joy escapes confinement.

But, no, wait, why go under such a stricture and structure? That seed grows into a tree of melancholy. Why not simply go? Not put out, but go out. Ah, now there’s some juice and joy to go by.

041320141137 Crabapple road construction


Carpe diem the light flight of the Frisbee!

GaviotaPoems are often compost piles mixed with eggshells broken by past poets, full of word scraps and shards decomposing. Themes leach toward the surface, riding on the juicy skin of earthworms, rising toward the light and warmth of now.

Speaking of now, one such theme is carpe diem, seize the day, or, as Janis Joplin sang, “Get it while you can.” Carpe diem is an argument, an attempt to persuade. Who’s the speaker? Who’s listening? What’s the occasion? What are they talking about? Or is only one talking, the other listening?

Sometimes, abandoned or unintended compost piles volunteer new versions of old, rotted plants, often now cross-fertilizing into new varieties of carrot, turnip, garlic, potato, pepper, pea, bean, tomato, melon, radish, corn; or you might get portmanteau words, or a cornpone cornpoem, or at least a cornponepost. Of course, you might want to dig it all back in and let it stew for another year.

But here is a poem-mix from the Toads poetry reading compost pile. The idea is to dig through the layers, reading as a dig, the poem an earth oven. Careful, some poems smolder for a long time – some are still smoldering, hundreds of years old:

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” (1647), Robert Herrick: the poet argues a proposal – don’t go coy, for one who goes coy risks going solo. Surely there’s a rebuttal to this argument, or the argument is a rebuttal, for going solo is better than going sour?

To His Coy Mistress” (1650), Andrew Marvell: There are some worms in this one, but embedded in a kind of taphephobic image, and what about those “amorous birds of prey”? Is the poem an appeal to love or to fear? The poet seems to be on the run from something that does not sound too fun.

Dover Beach” (1867), Mathew Arnold. A couple of hundred years closer to the top, but the poet is still talking to his girl, but coyness doesn’t sound like the problem, but fear has gripped the moment. Lovely evening, but our poet can’t seem to embrace the now; he’s built his compost pile over a cemetery, and that low tide has really got him spooked. Is this any way to talk to a woman? Notice how quiet her response; she doesn’t make a move.

The Dover Bitch” (1967), Anthony Hecht. Something has happened over the last 100 years, something to the poet, and to the woman, and to the tone. The Sea of Faith is now bone dry. But no one is kept waiting around anymore. The viewpoint has swiveled. Same room, same scene, same poetry garden, but someone has shoveled a lot more irony into the compost pile.

Dover Butch” (2006), David Biespiel. Another 40 years passes by, and coyness may no longer seem much of a crime, for the rate of exchange has changed, and the viewpoint has swiveled even more. We’re still up on the cliff, but something has changed in the economy, in the exchange. Who’s talking now? Does the woman finally have something to say and says it? Is she a mother now? Perhaps we’ve misheard, but we picture the speaker’s heart sailing off the cliff like a Frisbee.

Carpe diem the light flight of the Frisbee!