Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Promise of a Bulb

The promise of a bulb holds the same hope as a new baby, new love, new career, even a new pet. We project ourselves into the future each time we plant one. It’s hard to foresee what circumstances may thwart our plans: a too-cold winter, a colony of voles, the tractor that scoops up the earth and the bulbs hidden deep beneath; like life, it’s hard to predict what will happen after we plant our dreams.

Yet, some, if not most, make it. The tulip bulb that was accidentally dug up and thrown in the pit and, I thought, gone forever, bursts forth in a clump of compost. The bulbs planted in soil that was too hard, spring up from the ground later than the others, when the April rains have finally softened a space for them to poke through.

There are some that don’t make it, it’s true, but the joy for the ones that survived—returned to you, in a way—rewards our original hope.
We just had to wait, have patience, and believe that our original labor would be rewarded.

I put in an order today for my fall bulbs. I placed it with Bluestone Perennials since they seemed to have the best selection.

I guess it’s not surprising that, as my children are about ready to vacate the nest or, at the very least, be away from it more, I’m turning to bulbs. What do they say to me? The future. Making something others can benefit from, even when I’m gone. The element of surprise—a tulip springing up among the rocks or some other unusual space.

Every time a new flower pops up my son comments—you planted that one, too? And, he seems a bit amazed I was out planting these last fall. What lesson does that teach him?

Maybe it says, sometimes you have to delay the reward, but that makes it even better.

I hope so.

Here are the bulbs I’ve bought today to plant next fall to experience next spring. Each one holds a promise.

Firefly (Snow) Crocus

Whitewell Purple Crocus

Poet’s Narcissus

Mt Hood Trumpet Daffodils

Snowflakes

A Narcissus is a Daffodil!!

My lone Narcissus, aka: Daffodil

See How she stands by herself, the others beneath her feet–brave girl!

On the American Daffodil Society’s website:

What is the difference between daffodils and narcissus?

None. The two words are synonyms. Narcissus is the Latin or botanical name for all daffodils, just as ilex is for hollies. Daffodil is the common name for all members of the genus Narcissus, and its use is recommended by the ADS at all times other than in scientific writing.

 I was driving into my house and passed the Narcissus I planted last year in honor of Emily Dickinson, and I thought, you know those look exactly like my yellow daffodils.  Hmmmm….

So, I came inside and consulted the internet, and Voila! Just call me Einstein!  They are the same thing.

Therefore, it turns out, I planted a whole bunch of daffodils last year! I found a wonderful page on e-How: How to Plant an Emily Dickinson Garden. Check it out!

Another daffodil poem from Emily and then two more from William Wordsworth and Ted Hughes.

I dared not meet the daffodils,
For fear their yellow gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

“Daffodils” (1804)
I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch’d in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

By William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

Daffodils

by Ted Hughes

Remember how we picked the daffodils?
Nobody else remembers, but I remember.
Your daughter came with her armfuls, eager and happy,
Helping the harvest. She has forgotten.
She cannot even remember you. And we sold them.
It sounds like sacrilege, but we sold them.
Were we so poor? Old Stoneman, the grocer,
Boss-eyed, his blood-pressure purpling to beetroot
(It was his last chance,
He would die in the same great freeze as you) ,
He persuaded us. Every Spring
He always bought them, sevenpence a dozen,
‘A custom of the house’.

Besides, we still weren’t sure we wanted to own
Anything. Mainly we were hungry
To convert everything to profit.
Still nomads-still strangers
To our whole possession. The daffodils
Were incidental gilding of the deeds,
Treasure trove. They simply came,
And they kept on coming.
As if not from the sod but falling from heaven.
Our lives were still a raid on our own good luck.
We knew we’d live forever. We had not learned
What a fleeting glance of the everlasting
Daffodils are. Never identified
The nuptial flight of the rarest epherma-
Our own days!
We thought they were a windfall.
Never guessed they were a last blessing.
So we sold them. We worked at selling them
As if employed on somebody else’s
Flower-farm. You bent at it
In the rain of that April-your last April.
We bent there together, among the soft shrieks
Of their jostled stems, the wet shocks shaken
Of their girlish dance-frocks-
Fresh-opened dragonflies, wet and flimsy,
Opened too early.

We piled their frailty lights on a carpenter’s bench,
Distributed leaves among the dozens-
Buckling blade-leaves, limber, groping for air, zinc-silvered-
Propped their raw butts in bucket water,
Their oval, meaty butts,
And sold them, sevenpence a bunch-

Wind-wounds, spasms from the dark earth,
With their odourless metals,
A flamy purification of the deep grave’s stony cold
As if ice had a breath-

We sold them, to wither.
The crop thickened faster than we could thin it.
Finally, we were overwhelmed
And we lost our wedding-present scissors.

Every March since they have lifted again
Out of the same bulbs, the same
Baby-cries from the thaw,
Ballerinas too early for music, shiverers
In the draughty wings of the year.
On that same groundswell of memory, fluttering
They return to forget you stooping there
Behind the rainy curtains of a dark April,
Snipping their stems.

But somewhere your scissors remember. Wherever they are.
Here somewhere, blades wide open,
April by April
Sinking deeper
Through the sod-an anchor, a cross of rust.

Ted Hughes

What Does April Mean?

Royal Star Magnolia bloom opening in April

The way we look at the world entirely depends on what has happened to us: what we’ve gained, what we’ve lost. This April I lost my dear friend, my dog Elsa who has shared the last fourteen years of my journey. Now I understand Eliot’s line: “April is the cruelest month…” a little better than I did before. April is not only happiness and new beginnings, it’s also the world going on and some dear things left behind.

I turn to flowers and their power to transcend this experience and dip into several layers of poetic existence. In this way, flowers are like music. A word is a word, and yes, it has powerful meaning to the hearer–but a flower mixed in word and song and smell and memorial–has even more power.

Our memorial to Elsa is this large rock under the Weeping Willow where we can sit and reflect. It’s surrounded by yellow daffodils which will come up every April and remind us of the gift of her life.

A friend brought a Bleeding Heart to us after the loss. How thoughtful–a Bleeding Heart. The act of flower-giving is often thought of as beauty and fragrance, but its real power is its meaning. I’ll plant this under the Weeping Willow, there among the Daffodils, after the last frost. In Spokane, the rule of thumb is 1.) After Mother’s Day, or 2.) When all the snow melts on Mt. Spokane.

April has many different meanings to me: The month I was born, the month my parents were married, the month I lost Elsa, the month of the return of the flowers and the grass. When I think of April I think of unpredictable weather–warm, sunny days and dark, windy and rainy ones. April can be tumultuous or calm. It offers promise; it certainly celebrates life. It often is the month of Easter. It’s National Poetry month!

What is April to you? Because, ultimately, it’s not about what flowers or seasons mean to anyone else or have ever meant, it’s about what they mean to you personally.

April Blooms: Daffodil, Hyacinth, Tulip, Widow Grass, wild Dogwood.

And since it’s National Poetry Month and we’re looking at all the ways a person can describe April depending on their life experience–here are some poems that demonstrate its complexity. To some it’s a month of life, to others it mocks life and death.

First, Emily….this poem doesn’t mention April specifically, but daffodils and April go hand in hand.

She dwelleth in the Ground –
Where Daffodils — abide –
Her Maker — Her Metropolis –
The Universe — Her Maid –

To fetch Her Grace — and Hue –
And Fairness — and Renown –
The Firmament’s — To Pluck Her –
And fetch Her Thee — be mine

(Emily Dickinson, 744)

Next, TS Eliot from The Wasteland

THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering 5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers….

‘You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; 35
‘They called me the hyacinth girl.’
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, 40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od’ und leer das Meer.  (Translation: Desolate and empty the sea)

And Emily in letter….

“The little garden within, though tiny, is triumphant. There are scarlet carnations, with a witching suggestion, and hyacinths covered with promises which I know they will keep.” (Letters 969, Emily Dickinson).

And Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote 1
The droghte 2 of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich 3 licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth 5
Inspired hath in every holt 4 and heeth
The tendre croppes, 5 and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne, 6
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye, 10
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages: 7
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

Edna St. Vincent Millay…

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots,
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

—Edna St. Vincent Millay, Spring

Song of a Second April

APRIL this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.

There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
From orchards near and far away
The gray wood-pecker taps and bores,
And men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.

The larger streams run still and deep;
Noisy and swift the small brooks run.
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun
Pensively; only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

April by Louise Gluck

No one’s despair is like my despair–

You have no place in this garden
thinking such things, producing
the tiresome outward signs; the man
pointedly weeding an entire forest,
the woman limping, refusing to change clothes
or wash her hair.

Do you suppose I care
if you speak to one another?
But I mean you to know
I expected better of two creatures
who were given minds: if not
that you would actually care for each other
at least that you would understand
grief is distributed
between you, among all your kind, for me
to know you, as deep blue
marks the wild scilla, white
the wood violet.