Sunday, April 29, 2018

Lilacs Bloom in Spring and Old Fashion Hearts

Caves of lilacs....

Kathy and I were driving home this afternoon after attending a family memorial service for son-in-law Ken Pearson when she mentioned how much she knew I loved lilacs.  She had been looking at some on-line and thought we might get a pair of bushes to flank the sidewalk leading to the house in Crystal Lake on the Ridge Avenue side.  Thanks to the hard work and effort of Daughter-in-Residence Maureen and her husband Kevin Rotter, the grounds of the Murfin Estate  have thoroughly cleaned up, pruned, and prettified in conjunction with an eminent house painting project.  It was all work that the slothful master of the manor has diligently neglected for years.  The lilacs would be a nice new touch.
Long ago, when the little subdivision of Leonard Heights was finally built with little post-World War II ranch houses about 70 years ago, the  back corners of the lots were marked by lilac bushes.  Some have died, but several persist—enormous old survivors that still manage to bloom.   The long cold spring has put them way behind schedule this year—they are just beginning to bud leaves.  But in due time I expect to see the purple blooms and smell their heavy perfume.
Our bush has been invaded, however with those junk weed elms crowding its branches.  About three years ago Grandson No. 2 Joe Gibson in a spate of helpfulness attacked the tangle with clippers and saw—and managed to cut mostly the lilac instead of the elm.  The bush is hardy, and has been making a recovery, but much was lost.  Also because the bush is behind the house and garage, it is better seen from the neighboring  funeral home parking lot than from the residence. We could cast our eyes on the new plants from our kitchen and living room windows.
My affection goes back to childhood when my late twin brother Tim and I would spend hours playing Davey Crocket and Daniel Boone or Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy among the ancient lilac caves in the backyard of our rented house in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Later in Skokie, Illinois where I lived during high school there were once again those sweet aromatic lilacs in the yard.
The newly planted lilacs on the Murfin Estate.  When Kevin Rotter snapped the photo on his phone a rainbow miraculouly appeared in the image.  We are taking it as a good omen.

So we stopped by a nursery on the way home and picked up two Classic lilacs, the rich purple kind that were planted all of those years ago.  Son-in-law Kevin has already got them planted.  They are beginning to leaf out and look like they might even bloom this year.  I am giddy with joy.   
So naturally, It’s lilac poetry time.

Amy Lowell in her garden.
First by New England’s Amy Lowell, the queen of the American Imagists.
False blue,
Color of lilac,
Your great puffs of flowers
Are everywhere in this my New England.
Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing
Their little weak soft songs;
In the crooks of your branches
The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs
Peer restlessly through the light and shadow
Of all Springs.
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
You were everywhere.
You tapped the window when the preacher preached his sermon,
And ran along the road beside the boy going to school.
You stood by the pasture-bars to give the cows good milking,
You persuaded the housewife that her dishpan was of silver.
And her husband an image of pure gold.
You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms
Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—
You, and sandal-wood, and tea,
Charging the noses of quill-driving clerks
When a ship was in from China.
You called to them: “Goose-quill men, goose-quill men,
May is a month for flitting.”
Until they writhed on their high stools
And wrote poetry on their letter-sheets behind the propped-up ledgers.
Paradoxical New England clerks,
Writing inventories in ledgers, reading the “Song of Solomon” at night,
So many verses before bed-time,
Because it was the Bible.
The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.
You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,
You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.
You cover the blind sides of greenhouses
And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass
To your friends, the grapes, inside.

False blue,
Color of lilac,
You have forgotten your Eastern origin,
The veiled women with eyes like panthers,
The swollen, aggressive turbans of jeweled pashas.
Now you are a very decent flower,
A reticent flower,
A curiously clear-cut, candid flower,
Standing beside clean doorways,
Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,
Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight
And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.
Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
And Massachusetts
And Vermont.
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of gardens of little children,
You are State Houses and Charters
And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.
May is lilac here in New England,
May is a thrush singing “Sun up!” on a tip-top ash tree,
May is white clouds behind pine-trees
Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky.
May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And apple-blossoms,
And windows open to a South Wind.
May is full light wind of lilac
From Canada to Narragansett Bay.

False blue,
Color of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.

—Amy Lowell

Hyam Plutzik looking very litterary
Hyam Plutzik was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1911. During his lifetime, he published three poetry collections: Aspects of Proteus in 1949, Apples from Shinar in 1959; 2011), and Horatio in 1961, all three of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.  He died in 1962;
Sprig of Lilac
Their heads grown weary under the weight of Time—
These few hours on the hither side of silence—
The lilac sprigs bend on the bough to perish.
Though each for its own sake is beautiful,
In each is the greater, the remembered beauty.
Each is exemplar of its ancestors.

Within the flower of the present, uneasy in the wind,
Are the forms of those of the years behind the door.
Their faint aroma touches the edge of the mind.

And the living and the past give to one another.
There is no door between them.  They pass freely
Out of themselves; becoming one another.

I see the lilac sprigs bending and withering.
Each year like Adonis they pass through the dumb-show of death,
Waxing and waning on the tree in the brain of a man.
—Hyam Plutzik

Robert Burns pitiching woo...

Far earlier Robert Burns, the beloved national poet of  Scotland conjured a lilac to seduce a lass—a time honored function of verse.  

O were my Love yon Lilac fair

O were my love yon Lilac fair, 
  Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring,
And I, a bird to shelter there, 
  When wearied on my little wing!
How I wad mourn when it was torn        
  By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing, 
  When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.
O gin my love were yon red rose, 
  That grows upon the castle wa’;   
And I myself a drap o’ dew, 
  Into her bonie breast to fa’!
O there, beyond expression blest, 
  I’d feast on beauty a’ the night;
Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest,
  Till fley’d awa by Phoebus’ light!

—Robert Burns

Lilacs in a cold rain.

A certain obscure Midwestern poet mused on a cold wet spring and lilacs in his little-read 2004 collection We Build Temples in the Heart.
Lilacs Again
Lilacs in the soft gray glove
                               of a cold wet spring—

“Where has spring gone?”
                               demanded the shivering lips
                               as the asker speeds
                               to a cozy nest
                               of cappuccino and scones.

As if spring were all red and yellow tulips
                               brilliant, tall and proud,
                               swaying with God’s breath
                               amid the verdant sweep,
                               dappled with sun and shade,
                               filtered through a glory of apple blossoms
                               under a perfect sky.

And when the days pass and the gray is vanquished,
                               the sun restored to its throne,
                               the lilacs, past perfection,
                               wilt and brown along their tips.

“Too bad the lilacs failed this year,”
                               the morning voice
                               refreshed by proper spring,
                               chirps with the barest trace
                               of disappointment.

—Patrick Murfin

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