By Amy Lowell
Color of lilac,
Your great puffs of flowers
Are everywhere in this my New England.
Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing
Their little weak soft songs;
In the crooks of your branches
The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs
Peer restlessly through the light and shadow
Of all Springs.
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
You were everywhere.
You tapped the window when the preacher preached his sermon,
And ran along the road beside the boy going to school.
You stood by the pasture-bars to give the cows good milking,
You persuaded the housewife that her dishpan was of silver.
And her husband an image of pure gold.
You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms
Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—
You, and sandal-wood, and tea,
Charging the noses of quill-driving clerks
When a ship was in from China.
You called to them: “Goose-quill men, goose-quill men,
May is a month for flitting.”
Until they writhed on their high stools
And wrote poetry on their letter-sheets behind the propped-up ledgers.
Paradoxical New England clerks,
Writing inventories in ledgers, reading the “Song of Solomon” at night,
So many verses before bed-time,
Because it was the Bible.
The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.
You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,
You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.
You cover the blind sides of greenhouses
And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass
To your friends, the grapes, inside.
Color of lilac,
You have forgotten your Eastern origin,
The veiled women with eyes like panthers,
The swollen, aggressive turbans of jeweled pashas.
Now you are a very decent flower,
A reticent flower,
A curiously clear-cut, candid flower,
Standing beside clean doorways,
Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,
Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight
And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.
Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of gardens of little children,
You are State Houses and Charters
And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.
May is lilac here in New England,
May is a thrush singing “Sun up!” on a tip-top ash tree,
May is white clouds behind pine-trees
Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky.
May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And windows open to a South Wind.
May is full light wind of lilac
From Canada to Narragansett Bay.
Color of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Lilacs by Sergei Rachmaninov
By Billy Collins
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Octet (Presto) by Felix Mendelssohn
After the Winter
By Claude McKay
Some day, when trees have shed their leaves
And against the morning’s white
The shivering birds beneath the eaves
Have sheltered for the night,
We’ll turn our faces southward, love,
Toward the summer isle
Where bamboos spire the shafted grove
And wide-mouthed orchids smile.
And we will seek the quiet hill
Where towers the cotton tree,
And leaps the laughing crystal rill,
And works the droning bee.
And we will build a cottage there
Beside an open glade,
With black-ribbed blue-bells blowing near,
And ferns that never fade.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Nimrod Variation from Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar
Easter in Pittsburgh
By James Laughlin
Even on Easter Sunday
when the church was a
jungle of lilies and
ferns fat Uncle Paul
who loved his liquor
so would pound away
with both fists on the
stone pulpit shouting
sin sin sin and the
fiery fires of hell
and I cried all after-
noon the first time I
heard what they did to
Jesus it was something
the children shouldn’t
know about till they
were older but the new
maid told me and both
of us cried a lot and so
mother got another one
right away & she sent
away Miss Richardson
who came all the way
from England because
she kept telling how
her fiancé Mr. Bowles-
Lyon died suddenly of
a heart attack he just
said one day at lunch
I’m afraid I’m not well
and the next thing they
knew he was sliding un-
der the table. Easter
was nice the eggs were
silly but the big lilies
were wonderful & when
Uncle Paul got so fat
from drinking that he
couldn’t squeeze into
the pulpit anymore &
had to preach from the
floor there was an el-
ders’ meeting and they
said they would have
the pulpit rebuilt but
Uncle Paul said no it
was the Lord’s manifest
will and he would pass
his remaining years in
sacred studies I liked
Thanksgiving better be-
cause that was the day
father took us down to
the mills but Easter I
liked next best and the
rabbits died because we
fed them beet tops and
the lamb pulled up the
grass by the roots and
was sold to Mr. Page the
butcher I asked Uncle
Robert what were sacred
studies he said he was
not really sure but he
guessed they came in a
bottle and mother sent
me away from the table
when I wouldn’t eat my
lamb chops that was
ridiculous she said it
wasn’t the lamb of God
it was just Caesar An-
dromache Nibbles but I
couldn’t I just couldn’t
& the year of the strike
we didn’t go to Church
at all on Easter because
they said it wasn’t safe
down town so instead we
had prayers in the library
and then right in the mid-
dle the telephone rang it
was Mr. Shupstead at the
mill they had had to use
tear gas father made a
special prayer right a-
way for God’s protection
& mercy and then he sent
us out to the farm with
mother we stayed a week
and missed school but it
rained a lot and I broke
the bathroom mirror and
had to learn a long psalm.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: String Quartet No. 1 by Charles Ives
In Perpetual Spring
By Amy Gerstler
Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.
Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Spring is Here by Richard Rodgers