Sunday, May 02, 2010

`We Have As Short a Spring'

The first of May, with chill winds and pewter skies, felt like the first of November, though Frank Wilson enlisted Robert Herrick to remind us of “spring-time, fresh and green" and related recreations. Our weekly visit to the garden was unproductive. Even the weeds are slow. The radishes planted two weeks ago are two-leaf seedlings of pale green, with no sign of carrots or beans. We’re not gathering rosebuds or anything else but nothing is dead. We need sun and soft rain and we’re getting only the latter. “We have short time to stay, as you, / We have as short a spring.”

Herrick invites us to sing even without a melody. Try reading “The Argument of His Book” aloud without hearing the tune:

“I SING of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers,
Of April, May, of June, and July-flowers;
I sing of May-poles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes,
Of bridegrooms, brides and of their bridal-cakes;
I write of youth, of love, and have access
By these to sing of cleanly wantonness;
I sing of dews, of rains, and piece by piece
Of balm, of oil, of spice and ambergris;
I sing of times trans-shifting, and I write
How roses first came red and lilies white;
I write of groves, of twilights, and I sing
The court of Mab, and of the fairy king;
I write of Hell ; I sing (and ever shall)
Of Heaven, and hope to have it after all.”

“Hock-carts” are the last carts from a presumably bountiful harvest (a hock is a joint in the hind leg of a horse). “Wakes” here are held not in memory of the dead, Irish-fashion, but on the dedication day of for a church – a celebration mingling the festive and devout. I covet the phrases “cleanly wantonness” and “times trans-shifting.” For Queen Mab, “the fairies’ midwife,” see Mercutio’s speech in Romeo and Juliet (Act I, Scene 4). And has anyone noticed the resemblance of Herrick to Balzac?

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