Around here it may be on a chilly wet morning in February when the first peach blossom arrives, unaware that there will in fact be another freeze and the humans will be left to worry about the fate of all those hill country peaches. But you, peach blossom, have no worries: you only have pink.
If you don’t know the source of this post’s title, maybe you weren’t paying attention in English class; maybe you didn’t have a poetry professor from England who could in his readings convey such poignancy to poems of war that when he finished you found yourself uncharacteristically silent and having a hard time breathing.
I’ve cut and pasted the poem with no clue about proper attributions. Let them come and arrest me, it will be worth it. We’ve never needed to read this poem more than we do right now. Blog post to follow.
Reed, Henry. “Naming of Parts.” New Statesman and Nation 24, no. 598 (8 August 1942): 92 (.pdf).
LESSONS OF THE WAR
To Alan Michell
I. NAMING OF PARTS
To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
This is the safety-catch, which is always released
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
Part II. “Judging Distances” »
More “Naming of Parts”:
This year we sort of did have an easing into spring. Was it only a week ago that I spent a night with my daughter and her boys out at a nearby lake, the air so cold we sat on the deck wrapped in blankets? When we went to the rock art festival in Llano the wind down on the river was punishing, and we bought hot coffee jut to hold the cups.
Seven days later and Travis was panting as we turned toward home on our usual walk. It’s so hot! a young neighbor exclaimed as we walked through the neighborhood field where the painted rocks I showed you last year reside.
I’ll say more about rocks later. Consider me sliding backwards and forwards like the bees in Reed’s poem.
Early arrivals are always welcome in spring, even if we have to worry about them a little. The Bradford pears, junk trees no one is ever supposed to plant but builders love them because I guess they are cheap, are treasured by the unruly for their spring flowers and autumn brilliance. I’m glad we have some nearby. Picture a treeful:
One morning I walked out and BAM! the Texas mountain laurel at the end of the driveway was once again filling the air with its grape soda scent. Honeybees start to arrive from far and wide.
Under the mountain laurel but well into sunshine, poppies are on their way and I am too excited to think. I’ve put in poppy plants and thrown poppy seeds all around for years, but this looks like the best cluster yet.
Haven’t I mentioned before that wait is a four-letter word as far as I’m concerned?
At least the little herb garden in the back yard has sprung into life with appropriate enthusiasm and promises of mojitos. The lavender made the winter greenhouse smell fabulous, and those stalks are about to burst into purple loveliness.
Just around one corner, orange cross vine flowers brighten up a very dull place where fence meets house.
Isn’t it funny what you can adjust to? I never noticed the cookie-sheet looking thing until I put that photo in right now. I think Floyd uses it when he changes the oil in his truck or in the welding machine. Or maybe everybody has a cookie sheet hanging out by the fence in case a baking impulse takes over without warning. Those flowers seem to recognize that they were truly needed here.
I’d probably go with one of the cookie sheets in the house.
That’s how spring goes: numerous times each and every day you can walk out into your world and see something new or long-forgotten that reminds you. There is still beauty in the world. Even scraggly succulents, no doubt relieved that a winter with too many freezes has really gone away for good, decide the buds they’ve hung onto for months cn safely open.
The least I can do is bend down and look.
Here the redbud trees also signal spring. It’s as if a colorless world is sprinkled with colored gems overnight, and suddenly a dull stretch of fence has a brand new array of accessories.
Why do I never think of planting a redbud?
The bearded irises always surprise me. It’s like one day they are a scraggly mess, the next day their leaves are sturdy green swords, the next day there’s a flower stalk, the next day one scout blossom has arrived to test the weather ahead of its companions.
The next day Travis steps on them. Oh, puppy!
I’d had some inkling that the spirea in the sidewalk garden was going to have a good year. Around four feet tall and four in diameter, through no effort of my own it had greeted spring with a million perfect leaves and an impressive array of buds.
It has been the star of the sidewalk garden all week:
There’s always a tipping-point to spring, when you’ve entered into a stretch of the year when every single time you walk out of the house there will be a whole new landscape. A dozen times a day, Travis and I have to check out what’s happening in the yard. Out in back, the mutabilis by the fence corner really has become a tree; at the moment it is covered with flowers that start the day peach colored and end by filling the back windows with vivid pink.
Here it is with about half as many flowers as it had this afternoon when I looked out:
You can tell by the tether that this was not initially planned to be a tree; but if you let a mutabilis alone it will take over your yard, an enormous bush eager to snag you with its thorns whenever you walk nearby or try to mow the lawn. So it was either tie it up or take it out, and I certainly wasn’t going to take it out.
The poem is about a young man being trained to go to war while outside the world insists on nature and beauty just beyond his reach. Of course a young person doesn’t have all the necessary equipment for war: a young person’s entire being should be tilted toward life and love, not war. (“the point of balance,/ Which in our case we have not got”)
Last night we heard the bomb go off in our neighborhood, the fourth bomb to be detonated in Austin in the last month. (What kind of thing is that to write, Last night we heard the bomb go off?) Two young men – one perhaps even just a high schooler, we’re a little short on information still – were injured pretty badly by shrapnel. I don’t think anyone has much of a clue as to what’s going on here.
I don’t think evil is at work, though. I think powerlessness is at work, and hopelessness, and the conviction that too many people are unheard and not valued. There is enormous anger, and much to be angry about, and not much modeling of peaceful or diplomatic methods of problem solving coming down from the people in power.
We can do better.