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What is the change in summer

of which one expects nothing?

Nature is not reborn,

nor does she perish except

in the streaks of a rare elm

that has outlived itself.

The weather conceals nothing:

the months are temperate,

even in the hardest rains

one may walk without a coat.

The gardens flourish, and bear

without a gardener’s help.

 

Sitting in windows at night

black cats and their masters

look out on summer; the moon

feeds their yellow visions,

the opened windows cool them.

One learns to smoke a pipe

and is pleased for solitude.

One wants nothing to happen

forever, and thinks of those

who perhaps are ready to die,

except that it is summer

and they are putting it off.

 

~ Robley Wilson

 

“Young Woman Holding a Black Cat” by Gwen John, circa 1920

Summer

Then followed that beautiful season […]

the Summer of All-Saints! 

Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape

Lay as if new-created in all the freshness of childhood.

Peace seemed to reign upon earth, and the restless heart of the ocean

Was for a moment consoled.  All sounds were in harmony blended.

 

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie

 

“Summer Sunlight” by Childe Hassam, 1892

Two years ago on Memorial Day, I flew to Paris for my first visit.  For ten days I explored the streets, gardens, and museums of this beautiful and mysterious city and was forever transformed in ways known only to Paris and myself.  My prompt return thwarted, I spent half of 2020 reading and writing about Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu and, so far, much of this year learning to translate French prose for my doctoral language exams.  Nothing seems more fitting on this day than this passage from Baudelaire’s Parisian Scenes from Les Fleurs Du Mal.

 

Paris change! mais rien dans ma mélancolie

N’a bougé! palais neufs, échafaudages, blocs,

Vieux faubourgs, tout pour moi devient allégorie,

Et mes chers souvenirs sont plus lourds que des rocs.

 

Aussi devant ce Louvre une image m’opprime:

Je pense à mon grand cygnet, avec ses gestes fous,

Comme les exilés, ridicule et sublime,

Et rongé d’un désir sans trêve! et puis à vous…

 

Paris is changing! But in my melancholy

Nothing has moved! New palaces, scaffoldings, blocks,

Old suburbs, all for me becomes an allegory,

And all my memories weigh heavier than rocks.

 

And when before the Louvre I pause to pass the time,

The image of that great white swan haunts me anew,

Its desperate convulsions, grotesque and yet sublime,

The fruit of vain desire! And then I think of you…

 

 ~ From “The Swan” by Charles Baudelaire

 

“Au Moulin de la Galette” by Ramon Casas i Carbó, 1892

The sun shines fair on Tweedside, the river flowing bright,

Your heart is full of pleasure, your eyes are full of light,

Your cheeks are like the morning, your pearls are like the dew,

Or morning and her dew-drops are like your pearls and you.

 

Because you are a princess, a princess of the land,

You will not turn your lightsome eyes a moment where I stand,

A poor unnoticed poet, a-making of his rhymes;

But I have found a mistress, more fair a thousand times.

 

‘Tis May, the elfish maiden, the daughter of the Spring,

Upon whose birthday morning the birds delight to sing.

They would not sing one note for you, if you should so command,

Although you are a princess, a princess of the land.

 

~ Robert Fuller Murray (1863-1894)

 

“Phantasy” by William Savage Cooper, 1896

It has always been my practice to cast a long paragraph in a single mould, to try it by my ear, to deposit it in my memory, but to suspend the action of the pen till I had given the last polish to my work.

~ Edward Gibbon, born on this day in 1737

 

While I suspect the lack of word processors in the 18th century contributed to Gibbon’s restraint, I am nonetheless fascinated by the notion of perfecting a paragraph in one’s mind before committing it to paper (or, rather, to the screen).  For me, much of the joy and fulfillment of writing is derived from formulating a clunky, inelegant passage in the white space before me and then scrambling, inserting, and eliminating words and sentences until perfection is seemingly achieved.  According to novelist Walter Mosley (This Year You Write Your Novel), the process of rewriting is therefore endless because the work never attains perfection.     

Unlike Gibbon, I am a dedicated and zealous reviser.  Of the many scholarly and nonfiction essays, book reviews, newspaper columns, blog posts, novel chapters, short stories, and poems in my “final version” files, none are ever truly finished.  On the contrary, what I love most about writing is the opportunity, the necessity, to revise again and again, sometimes ad infinitum, for as long as the piece continues to enthrall and engage me with its promise.  It is simply impossible for me to read a paragraph I’ve written and not find a phrase or word or comma to alter for its benefit.  Indeed, the premise of a “last polish” has a compelling gleam to it, but I think the enduring potential of a perfect draft is even brighter. 

 

Oddly assorted bedfellows, frost and thaw

ruckus under their scanty quilt of clay.

To them, spring comes as the final straw.

Their tortured nights are pictured plain as day

in sudden humps and craters that we find

in garden ground upheaved and undermined.

 

Tossing about, all elbows in the cramped

embrace to which their restless kind are fated,

their lust for loamy struggle never damped

in all the years since they were strangely mated,

neither has known the other’s throes to yield

to careless calm.  Their bed’s a battlefield.

 

Curious: what they fight is what they share—

a sullen trance where serial nightmares reign.

Scouting the damage spades will soon repair,

shouldn’t we feel less ready to complain?

Our cruelest dreams have yet to match the girth

of these, that wrench the surface of the earth.

 

                               ~ Robert B. Shaw

 

“Spring Spreads One Green Lap of Flowers” by John William Waterhouse, 1910

Spring

The air is like a butterfly

With frail blue wings.

The happy earth looks at the sky

And sings.

~ Joyce Kilmer

 

Blue Morpho Butterfly by Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)

Solitude

Blest, who can unconcernedly find

Hours, days, and years slide soft away,

In health of body, peace of mind,

Quiet by day,

 

Sound sleep by night; study and ease,

Together mixed; sweet recreation;

And innocence, which most does please,

With meditation.

 

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;

Thus unlamented let me die;

Steal from the world, and not a stone

Tell where I lie.

 

~ Excerpt from Alexander Pope’s “Ode on Solitude”

 

“Sweet Solitude” by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1919

March

Sky a shook poncho.

Roof wrung.  Mind a luna moth

Caught in a banjo.

 

This weather’s witty

Peek-a-boo.  A study in

Insincerity.

 

Blues!  Blooms!  The yodel

Of the chimney in night wind.

That flat daffodil.

 

With absurd hauteur

New tulips dab their shadows

In water-mutter.

 

Boys are such oxen.

Girls! – sepal-shudder, shadow-

Waver.  Equinox.

 

Plums on the Quad did

Blossom all at once, taking

Down the power grid.

 

~ Richard Kenney

 

Vincent van Gogh

In Memoriam

I am waiting for the day

that maketh all things clear

and I am awaiting retribution

for what America did

to Tom Sawyer

and I am waiting

for Alice in Wonderland

to retransmit to me

her total dream of innocence

and I am waiting

for Childe Roland to come

to the final darkest tower

and I am waiting

for Aphrodite

to grow live arms

at a final disarmament conference

in a new rebirth of wonder

 

I am waiting

to get some intimations

of immortality

by recollecting my early childhood

and I am waiting

for the green mornings to come again

youth’s dumb green fields come back again

and I am waiting

for some strains of unpremeditated art

to shake my typewriter

and I am waiting to write

the great indelible poem

and I am waiting

for the last long careless rapture

and I am perpetually waiting

for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn

to catch each other up at last

and embrace

and I am awaiting

perpetually and forever

a renaissance of wonder

 

~ From “I Am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 

“Expectation” by Richard Eisermann, 1927
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