Sunday, April 13, 2014


Spring came in a rush this week.  Overnight (or so it seemed) all of the trees came into leaf at once.  Perhaps this was merely a trick of the light.  But the coming to greenness had a suddenness about it that was startling.

From a distance, the groves of hardwoods -- though the dark limbs of winter remain visible -- are now covered in a mist of light-green:  not yet the deep-green of summer.  "Nature's first green is gold . . ."

Richard Eurich (1903-1992), "Whitby in Wartime"

The following two poems are splendid arrival-of-spring poems.  They capture wonderfully the coming out of hibernation feel of the first long days of the season.   That sense of emerging from a winter burrow, eyes squinting and blinking, out into sunlight and color.

   The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush

Before the first visitor comes the spring
Softening the sharp air of the coast
In time for the first 'invasion'.
Today the place is as it might have been,
Gentle and almost hospitable.  A girl
Strides past the Northern Counties Hotel,
Light-footed, swinging a book-bag,
And the doors that were shut all winter
Against the north wind and the sea mist
Lie open to the street, where one
By one the gulls go window-shopping
And an old wolfhound dozes in the sun.

While I sit with my paper and prawn chow mein
Under a framed photograph of Hong Kong
The proprietor of the Chinese restaurant
Stands at the door as if the world were young,
Watching the first yacht hoist a sail
-- An ideogram on sea-cloud -- and the light
Of heaven upon the mountains of Donegal;
And whistles a little tune, dreaming of home.

Derek Mahon, Selected Poems (Penguin/The Gallery Press 1991).

"An ideogram on sea-cloud" is particularly lovely.

Richard Eurich, "Queen of the Sea, 1911" (1954)


The kind of rain we knew is a thing of the past --
deep-delving, dark, deliberate you would say,
browsing on spire and bogland; but today
our sky-blue slates are steaming in the sun,
our yachts tinkling and dancing in the bay
like race-horses.  We contemplate at last
shining windows, a future forbidden to no-one.

Derek Mahon, Ibid.

The lines "We contemplate at last/shining windows, a future forbidden to no-one" bring to mind two other poems.  Mahon's "Everything Is Going To Be All Right" (which has appeared here before) closes with these lines:

The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon, Ibid.

Philip Larkin's "High Windows" ends as follows:

                                 . . . And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

Philip Larkin, High Windows (Faber and Faber 1974).

Richard Eurich, "Dorset Cove" (1939)


Busyantine said...

"While I sit with my paper and prawn chow mein"
Paper and prawn dishes? Would that be the adoption of Chinese cuisine to N. Ireland?

Anonymous said...

NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; 5
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning 10
In Eden garden.—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.

Nobody is more exuberant about the arrival of spring than the shy priest Hopkins. Hopkins sees spring as noting less than a reminder of the world before the Fall. Implicit in the poem is the transitory grandeur of spring: it will indeed "cloy" and "cloud," leaving, I suppose, only Frost's oven bird to sing of a diminished world. You appositely quote Frost: "Nothing gold can stay."

Sam Vega said...

Although we live so far apart, I'm often surprised to see how closely our seasons coincide, even in their smallest details. Some accident of latitude and micro-climate, perhaps. And beyond this, there is the little miracle of how subtle differences of season and mood can be conveyed by words or paintings.

The Larkin poem is my favourite by him. I like the way it moves from such bitterness and grossness of expression to something religiously transcendent. Many thanks.

Stephen Pentz said...

Nigel PJ: I've lived with that poem for years, and I never noticed that. You'll not catch me making any comments on the cuisine of Northern Ireland or Ireland (or the UK, for that matter)! I will say that Mahon is known for revising previously-published poems. (Often to the chagrin of his admirers, such as myself.) He hasn't, however, tinkered with that particular line over the years!

Thank you very much for visiting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: you and I have similar tastes: I posted Hopkins's "Spring" on March 30 in tandem with Philip Larkin's "Coming." It is apt here as well. I agree that it does carry a warning (lovely, though) of the loss of Eden.

Thank you very much for your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Sam Vega: yes, although there may a difference of about 5 degrees in latitude, we are very similar -- dampness, if nothing else! Vancouver (which is just up the road about 140 miles) even more so, I think.

I agree with you about the movement in "High Windows": it is marvelous how he moves from that harsh beginning to the closing image -- which, if you pick it apart, is not exactly optimistic or hopeful, but is nonetheless, as you say, transcendent.

As always, thank you for visiting, and for your thoughts.