Crocus

Today the sun shone for the first time in days. Most of the snow has now melted and my beloved crocuses are pirouetting all over my yard. Oh joy! Thanks to Daylight Savings, there was just enough light when I got home from work today to take some photos.

The first thing I planted in the yard of our very first house was a variety of purple crocuses. For seven springs I loved watching them come up through the grass. I think I’m so fond of them, because of the way they intrepidly shoot up right through the snow to announce that spring is just around the corner. When we moved to our current house, I couldn’t bear to have a spring without them and so I planted them by the handful again, all over our new front yard. I know I’ll do the same when we move to our next house.

It takes a certain amount of faith to shove crocus corms into the earth in the autumn. There’s something quite miraculous about the fact that within these hard, brown kernels are hiding gorgeous silky flowers that bide their time all winter long, just waiting for spring to come sashaying up out of the mud.

In her poem The Crocus (1858), Harriet Beecher Stowe compares the miracle of the crocus with the miracle of the Resurrection:

Beneath the sunny autumn sky,
With gold leaves dropping 
We sought, my little friend and I,
The consecrated ground,

Where, calm beneath the holy cross,
O’ershadowed by sweet skies,
Sleeps tranquilly that youthful form,
Those blue unclouded eyes.

Around the soft, green swelling mound
We scooped the earth away,
And buried deep the crocus-bulbs
Against a coming day.
“These roots are dry, and brown, and sere;
Why plant them here?” he said,
“To leave them, all the winter long,
So desolate and dead.”

“Dear child, within each sere dead form
There sleeps a living flower,
And angel-like it shall arise
In spring’s returning hour.”
Ah, deeper down cold, dark, and chill
We buried our heart’s flower,
But angel-like shall he arise
In spring’s immortal hour.

In blue and yellow from its grave
Springs up the crocus fair,
And God shall raise those bright blue eyes,
Those sunny waves of hair.
Not for a fading summer’s morn,
Not for a fleeting hour,
But for an endless age of bliss,
Shall rise our heart’s dear flower.

In The Year’s Awakening Thomas Hardy ponders the mystery of nature’s unerring ability to detect the shifting of seasons. The “vespering” bird and the crocus are the canny heralds of spring:

How do you know that the pilgrim track
Along the belting zodiac
Swept by the sun in his seeming rounds
Is traced by now to the Fishes’ bounds
And into the Ram, when weeks of cloud
Have wrapt the sky in a clammy shroud,
And never as yet a tinct of spring
Has shown in the Earth’s appareling;
O vespering bird, how do you know, 
How do you know?

How do you know, deep underground,
Hid in your bed from sight and sound,
Without a turn in temperature,
With weather life can scarce endure,
That light has won a fraction’s strength,
And day put on some moment’s length,
Whereof in merest rote will come,
Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;
O crocus root, how do you know,
How do you know?

1910

Alfred Kreymborg describes the wonder of the changing of the seasons when “the first small crocus” banishes winter to the grave:

Crocus 

When trees have lost remembrance of the leaves
that spring bequeaths to summer, autumn weaves
and loosens mournfully – this dirge, to whom
does it belong – who treads the hidden loom?

When peaks are overwhelmed with snow and ice,
and clouds with crepe bedeck and shroud the skies – 
nor any sun or moon or star, it seems,
can wedge a path of light through such black dreams – 

All motion cold, and dead all traces thereof:
What sudden shock below, or spark above,
starts torrents raging down till rivers surge – 
that aid the first small crocus to emerge?

The earth will turn and spin and fairly soar,
that couldn’t move a tortoise-foot before – 
and planets permeate the atmosphere
till misery depart and mystery clear! –

And yet, so insignificant a hearse? –
who gave it the endurance so to brave
such elements – shove winter down a grave? –
and then lead on again the universe?

1933

 Happy Weekend!

Happy New Year!

The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

IMG_1103Many say this is a poem about Hardy’s pessimism and turn from faith and it’s easy to see how it could be read this way.  But it’s also possible to see this as a poem of hope. Against a bleak landscape, an “aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,/In blast-beruffled plume,/Had chosen thus to fling his soul/Upon the growing gloom.” Even if there is “little cause for carolings,” the little bird’s “full-hearted evensong of joy illimited” rings out through the night with “Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew/And I was unaware.”

My resolution for this New Year is to be a little more like this “blast-beruffled bird” and to “fling [my] soul upon the growing gloom” with a song of Hope even when it seems like there is little cause.

May each and every one of us experience moments of “joy illimited” this year.

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