Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Magnolias in My Face

12 April 2017

Sitting here, I stare out my study window at the magnolias in bloom. The sunlight resting on them. I see buds everywhere now. Early spring flowers. Grass suddenly greener--as if someone has just turned on a subterranean switch. No wonder so many religions employ the metaphoric power of the season. Nearly every one of those pink blossoms breathes the word, "Hope."

Which, as Emily Dickinson wrote, "is the thing with feathers." Spring birds. They are now waking us up to their urgent music. Building nests. Counting on a future.

Who could look at all of this and remain dour? Depressed?

Well, Edna St. Vincent Millay, for one. In her dark poem "Spring" (see entire text below), she abruptly dismisses all the spring-thing stuff:

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Millay first published this poem in 1920--she herself was in her late 20s--in a London periodical, Chapbook. A handwritten draft has the date March 21, 1920--the day after the vernal equinox (I just checked!).

She was in one of her productive periods then--her fame was spreading. Youth was in her. She had lovers whenever she wanted them (which, I've read, was often).

But this poem comes from a dark place, a place I find myself struggling to avoid as the years--and the decline--proceed.

When I was a kid, spring meant one thing: baseball. (Okay, two things: the imminent end of the school year!) It never crossed my mind that there might not be another spring for me--or for those whom I love.

Yet here I am. Seventy-two years of age. Iffy health--as is the health of so many others I love. I've lost two dear, dear friends this year--within the last couple of months, actually.

And so, sure, when I see the magnolias in my face, I cannot help but be moved. And grateful.

But Millay's dark questions now seem engraved on each blossom. They were always there, of course. My eyes just weren't ready to see them.

So when a friend recently posted this poem on Facebook, I recognized the words before I even read them; I knew the lines before I finished reading them.

And so I quickly memorized it. So I won't forget ... not that I could forget. As she said, all of this spring glory is now ... "not enough."

"Spring" by 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,

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

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