Friday, August 20, 2010

`That Other Restlessness'

A month ahead of the calendar, autumn has arrived in the garden. The smells are tart, tomatoes and marigolds, no longer the floral sweetness of July. The sense of display and allurement, the high frivolity of true summer, has lapsed. There’s a new seriousness among the green beans. In “August” (Toward the Winter Solstice, 2006) Timothy Steele writes of “a rioting of salad greens” but hints at the unannounced change:

“In such rich warmth, it’s easy to relax
And hard to credit calendars and clocks,
Which register, among other facts,
The shorter days, the coming equinox.”

The boys and I picked a fat yellow squash, red onions, beans, a handful of cherry tomatoes (sweet, unmistakably fruit) and the last of the lettuce (a little bitter, the way I like it). In our modest way, since spring planting we’ve ridden the turn of the seasons, emotions keyed to celestial motions. Circadian rhythm is nothing next to a Northerner’s sense of seasonal rhythm, matters of temperature, moisture and light. The marigolds we left unpicked. It was my job as a boy to harvest their seeds and store them in pipe tobacco cans until the following spring. I remember the riddle John Gay poses in “The Shepherd’s Week” (1714):

“`What flower is that which bears the Virgin's name,
The richest metal joined with the same?’”

The answer: Mary + gold = marigold. Gardens always brings thoughts of poems, Marvell’s and Donne’s, for instance, and Yvor Winters’ “Time and the Garden,” which explicitly links the subjects. As his garden grows, so does his sense of anticipation:

“I long to crowd the little garden, gain
Its sweetness in my hand and crush it small
And taste it in a moment, time and all!”

The urge reminds him of “that other restlessness”:

“To seize the greatness not yet fairly earned,
One which the tougher poets have discerned—
Gascoigne, Ben Jonson, Greville, Raleigh, Donne,
Poets who wrote great poems, one by one,
And spaced by many years, each line an act
Through which few labor, which no men retract.”


William A. Sigler said...
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Cynthia Haven said...
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William A. Sigler said...

Another excellent post. I love the seriousness of the green beans. And another interesting triumvirate of poems to examine and compare (there are so few poetry stands, and look at the variety here!).

Winters' is a real gem, from beginning to end, effortlessly moving from the crisp physical sense of a California garden to a grand metaphor of the literary tradition as one mind that should be tended as such, with the greatest of care.

Marvell's, less elegantly disguised, twins the writing process with gardens, and concludes rather brusquely that a woman would simply destroy this garden of Eden. Donne, another clueless male, at least acknowledges the higher truth possessed by the female, but cannot bring himself to learn from it, instead accepting the femme fatale as muse, as curse in which to grow like a "mandrake".

I don't want to get all GLBT on this, but I hope there's equal room in the common mind for sentiments such as these:

"What shall I do when the Summer troubles --
What, when the Rose is ripe --
What when the Eggs fly off in Music
From the Maple Keep?

What shall I do when the Skies a'chirrup
Drop a Tune on me --
When the Bee hangs all Noon in the Buttercup
What will become of me?

Oh, when the Squirrel fills His Pockets
And the Berries stare
How can I bear their jocund Faces
Thou from Here, so far?

'Twouldn't afflict a Robin --
All His Goods have Wings --
I -- do not fly, so wherefore
My Perennial Things?"

- Emily Dickinson, #956