Spring! Poetry! Can-openers! Dirt!

“Meanwhile, SPRING, which has been approaching for several pages, is at last here.”
— William Carlos Williams, Spring and All

Sometime in the last ten or twelve years or so, I fell in love with spring poems. When spring arrives each year I pull them back off the shelf and I reread them often; I keep them close at hand, too, the rest of the year, for when spring feels impossibly far away.

Today—it’s Easter, and April Fool’s, and it’s a beautiful day outside—feels like as good an excuse as any to share a few of those poems here, starting with my favorite: “The Cast Off,” by Marge Piercy. Technically Piercy’s poem says nothing about spring itself—nothing about the seasons or weather or nature, about fresh blooming things or the calendar—but it’s a poem for new beginnings, for openings, for awakenings and rebirths, and to me it’s always been the perfect poem for the season. It also happens, unexpectedly, to be a love poem:

This is a day to celebrate can-
openers, those lantern-jawed long-tailed
humping tools that cut through what keeps
us from what we need: a can of beans
trapped in its armor taunts the nails
and teeth of a hungry woman.

Today let us hear hurrahs for zippers,
those small shark teeth that part
politely to let us at what we want;
the tape on packages that unlock
us birthday presents; envelopes
we slit to thaw the frozen
words on the tundra of paper.

Today let us praise the small
rebirths, the emerging groundhog
from the sodden burrow; the nut
picked from the broken fortress of walnut
shell, itself pried from the oily fruit
shaken from the high turreted
city of the tree.

Today let us honor the safe whose door
hangs ajar; the champagne bottle
with its cork bounced off the ceiling
and into the soup tureen; the Victorian lady
in love who has removed her hood, her cloak,
her laced boots, her stockings, her overdress,
her underdress, her wool petticoat, her linen
petticoats, her silk petticoats, her whalebone
corset, her bustle, her chemise, her drawers, and
who still wants to! Today let us praise the cast
that finally opens, slit neatly in two
like a dinosaur egg, and out at last
comes somewhat hairier, powdered in dead skin
but still beautiful, the lost for months
body of my love.

*

Next is one of e. e. cummings’s many spring poems. Even if poetry and spring are natural and frequent mates, it’s hard to imagine a poet more in love with the spring than cummings. Here’s a great one, a poem about humanity’s naive insistence on defining, categorizing, and pinning down something that’s so much bigger than us. (This blog software, sadly, resists my efforts to replicate the spread of cummings’s poem across the page; you can read it, with all the original spacing, in numerous e. e. cummings collections.)

O sweet spontaneous
Earth how often have
the doting

fingers of
prurient philosophies pinched
and poked

thee
,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
thy

beauty          .how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy
knees squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
gods
(but
true

to the incomparable
couch of death thy
rhythmic
lover

thou answerest
them only with

spring)

*

The next poem, “Loss of Vitality” by Alice Walker, is another that I keep in my stash of spring poems, even if the connection’s again just metaphorical. It’s a good poem to hang onto for all your metaphorical winters, no matter what time in your year they may fall.

Loss of vitality
Is a sign
That
Things have gone
Wrong.

It is like
Sitting on
A sunny pier
Wondering whether
To swing
Your feet.

A time of dullness
Deadness
Sodden enthusiasm
When
This exists
At all.
Decay.

You wonder:
Was I ever “on”
Bright with life
My thoughts
Spinning out
Confident
As
Sunflowers?

Did I wiggle
My ears
& jiggle my toes
From sheer
Delight?

Is the girl
Grinning fiercely
In the old photo
Really me?

Loss of vitality
Signals emptiness
But let
Me tell you:
Depletion can be
Just the thing.

You are using
Have used
Up
The old life
The old way.

Now will rush in
The energetic,
The flexible,
The unmistakable
Knowing
That life is life
Not mood.

*

I’ll end this post with a couple of those good old, silly, giddy Elizabethan springtime songs. The first one, by Thomas Nashe, comes from the 1592 play, Summer’s Last Will and Testament. It deserves (like every poem, ever) to be read—or, better still, sung—out loud.

Spring, the sweete spring, is the yere’s pleasant king,
Then bloomes eche thing, then mayds daunce in a ring,
Cold doeth not sting, the pretty birds doe sing:
Cuckow, jugge jugge, pu we, to witta woo.

The Palme and May make countrey houses gay,
Lambs friske and play, the Shepherds pype all day,
And we heare aye birds tune this merry lay:
Cuckow, jugge jugge, pu we, to witta woo.

The fields breathe sweete, the dayzies kisse our feete,
Young lovers meete, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our eares doe greete:
Cuckow, jugge jugge, pu we, to witta woo.
Spring, the sweete spring.

And here’s one from Shakespeare, a little springtime ditty from As You Like It:

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green corn-field did pass,
In the spring time, 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,
These pretty country folks would lie,
In the spring time, 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 life was but a flower
In the spring time, 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 crown`d with the prime
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

*

(An aside—besides helping us celebrate the spring, here is something else poetry is good for (perhaps, even, the thing that poetry is best for): helping us celebrate, rediscover, and live for a moment inside language. Because what is poetry but a feast of language?

“those lantern-jawed long-tailed humping tools”
“upon their scraggy knees”
“sodden enthusiasm”
“hey nonino”
“Cuckow, jugge jugge, pu we, to witta woo!”

And so on.)

But, back to spring—I’d like to end for now with this: not a poem, but a line from a short story (“Unearthing Suite”) by Margaret Atwood, and a proper reminder for the season—

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

Alleluia. Hey, nonny. Amen.  

P.S. Don’t forget this great spring poem, which I shared last January.

2 thoughts on “Spring! Poetry! Can-openers! Dirt!

  1. It’s not the name alone but the melancholy of a wise man destined for death.

    Letzter Frühling (Gottfried Benn)

    Nimm die Forsythien tief in dich hinein
    und wenn der Flieder kommt, vermisch auch diesen
    mit deinem Blut und Glück und Elendsein,
    dem dunklen Grund, auf den du angewiesen.

    Langsame Tage. Alles überwunden.
    Und fragst du nicht, ob Ende, ob Beginn,
    dann tragen dich vielleicht die Stunden
    noch bis zum Juni mit den Rosen hin.

    (Final Spring
    Take the forsythias up deep into yourself
    and when the lilacs are here, mix these too
    with your blood and your happiness and your state of misery,
    that dark ground that is your lot.

    Slow days. Everything has been overcome.
    But do not ask yourself, whether this is the end or the beginning. Then perhaps the hours will be just enough to take you and the roses through until June.)

    Liked by 1 person

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