Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Racing the poets of spring

By William Aiken / April 7, 1986



OVER the years I have learned to be careful of poets when they write about spring. Because of them it has always been hard for me to survive the season. My dog goes flying down to the stream, bees streak north from the apple branch, crows cut across the horizon as if they had finally learned how the wings work -- and I get a ticket for speeding. ``Come forth and feel the sun,'' the poet says, ``for this one day we'll give to idleness.'' I hear him, but I'm on my guard. For some people spring is the house finch returning, the blackbirds in the marsh, dew on the morning streets. For me it's neglecting the rear-view mirror.

Skip to next paragraph

The thing is I seem to acquire a recklessness on ``the first mild day of March.'' I get the urge to set off on a new course, to try out one of those routes of blue I've never tried before. As one of the conspirators says: ``Why not chuck up everything and swagger the seed-strewn roads?''

This past spring I had a student in English literature who appeared somewhat uncertain as to what he was doing in class. He looked out the window a good deal, and his mind seemed nervously elsewhere. Only when we came to the early poems of Wordsworth did he perk up. One poem that particularly struck his fancy (I could see his eyes grow bright as I read) contained this stanza: Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum Of things forever speaking, That nothing of itself will come, But we must still be seeking?

That student walked out of class in a kind of mental blaze -- and I never saw him again. In the midst of his grand pursuit of knowledge he felt the clamor of spring in his bones and just threw up his pencils and went west. So much for quatrains in March.

You see? Because of the poets we go into our heroic phase. We want to set sail for some new place, like Ulysses. We grow murmurous about our lives and doze off among the magic harmonies of elsewhere.

But it doesn't help a bit.

After driving home past the orange wood of new construction, piping along in my imagination and throwing together a few 2x4s myself in the beautiful inane, how come I have to learn that my wife had a flat on Route 6 and left the car out there in the rain? Or drifting off to sleep among a chorus of marsh peepers, why am I impaled on a phone call from my daughter asking why she can't quit college and try dancing in New York for a while? And when I finally get to morning, shuffling around the kitchen and brushing the gossamer from my eyes, why do I suddenly have to give my son a reasoned explanation on why he can't take his Sony Walkman to school? These are poetic impossibilities, quite beside the point of spring. Yet it looks like spring to me.

What do they say? Sing we for love and idleness, Naught else is worth the having. Though I have been in many a land, There is naught else in living.

Yes. I know. The spirit of daffodils -- to feel the sun going through us. I guess it ought to be recorded. But I have yet to find a poet who could help me with that stirring. William Aiken