Thursday, May 20, 2021


In my previous post, we visited my favorite April poem: Patrick Kavanagh's "Wet Evening in April."  A poem haunted by melancholy. But a serene and peaceful melancholy, a lovely melancholy.  This is never a bad thing.  Like April. 

May is a different matter.  As it happens, Kavanagh wrote a fine short poem about May as well:

       Consider the Grass Growing

Consider the grass growing
As it grew last year and the year before,
Cool about the ankles like summer rivers,
When we walked on a May evening through the meadows
To watch the mare that was going to foal.

Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems (edited by Antoinette Quinn (Penguin 2004).  The poem was first published in The Irish Press on May 21, 1943.  Ibid, page 271.

In May we enter the green world again.  The meadow grass sways in green waves.  The tunnels of trees continue their annual interlacing, each tree extending its boughs a bit each year, as overhead the green grows deeper.  And, as I report here every May, the ants have once again commenced their kingdom building, burrowing away in the darkness, erecting pyramids of sand in the green world above.

Gilbert Adams (1906-1996), "The Cotswolds from Park Leys" (1958)

I am quite fond of "Consider the Grass Growing."  But, as I have noted here in the past, this is my favorite May poem:

                  The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old?  No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

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

Larkin's "unresting castles" always bring to mind my favorite November poem, Wallace Stevens' "The Region November."  The two poems seem made for each other.  Both consist of twelve lines.  In both, trees "thresh" and "sway."  And, wonderfully, their final lines echo one another with lovely triple repetitions.  "Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."  "The trees are swaying, swaying, swaying."

Samuel Llewellyn (1858-1941), "Sailing at Blakeney (c. 1938)

In May, a bright yellow-green inch-long or so spray of soft needles emerges at the tip of each twig on each branch of certain types of pine trees. "Nature's first green is gold."  In the midst of my seventh decade, I often think that I have spent most of that time sleepwalking through the World.  How long it took for me to take notice of those soft green needles!

I was again shaken out of my sleep yesterday afternoon.  As I walked beneath a madrona tree, tiny white berries pattered down around me from the boughs overhead.  But they weren't berries.  I picked one up and discovered it was a flower: a creamy-white, bell-like hollow globe, about a quarter-inch or less in diameter.  The flowers had fallen from large clusters high up in the tree.


I do not think that skies and meadows are
Moral, or that the fixture of a star
Comes of a quiet spirit, or that trees
Have wisdom in their windless silences.
Yet these are things invested in my mood
With constancy, and peace, and fortitude,
That in my troubled season I can cry
Upon the wide composure of the sky,
And envy fields, and wish that I might be
As little daunted as a star or tree.

John Drinkwater, Tides (Sidgwick & Jackson 1917).

A haiku written by Bashō is prefaced by a headnote which consists of "a sentence that often appears in Taoist classics, although Bashō probably took it from a poem by the Confucian philosopher Ch'eng Ming-tao."  (Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary (Stanford University Press 1991), page 153.)  The headnote is this: "As we look calmly, we see everything is content with itself."

Arthur Friedenson (1872-1955), "On the River at Wareham, Dorset"