Monday, March 01, 2021

'Flowers, I Said, Will Come of It'

Richard Wilbur was born on this date, March 1, one-hundred years ago. By teasing happenstance, George Herbert died on this date in 1633 – a coincidence one hopes is significant. Both poets were Christians, Herbert a priest in the Church of England. Not diving too deeply into literary taxonomy, both were metaphysical poets. Wilbur once told an interviewer: “I read a lot of Herbert, a lot of Marvell, I read the prose of Traherne; and I do this for simple pleasure, not at all in a scholarly spirit. Those are three people I never tire of.” Without getting into matters of “influence” – a mug’s game – I sense the spirit of Herbert in a number of Wilbur’s poems. Take “April 5, 1974” (The Mind-Reader: New Poems, 1976): 

“The air was soft, the ground still cold.

In the dull pasture where I strolled

Was something I could not believe.

Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,

Though still too frozen-flat to stir,

And rocks to twitch, and all to blur.

What was this rippling of the land?

Was matter getting out of hand

And making free with natural law?

I stopped and blinked, and then I saw

A fact as eerie as a dream.

There was a subtle flood of steam

Moving upon the face of things.

It came from standing pools and springs

And what of snow was still around;

It came of winter's giving ground

So that the freeze was coming out,

As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,

Relaxes into mother-wit.

Flowers, I said, will come of it.”


The poem hinges on “A fact as eerie as a dream” – a phrase suggesting the miraculous, the rationality-defying. The final three lines bring to mind Bill Evans’ performance of “You Must Believe In Spring.” They also recall the opening stanza of Herbert’s “The Flower”:


“How fresh, oh Lord, how sweet and clean

Are thy returns! even as the flowers in spring;

         To which, besides their own demean,

The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.

                      Grief melts away

                      Like snow in May,

         As if there were no such cold thing.”

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