Thursday, March 25, 2010

`Waving Fancy's Banner'

Without taking care I opened a lovely 1963 edition of Andrew Young’s Quiet as Moss: Thirty-Six Poems and destroyed a nosegay of violets pressed between its pages. The petals were thinner than the pages that held them and turned to dust as they dropped to the kitchen table. The last stamp on the circulation card reads Jan. 20, 1998. The pressing left a pale brown shadow on page 19, on which appears a wood engraving of another bouquet by Joan Hassall and one of Young’s poems, “Spring Flowers”:

“Now we enjoy the rain,
When at each neighbor’s door we hear
`How big primroses are this year’–
Tale we may live to hear again—

“And dandelions flood
The orchards as though apple-trees
Dropped in the grass ripe oranges,
Boughs still in pink impatient bud.

“When too we cannot choose,
But one foot and the other set
In celandine and violet,
Walking in gold and purple shoes,

“Rain that through winter weeks
Splashed on our face and window pane,
And rising in these flowers again
Brightens their eyes and fats their cheeks.”

The poem is conventional and could have been written most any time in the last 200 years, though the second stanza, especially “as though apple-trees / Dropped in the grass ripe oranges,” is unexpected and pleasing. Thanks to Stephen Pentz for making me aware of Young (1885-1971) who was born in Scotland, served as a Presbyterian minister until he converted to the Church of England, and was an avocational botanist. Among his prose works is A Retrospect of Flowers (1950) which carries an interesting epigraph from “Amaturus” by another minor poet, William Cory: “Still holding reason’s fort / Though waving fancy’s banner.”

I like that a previous reader of Young’s book pressed his violets on the only poem in it to mention the flower. I’ve found flowers before in books, some of them my own, but never on a page that names the species. Thoreau carried with him a heavy book of music to serve as a press. In the penultimate paragraph of her second novel, The Bookshop (1978), Penelope Fitzgerald writes:

“Florence was left, therefore, without a shop and without books. She had kept, it is true, two of the Everymans, which had never been very good sellers. One was Ruskin’s Unto this Last, the other was Bunyan’s Grace Abounding. Each had its old bookmarker in it, Everyman I will be thy guide, in thy most need to go by thy side, and the Ruskin also had a pressed gentian, quite colourless. The book must have gone, perhaps fifty years before, to Switzerland in springtime.”


Donald said...

“Still holding reason’s fort / Though waving fancy’s banner.”

This reminds me of Leonard Cohen:

"I'm stubborn as those garbage bags that time can not decay.
I'm junk, but I'm still holding up this little wild bouquet."

zmkc said...

I love your blog - and was glad to see your mention of Penelope Fitzgerald, whose rather quiet writing seems to be getting lost a bit. I love the portrait of an entirely unequal battle of wills that she gives us in The Bookshop and I especially love the way she does not exclude humour from her writing, even though her stories are fairly melancholy.