Spring is here though not officially. I walk in a city park and see green buds sprouting small, white blossoms. A plant which has been winding its way up from the earth with thick green shoots has a green bulbous end that will soon be a daffodil (which has always been a plant belonging to March in my mind). It reminds me that the new has had to sprout up from the old and the cycle begins again. Here the reflections on season are taken from the opposite point of view.
In my poetry text book this poem is preceded by a paragraph that talks about the value of a good dictionary. Poets have worked hard to select the right word, might as well put our dictionaries to use to understand why. And while we’re at it gain a deeper understanding of not only the poem but our own language. For instance the word “squirrel” is of Greek origin and comes from two words translated “shadow-tale”. “Right” means straight and “wrong” means twisted and “spirit” means wind, at least at their roots.
I like the quote given by H. Coombes from “Literature and Criticism”, “We do not seem today to taste the full flavor of words as we feel that Falstaff (and Shakespeare, and probably his audience) tasted them when he was applauding the virtues of ‘good sherris-sack,’ which makes the brain ‘apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes.’ And being less aware of the life and substantiality of words we are probably less aware of the things… that these words stand for.” Not knowing how to say it, in a way, makes it unreal to our minds – words are powerful!
The author of the textbook then asks us to use our dictionaries to find the etymology of the various words that the poet has selected: potpourri (French but what do the words “pot” and “pourri” mean according to your dictionary), revenance, circumstance, inspiration, conceptual, commotion, cordial, and azure.
In the Elegy Season
by Richard Wilbur
Haze, char, and the weather of All Souls’:
A giant absence mopes upon the trees:
Leaves cast in casual potpourris
Whisper their scents from pits and cellar-holes.
Or brewed in gulleys, steeped in wells, they spend
In chilly steam their last aromas, yield
From shallow hells a revenance of field
And orchard air. And now the envious mind
Which could not hold the summer in my head
While bounded by that blazing circumstance
Parades thses barrens in a golden trance,
Remembering the wealthy season dead,
And by an autumn inspiration makes
A summer all its own. Green boughs arise
Through all the boundless backward of the eyes,
And the soul bathes in warm conceptual lakes.
Less proud than this, my body leans an ear
Past cold and colder weather after wings’
Soft commotion, the sudden race of springs,
The goddess’ tread heard on the dayward stair,
Longs for the brush of the freighted air, for smells
Of grass and cordial lilac, for the sight
Of green leaves building into the light
And azure water hoisting out of wells.
potpourris: pot = potiche (a vase with round body tapering at the neck and having a removable cover) pourris = to rot or putrid
revenant: one who returns after a lengthy absence, one who returns after death; French revenir = to return (my dictionary didn’t revenance, but I’m assuming that it is “a state of returning”).
cordial: warm and sincere; strongly felt; a liquor. Medieval Latin: cord = heart
azure: light purplish blue. A mixing of the Arabic word (al)-lazaward or lapis lazuli, a place name in Turkestan, Lajward where Marco Polo collected the lapis lazuli stones.
You do the rest. It’s fun!