Thursday, March 30, 2017

`His Piquant Blend of Lyricism and Discontent'

I first identified the species Sensitivo hominis in high school when a histrionically soulful classmate chose to recite E.E. Cummings’  “in Just- / spring” and all the girls swooned. This guy was an operator. He brought his guitar on a field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art and sang and strummed “I’ve Just Seen a Face” while we ate lunch on the lawn. At the time I was a dedicated Yeats-and-Eliot man, and had already decided that Cummings’ poems were reliable emetics, but the recitation sealed it and soured my appreciation of spring (or rather, the sappy celebration of the season) for decades. Spring seemed custom-made of sentimental boilerplate. Philip Larkin helped me recover with “Spring” (The Less Deceived, 1955):

“Green-shadowed people sit, or walk in rings,
Their children finger the awakened grass,
Calmly a cloud stands, calmly a bird sings,
And, flashing like a dangled looking-glass,
Sun lights the balls that bounce, the dogs that bark,
The branch-arrested mist of leaf, and me,
Threading my pursed-up way across the park,
An indigestible sterility.

“Spring, of all seasons most gratuitous,
Is fold of untaught flower, is race of water,
Is earth’s most multiple, excited daughter;

“And those she has least use for see her best,
Their paths grown craven and circuitous,
Their visions mountain-clear, their needs immodest.”

Larkin, “an indigestible sterility,” was twenty-seven when he wrote this poem in May 1950. One admires his singular, anti-Romantic notion of spring – not rejection, exactly. After all, he tells us, spring is “of all seasons most gratuitous.” Jean Hartley, who with her husband published The Less Deceived, wrote a readable memoir, Philip Larkin, the Marvell Press and Me (Carcanet, 1989). In a talk she gave in 2000, “Philip Larkin and Me, or You: The Democratic Appeal of His Poetry,” Hartley says “Spring” was one of the first Larkin poems she read, along with “Dry-Point” and "Toads." She writes of “Spring”:

“I'd read lots of odes to Spring in my time but none that contained his piquant blend of lyricism and discontent. How often had I not felt that nature was doing its beautiful best but that my mood or circumstances simply didn’t match it? All of us must, at some time have felt out of harmony with nature. The line `And those she has least use for see her best’ acknowledges the paradox that if one's life were on a par with all that Spring represents, Spring would not be noticeable except as an accompaniment to one's own blossoming.”

1 comment:

TonyM said...

Brings to mind Sinatra's rendition of the Rodgers and Hart song "Spring Is Here."