Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Why is April National Poetry Month? Why should spring be more poetical than any other time of year? Here's one take, another by Kay Ryan, "Spring:"

Winter, like a set opinion,
is routed. What gets it out?
The imposition of some external season
or some internal doubt?
I see the yellow maculations spread
across bleak hills of what I said
I'd always think; a stippling of white
upon the grey; a pink the shade
of what I said I'd never say.

Spring, while obviously anticipated intellectually, nonetheless takes the eye and the body by surprise, year after year, teaching us the limits of the imagination and the inexorability of nature, even in its luxuriance. No less than natural disasters, spring is an assault upon the senses, the ultimate exercise of natural power. The mind, too, often surprises. So T. S. Eliot famously wrote:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

And Whitman:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Spring's annual ritual is both promise and threat, a display of renewal ironically at odds with a mortal body. Spring best embodies the universe's basic superfluity--why something rather than nothing, indeed?

And yet Stevens warns in "Esthetique du Mal:"

The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one's desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair.

And Stevens's remedy?

Beauty is momentary in the mind--
The fitful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh it is immortal.

Spring should be enough in itself; some of us seem to need poetry to explain why, for restless consciousness, it isn't. Nature has evolved beings who are impatient of nature.

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