Monday, April 03, 2017

`That All My Pasts Result in "If"'

“April” (What and Who, 1994) by C.H. Sisson:

“Exactly: where the winter was
The spring has come: I see her now
In the fields, and as she goes
The flowers spring, nobody knows how.”

Who or what is the antecedent to “her” and “she”? Winter, spring or some unidentified female? Might she be Persephone? Sisson renders an apt image of spring in Houston, the semi-tropical zone. Little has changed since winter. Spring arrives unnoticed. New leaves are camouflaged by the old. Last week my boss sent me a photo of the field in front of her farm house: bluebonnets almost to the horizon, sprinkled with Indian paintbrush. Leaves here fall and are replaced all year. The season invites no sense of anticipation or relief. Spring in the North is a consolation prize: We survived, so get busy preparing for next winter. In 1985, Sisson edited Christina Rossetti’s Selected Poems for Carcanet. Among those he chose is “Another Spring.” The carpe diem is familiar but more urgent than we’re accustomed to:

If I might see another Spring
    I'd listen to the daylight birds
That build their nests and pair and sing,
Nor wait for mateless nightingale . . .”

Rossetti is a poet I had to discover on my own, with help from Sisson and Yvor Winters. Her nightingale is not Keats'. She writes in the future conditional tense, the way we speak when we’re making a bargain. Here is her final stanza:

“If I might see another Spring --
    Oh stinging comment on my past
That all my past results in `if’ --
    If I might see another Spring,
I'd laugh to-day, to-day is brief;
I would not wait for anything:
    I'd use to-day that cannot last,
    Be glad to-day and sing.”

In the second and third lines – “Oh stinging comment on my past / That all my past results in `if’” – is a tight little knot of implied narrative, a short story in miniature that suggests an entire life.

No comments: