Friday, May 17, 2019

Lilacs And Azaleas And Ant Hills

I have returned to the shores of Puget Sound after my visit to the shores of the Pacific, and I find myself in a burgeoned and burgeoning green World, a leafy Paradise.  But that is not all:  as ever, mid-May is the time of lilacs and azaleas and ant hills.  This is only a partial inventory, of course.  "World is crazier and more of it than we think,/Incorrigibly plural."  (Louis MacNeice, "Snow.")

The lilacs and the azaleas are lovely, but it is the ant hills that are dearest to my heart.  The never-failing punctuality of those intent beings annually impresses and moves me.  Yes, yes, I am quite aware of the dangers of anthropomorphization.  But the sight of the humble yet brave sand mounds rising in the seams of the sidewalks right on schedule each May provokes tender feelings, and I cannot help but feel that we and the ants are companions in this journey of ours. Which means that I can be accused of sentimentality as well, I suppose.  So be it.  An anthropomorphizing sentimentalist I am.

I do know this:  long after I have returned to the dust, the ant hills will continue to rise each May.  I find this comforting, a source of serenity and equanimity.

   Flowers and Moonlight on the Spring River

The evening river is level and motionless --
The spring colours just open to their full.
Suddenly a wave carries the moon away
And the tidal water comes with its freight of stars.

Yang-ti (Seventh Century) (translated by Arthur Waley), in Arthur Waley, One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (Constable 1918).

Fairlie Harmar (1876-1945), "L'Aveyron" (c. 1932)


Maggie Emm said...

Oh, Louis MacNeice - one of my favourite poets! I love his description of the world as a 'mad weir of tigerish waters'. One needs a very stout paddle in ones canoe...
Greetings to you Stephen, on a beautiful lilac strewn spring morning - the starlings birthed in our roof are getting ready to fly and the ash tree is greening up at last.

Nikki said...

Thanks to your excellent blog, I have pulled out books of Chinese poetry that have been on my shelves for years and fallen in love with them all over again. After reading your excerpts and recommendation, I have also ordered the Walter de la Mare book, Behold, This Dreamer!. Thanks so much for the inspiration.

Stephen Pentz said...

Maggie Emm: MacNeice's poetry is wonderful, isn't it? Your quotation reminds me that it has been too long since I have visited his poems, and that I need to do so. It sounds like a lovely May where you are. The closing lines from Larkin's "The Trees" come to mind: "Last year is dead, they seem to say,/Begin afresh, afresh, afresh." So say the lilacs, the starlings, and the ash tree.

As always, thank you very much for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

Nikki: Thank you very much for your kind words.

I'm sure you will find hours (and years) of enjoyment in Behold, This Dreamer! Once you've spent time with it, I suspect you will want to explore his other anthologies of the same type (which you may already be aware of): Early One Morning in the Spring (1935), Love (1943), and Desert Islands (1930) (not an anthology per se, but a 70-page essay followed by two hundred pages of delightful footnotes, which amount to an anthology of sorts). De la Mare is a treasure.

I'm happy to hear you've returned to Chinese poetry. As I'm sure you've noticed, I'm quite fond of it (particularly in the translations of Arthur Waley and Burton Watson). It seems I spend the years and the seasons moving between Chinese poetry, English poetry, and Japanese poetry. A wonderful flow.

As ever, it's a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for visiting again. Happy reading!

John Ashton said...

Stephen, Sorry I’ve not visited in a while. I always read your posts even when there isn’t time to respond. Since the beginning of March it has been very busy at the university and now we are in the middle of exams, hopefully by the beginning of June it should begin to calm down. I’m pleased you had a good trip on the Pacific coast. The green world is brimming, vivid and fresh here too. We were recently in Norfolk for a week’s holiday and the grassy banks along country lanes were bright with wildflowers, though sadly not as many as there used to be, and beside footpaths tall nettles, hedgerows and trees in blossom. This time of year always reminds me of Hopkin’s lines,

“NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

I can’t comment on the anthills, but it’s always a joyful sight to be able to see ladybirds, honeybees and bumblebees visiting our allotment. I only hope that long after I’ve returned to dust they will still visit and these allotments or some equivalent remain for them to visit. The sight of their busyness around the Spring flowers is always a joy. The poem by Yang-ti is beautiful.

Stephen Pentz said...

John: There is no need to apologize: I realize that you go through busy periods at certain times of the year, and those responsibilities of course take precedence. I'm always delighted to hear from you whenever you find the time.

I'm pleased to hear you were able to spend some time in Norfolk. As you know, I've never been there, but I think of it as a watery place. Thus, Yang-ti's poem may fit well with that part of England. Thank you for sharing the lines from Hopkins. I revisited the poem, and had forgotten this: "Thrush's eggs look little low heavens."

"Ladybird": a much lovelier word than our American "ladybug"! Either way, they are charming creatures, aren't they? And, as you suggest, redolent of Spring (and Summer). As for the bees: today I walked beneath an avenue of trees, and the boughs high above were full of a constant hum. I don't know what type of trees they are, but the bees return to them every year around this time. Soon the hum will be gone. Your allotment must bring you many seasonal returns (and departures) of this sort throughout the year.

As always, thank you very much for stopping by. I hope you will find time to get away this summer -- somewhere in lovely England, or perhaps a Greek island.