Sunday, March 01, 2015

`Black March I Call Him'

Because it’s one long tease, at least in the North, March is the longest month. A thaw would arrive late in February and you could smell the earth, a rich mineral rot, for the first time since October. If the thaw lasted into the following month, you might start believing spring had arrived and comfort yourself with thoughts of imminent sunshine and greenery. Then by mid-March a blizzard would hit, sometimes on St. Patrick’s Day, and you’d be shoveling out the driveway within days of the vernal equinox.

In brief, March was a lesson in life, the end of apprenticeship, time to think about sowing and reaping, and preparing for next turn of the seasons. Basil Bunting grudgingly praised Stevie Smith’s poems as “little stuff, but honestly done, worked on.” He got it two-thirds right. “Little” is patronizing and wrong. Smith refused overweening significance, self-important philosophizing. She was no Robert Lowell and never pretended to be. Hers was the seriousness of an intelligent child. “Black March” is a late poem, first published posthumously in Scorpion and Other Poems (1972), in a mode of mock-Imagism:     

“Black March I call him
Because of his eyes
Being like March raindrops
On black twigs.”

Smith would die in March, on the seventh, in 1971, at age sixty-eight.

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