Monday, February 17, 2014

`And When They Wake, Rejoice'

The death-watch is on in the garden. Winter has been hard by Houston standards. No snow, little ice, but four to five degrees colder judged by the thirty-year “normal” (a word to use sparingly in connection with the natural and human worlds). Temperatures dropped to freezing or lower ten days in January, once into the teens. Green is scarce, brown and beige predominate The garden looks stricken, like kindling awaiting the match. The azaleas weathered just fine, as did the potted avocado and the peach sapling. Among the undeniably dead: parsley hawthorn, pink skullcap, blush witch hazel, Mexican honeysuckle, daisy of India heart leaf hibiscus, Salvia greggii, plumbago and more. Others linger in botanical torpor: dwarf Barbados cherry, blue stem miscanthus, cigar plant, Brazilian snapdragon, maroon rudbeckia, purple ribbon flower and more. 

C.H. Sisson published at least seven poems with “garden” in the title, including “To a Garden Asleep,” “The Garden of Epicurus,” “The Garden of the Hesperides,” “No Garden,” “Gardening” and “The Herb-Garden.” Here is “The Garden” (Anchises, 1976): 

“Am I not fortunate in my garden?
When I awake in it the trees bow
Sensibly. There is a church tower in the distance,
There are two, underneath the maze of leaves 

“And at my back bells, over the stone wall
Fall tumbling on my head. Fortunate men
Love home, are not often abroad, sleep
Rather than wake and when they wake, rejoice.” 

The poem echoes with Genesis, Andrew Marvell and Dr. Johnson. I love those last two and a half lines, including the repetition of “fortunate.” For Sisson, a garden is a rooted refuge, as normal as the seasons.

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