Monday, October 21, 2013

`Trees Were Hoar with Mist'

I lagged behind the Cub Scouts and the other adults because I kept stopping to look at things. In a pond we had already seen a dozen turtles and a copper-colored snake. Along the trail I saw a grove of waist-high cottonwoods fluttering and glistening in the breeze; minnows in a puddle; a bat on the shaded trunk of a loblolly pine, wings wrapped like a cloak; a scattering of blue and white feathers, the remains of a blue jay; a Swainson’s hawk perched high in a loblolly; two monarch butterflies. I saw verbena, much goldenrod and a field of black-eyed Susans. Crossing the field, I passed through a scattered swarm of bees and remembered Janet Lewis’ “October Morning” (The Selected Poems of Janet Lewis, ed. R.L. Barth, 2000): 

“The pump froze, the trees
Were hoar with mist.
In the plumed branch
Of white pine
Near the woodshed door
Were dozens of honey bees.”

“Hoar” is a Keatsian word, one he uses in “Endymion,” “Hyperion” and “Lamia,” though not in “To Autumn.” In Lewis’ usage, “hoar” suggests gray-haired with age, venerable. In Book IV, Canto XI, of The Faerie Queene, Spenser likens it to morning dew in a most un-autumnal setting: 

A Chapelet of sundry Flow'rs she wore,
From under which the dewy Humour shed,
Did trickle down her Hair, like to the hore
Congealed little Drops, which do the Morn adore.”

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