Monday, December 10, 2012

`To Sport with Amaryllis in the Shade'

A former newspaper colleague gave us a paper sack holding two anonymous bulbs, each about the size of a Vidalia onion. This was a few days before Halloween. The following weekend I planted them, a pig in a poke, next to the lantana in the front yard, and expected nothing. Quickly, two green spikes poked through the soil and grew at an alarming rate. Each is leafless and about as tall as a cat, and this week one of them blossomed. It's an amaryllis, with a flower the color of a pomegranate. The name derives from a shepherdess in Virgil’s Eclogues, from the Greek amarysso, “to sparkle,” though my first thought was of Marian the Librarian’s instructions to her piano student in The Music Man: “Now don’t dawdle, Amaryllis.” At a more elevated level I thought of Milton’s lines in “Lycidas”: 

“To sport with Amaryllis in the shade
Or with the tangles Neaera’s hair?” 

The poem moves me each time I read it and leaves me feeling annoyed with Dr. Johnson’s failure to appreciate the poem in his “Life of Milton.” In “Lycidas," he says, “…the diction is harsh, the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing. What beauty there is we must therefore seek in the sentiments and images. It is not to be considered as the effusion of real passion; for passion runs not after remote allusions and obscure opinions.” Johnson dismisses the poem as “a pastoral, easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting.”

Harsh, baffling words that remind us never to dismiss a critic or any writer for a single egregiously faulty lapse in taste. We all nod, even the greatest critic in the language.

1 comment:

Julia Tonkinson said...

. . . or with the tangles of Neaera's hair?

These two lines have hung around in my head since my schooldays, reinforced when I was 50 by Jack and Journalist who could quote poetry at length.
So thank you for doing my homework for me, for the Greek derivation, the Virgil shepherdess and the Johnson criticism which made me laugh. I am a fan of his, and have a copy of his dictionary published in 1794, or MDCCXCIV in old speak.
I particularly liked his definition of Aborigines - "The earliest inhabitants of a country; those of whom no original is to be traced, as, the Welsh in Britain". Why? Because I live in England, and the competitive spirit between the two countries is strong. So, aborigines eh?
Did you know there is no section in his dictionary for J? All his J entries appear in the I section, which must go back to the Roman lack of J, yes?
So, my thanks to Iack the Iournalist and yourself. I am today a happy bunny.
How do I sign off? I have never blogged before. Ah, just spotted Choose an identity. Here goes.