Thursday, May 09, 2013

`A Complete Globe, a System in Itself'

On the afternoon of May 9, 1858, Thoreau visits Ledum Swamp near Concord. The last of the snow, even in the shadowed hollows, has melted. The ground is soggy and smells deliciously of rot. He spies two Rana halecina, familiarly known as shad frogs, and observes they have a “green halo.” In a ditch he notes toad spawn among the Ludwigia palustris, a flower we call water purslane. Of the spawn Thoreau writes: “I can distinguish the little pollywog while yet in the ova by their being quite small and very black. This makes the fifth kind of frog or toad spawn that I have detected this year.” 

In the Holden Swamp wood he notices a bird he had seen six days earlier but is still unable to identify. He speculates it may be a “solitary vireo,” a name since discarded as too general, describing at least three species. It may be a blue-headed vireo. He sees Vaccinium pennsylvanicum (low-bush blueberries) and a parti-colored warbler (another abandoned name), whose song he transcribes as “twze twze twze.” Next he sees “very large” clams of uncertain species in the West Meadow Brook. Thoreau concludes the day’s journal entry with one of his perfect sentences, grammatically incomplete but bursting with thought: 

“A dandelion perfectly gone to seed, a complete globe, a system in itself.” 

The proximity of “dandelion” and “globe” brings back Shakespeare, Hugh Kenner and “Goldenlads and girls all must, / As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.”

1 comment:

Nige said...

How lovely that he calls them pollywogs!