Wednesday, April 2, 2014

National Poetry Month—Bards Have a Jones for April

It is probably no accident that April was chosen for National Poetry Month.  Poets, sensitive souls that we are, become a bit unhinged at the turning of the seasons when flowers and new life burst forth.  And then, as Alfred Lord Tennyson  once wrote, “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”  For that matter so do young women’s, and even, though seldom suspected, wizened geezers.
Let’s tap a little of that enthusiasm.  We will start with one poem to stand for all of the romantic, lyrical odes to the season written by all of those old dead white men in beards—the ones that were once thought to be good medicine for school children before poetry was unceremoniously dumped from the curriculum as too obtuse and hard to understand.  There are lots to choose from, but we’ll tap the first Great American Poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

On an April Day
When the warm sun, that brings
Seed-time and harvest, has returned again,
‘Tis sweet to visit the still wood, where springs
The first flower of the plain.

I love the season well,
When forest glades are teeming with bright forms,
Nor dark and many-folded clouds foretell
The coming-on of storms.

From the earth’s loosened mould
The sapling draws its sustenance, and thrives;
Though stricken to the heart with winter's cold,
The drooping tree revives.

The softly-warbled song
Comes from the pleasant woods, and colored wings
Glance quick in the bright sun, that moves along
The forest openings.

When the bright sunset fills
The silver woods with light, the green slope throws
Its shadows in the hollows of the hills,
And wide the upland glows.

And when the eve is born,
In the blue lake the sky, o’er-reaching far,
Is hollowed out and the moon dips her horn,
And twinkles many a star.

Inverted in the tide
Stand the gray rocks, and trembling shadows throw,
And the fair trees look over, side by side,
And see themselves below.

Sweet April! many a thought
Is wedded unto thee, as hearts are wed;
Nor shall they fail, till, to its autumn brought,
Life’s golden fruit is shed.

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Not too much later Emily Dickinson cast her eye on the season and wielded her far more economical pen on the month.  And she bypassed the customary daffodils and butterflies, to find her inspiration in a homely amphibian.

His Mansion by the Pool

The Frog forsakes—
He rises on a Log
And statements makes—
His Auditors two Worlds
Deducting me—
The Orator of April
Is hoarse Today—
is Mittens at his Feet
No Hand hath he—
His eloquence a Bubble
As Fame should be
—Applaud him to discover
To your chagrin
Demosthenes has vanished
In Waters Green—

—Emily  Dickinson

Speaking of butterflies and flowers, fellow New Englander Robert Frost, often suspected of having a Yankee’s flinty core, reveled in them just as he once told an astonished student that he reveled in all of the craft and arcane rules of formal verse.  But April could melt the rime and make the poet sing.

Blue Butterfly Day

It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,
And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry
There is more unmixed color on the wing
Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.

But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.

—Robert Frost

That love stuff called Ogden Nash to play.  Not too mushy.  But real.

Always Marry An April Girl

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true—
I love April, I love you.

—Ogden  Nash 
Nash’s near contemporary and another enormously popular poet with a comic bent, Dorothy Parker, took a more jaundiced view of love and April, as often girls who have been loved and left do.

A Well-Worn Story

In April, in April,
My one love came along,
And I ran the slope of my high hill
To follow a thread of song.

His eyes were hard as porphyry
With looking on cruel lands;
His voice went slipping over me
Like terrible silver hands.

Together we trod the secret lane
And walked the muttering town.
I wore my heart like a wet, red stain
On the breast of a velvet gown.

In April, in April,
My love went whistling by,
And I stumbled here to my high hill
Along the way of a lie.

Now what should I do in this place
But sit and count the chimes,
And splash cold water on my face
And spoil a page with rhymes?


Hubris, thy name is Murfin.  After those heavy hitters I dare to add my own poor work to the lineup.  Worse, my juvenilia.  I was 17 going on 18 and a senior at Niles Township West in Skokie.  I aspired with all of the grave seriousness that only such a callow youth can muster, to be a Great Writer.  I was reading e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  I was listening to Simon and Garfunkle.  I wanted to be serious, modern, hip.  This is one of several short prose pieces and verses that were included in the Apotheosis of 1967, the school’s literary magazine.  In retrospect given one stark image, it is amazing that authorities let the poem be printed.  Luckily no administrator had the stomach to wade through all those page of teenage literature.  And parents, if they ever glanced at it, only looked at their own darlings’ contributions.  I doubt if many students read it either.  But it was a thrill to be published, even if the by-line read Pat Murfin like some little kid.  In those days my preferred literary moniker was P.M. Murfin which to me reeked of tweed sport coats with leather elbow patches, pipes, and Scotch whiskey by the tumbler.  Anyway, despite its manifest deficiencies and pretentions, this little ode to April is just about the only surviving verse from those days that does not drive me suicidal with shame and humiliation….

April is a Bad Month For…

April is a bad month for Cokes
            and the flies
                        gather on the droppings
                                    drop, drop
            while the clods slip off
                        the steal plow share.

Robins die with boyish arrows
            in their throats,
                        children dance
                                    round and again
            on silver-slick grass
                        of the graveyard.

Abortion with a knitting needle
            and greasy hands
                        interrupts prematurely
            the expected rebirth
                        of earth.

April is a very bad year for Cokes.

—Patrick Murfin

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