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Watercolor Hyacinth

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Late April Flowers & Sharon Olds’ Poetry

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Busy spring. My Real Sisters Talk radio show is keeping me busy. Add to that my volunteer work (which always picks up in spring), a wedding, a graduation, injured horses, opening a new practice and gardening. Honestly, there hasn’t been a whole lot of gardening.

I’m reading a wonderful collection of poems by Sharon Olds, Stag’s Leap, which just won the Pulitzer for Poetry. They’re poems about her divorce fifteen years ago. Pretty amazing work. I am so ashamed/before my friends–to be known to be left/by the own who supposedly knew me best. Like all of her poetry–honest, vulnerable.

From Telling My Mother:

I took her on a walk, taking her fleshless
hand like a passerine’s claw, I bought her
a doughnut and a hairnet, I fed her. On the gnarled
magnolia, in the fog, the blossoms and buds were like
all the moons in one night–full,
gibbous, crescent. I’d practiced the speech,
bringing her up toward the truth slowly,
preparing her. And the moment I told her,
she looked at me in shock and dismay.
But when will I ever seem him again?

All These My Banners Be

All these my banners be.
I sow my – pageantry
In May –
It rises train by train –
Then sleeps in state again –
My chancel – all the plain
Today.

Daffodils, tulips, lilacs, lilies, leopard’s bane, hyacinth. My May garden.

RIP Emily Dickinson

Today is the anniversary of Emily Dickinson’s Death–May 15, 1886. Who was she? What did her life mean? That is the question, and I’m constantly discovering the answer.

Garden Shots: Before and After

The property, my garden,
Which having sown with care,
He claims the pretty acre,
And sends a Bailiff there.

Before:

After: (Midway done, ready for planting)

Here are a couple photos of the process. A weekend’s work, but now ready to start planting. Notice, the boys repaired the brick.

Emily Dickinson & George Herbert–Fresh Poetry or Old Copy?

There are so many questions surrounding the woman in white, Emily Dickinson, and some make it their life’s work to answer them. After her death, her sister, Lavinia, went into her room and found the treasure trove that is now the Dickinson canon–40 hand-stitched, personally arranged volumes of poetry we call her fascicles. So much of what we know about her now comes from those poems and her surviving letters, but many questions remain unanswered. What did she believe about God? She stopped attending church at the age of 30, but was she practicing quietly at home? Was there a theme or an overall thought to the way she ordered her poems?

A book I’m reading now, Emily Dickinson’s Fascicles: Method & Meaning, by Dorothy Huff Oberhaus, seeks to answer some of the questions and concentrates on the 40th fascicle.

She brought up a very interesting little fact that I hadn’t known, but found absolutely fascinating–when the poems were first published, they published two which were not Emily’s at all, but rather, George Herbert’s from his work The Temple: Mattens in 1633.

She had basically copied his work, but added her trademark dashes and capitals. Which makes me wonder–if you change the form of a poem, have you changed the meaning sufficiently enough to make it your own? I know they, and everyone else, felt it was an error to publish another person’s work as Emily’s, but I had to wonder if we should think of it that way. Seeing the differences–her choice in which stanzas to copy and which to leave out, and her own personality inserted–I felt like it was original enough to say it’s Emily’s. If nothing else, it gives us a look into her mind.

I’m going to show you the originals and then Emily’s copies and see what you think.

George Herbert’s work:

Mattens.
I Cannot ope mine eyes,
But thou art ready there to catch
My morning-soul and sacrifice:
Then we must needs for that day make a match.

My God, what is a heart?
Silver, or gold, or precious stone,
Or starre, or rainbow, or a part
Of all these things, or all of them in one?

My God, what is a heart?
That thou shouldst it so eye, and wooe,
Powring upon it all thy art,
As if that thou hadst nothing els to do?

Indeed mans whole estate
Amounts (and richly) to serve thee:
He did not heav’n and earth create,
Yet studies them, not him by whom they be.

Teach me thy love to know;
That this new light, which now I see,
May both the work and workman show:
Then by a sunne-beam I will climbe to thee.

And now Emily’s copy and changes:

My God – what is a Heart.
Silver – or Gold – or precious stone.
Or Star – or Rainbow – or a part
Of all these things – or all of them in one?

My God – what is a Heart –
That Thou shoud’st it so eye and woo
Pouring upon it all Thy art
As if that Thou had’st nothing else to do –

It’s difficult to tell periods from dashes in some places, like after “Heart,” but I added them as they look to me from her handwriting. The first definitely looks like a period, but could be a comma–the second looks like a low dash.

The New Yorker caught the error and reported about it in its June 16, 1945 edition in “The Talk of the Town”:

“One of the poems in the new Emily Dickinson volume not only contains as clumsy a line as ever was penned but was not even written by Emily. It is the one beginning “My God, what is a heart?” The author is George Herbert, he of the seventeenth century. The clumsy line is “That thou shouldst it so eye and woo.” (My God, what is a mouthful?) Emily presumably liked this poem, jotted it down, and tucked it away in that famous camphorwood chest, where it lay until Mrs. Bingham pulled it out with a glad cry and presented it to Harper & Brothers. We have no comment to make on this funny coincidence, except to point out to poets that it is dangerous to jot down any thought but your own, and sometimes inadvisable even to do that.”

But what it brings up to me is a question–is it really inadvisable to rework a thought, a poem, a verse, in your own style? –to see what music you can bring, what meaning can be changed by a subtle shift or omission? George Herbert was long dead and there was no copyright on his work. To take a couple of verses, acknowledge the source and remake them, seems to me a very wonderful use of a poet’s time and gives us little hints about how she thought.

Why those two stanzas? She left out the other three about climbing to God and serving him–the ones that show a longing to be with him. She chose the two that question his purpose in valuing a human “Heart” so highly. Why do you want it, she asks. What is so wonderful about it that you would take time out of your busy schedule to “woo” it? Is it equal to the Stars? To Gold? To Rainbows? I assume Emily did not have answers for those questions–only questions.

Why those particular words being capitalized? Is the Heart, Star, Rainbow and Gold equal to God and worthy of formal address? Maybe, to Emily, they were. The book includes a photocopy of Herbert’s original as well (in his own handwriting) and those words were not capitalized. Seems to me, Emily placed a very high, even sacred, meaning to them in doing so. These poems are not included in Johnson’s collection. I’ve ordered Franklin’s and will report back whether they’re included–I doubt it.

I think her reworking of the poems is consistent with much of her other poetry. To me, it reveals a woman who loves the Sacred and sees its imprint in nature. She has many questions about the Sacred or Spiritual world–sometimes she’s a little more sure of its purpose–other times, like after a death–not so sure, and in those moments of uncertainty clings passionately to what she can touch, feel, smell, nurture and take inspiration from.

How is that any different than any of us today? Her honesty and her sincere enjoyment of the Divine draw me to her work over a hundred years after her death–as does her confusion and questioning–also in her life’s work.

* * *

My pictures today are from a trip to Pike’s Market in Seattle. Some of the hallmarks of the Market are their fresh flower bouquets. The Tulips on display were absolutely remarkable! Definitely deserving of a capital letter!

And guess what? Dale Chihuly has designed and made an entire garden of glass in downtown Seattle–trees, flowers, grass–everything! It’s being assembled as I write and will be open May 21st 2012. I got a few pictures from the outside perimeter. Can you imagine seeing this from the sky as you fly into Seattle?

The Greatest Exercise: Gardening

Want to lose weight and get in shape? Garden. You burn 272 calories per hour doing it, and there’s always plenty to be done.

After gardening for six hours yesterday, removing the transient grass that invaded my front planter, every muscle in my body ached. Do you want to feel the burn--grab a rake and shovel!

My son was helping me, and as we shoveled, hauled, ripped and raked, we talked about the miracle that is grass: you can hardly grow it where you want, but try to keep it out of a planter and it thrives! Do you think grass, like humans, can benefit from reverse psychology?

The Grass so little has to do –
A Sphere of simple Green –
With only Butterflies to brood
And Bees to entertain –

And stir all day to pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along –
And hold the Sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything –

And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearls –
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing –

And even when it dies – to pass
In Odors so divine –
Like Lowly spices, lain to sleep –
Or Spikenards, perishing –

And then, in Sovereign Barns to dwell –
And dream the Days away,
The Grass so little has to do
I wish I were a Hay –

The pictures above are the “after” shots from yesterday’s work. That’s after four tractor buckets full of sod and weed were removed. There are other ways to kill grass, other than digging it up and transplanting the sod, as we did. Some people use Round-up to kill it. You have to wait for a windless day to spray, however, because any errant poison will kill your flowers. One way of killing grass with this method, near your darlings, is to use a paint brush to paint it on the blade strategically. We opted for au natural. We lost a few things in the digging–a small rose bush for one. I tried to save it last year when the grasses grew up around it, but it only allowed for the grass to take over more of my planter. I couldn’t dissect it from the sod yesterday, so it had to be sacrificed for the overall good of the garden.

Here are some pictures of next weekend’s project–the back garden–which will give you a little idea of what the front garden used to look like.

Back Garden

Dear Lord, my back aches just looking at it!

I-yi-yi.

Ouch!

Double ouch!

The brick you see in the picture was taken up when we built the sun room–a project which wasn’t finished until this weekend. While my son and I were working in the front garden, my husband was finishing up the paint and caulking on the room. It will actually be a weekend’s work to replace the brick because it will have to be releveled and bricks cut to the new size.

I didn’t mention before, but I planted my dahlias last week–about 24 plants–and some new lilies–blood red. (Insert excitement!)