April 12, 2009 § 2 Comments
I was going to write about Easter but I don’t have much to say. My mother used to provide perfect Easter baskets, with lots of chocolate, twined with colored ribbons. Every spring I got an Easter bonnet. My cousins often visited.
As for the religious side, when I first really paid attention to the story of Jesus’s resurrection, I thought: so what? The Greeks and Egyptians thought of that centuries before. The Osiris story is pretty great. And nothing could beat the myth of Demeter and Persephone, the young daughter picking flowers, kidnapped by a chariot driven by Hades himself, tricked into eating 6 pomegranate seeds and so having to spend 6 months of every year in the Land of the Dead while her mother, Goddess of Grain and the Harvest, punishes Earth with winter (Earth was to blame for telling Hades where the girl was picking flowers). That story has meant a lot of things to me over the years, but right from the beginning one fact stood out: Persephone, adored by husband and mother, never gets to decide anything for herself past those initial choices of picking flowers and eating seeds. She’s Queen of the Dead, she’s Beloved Daughter, she’s the reason for the seasons—she never gets to be a woman turning her answering machine off and escaping for a few weeks to the tropics with the kind of man of whom you remember only what he smelled like when he was drunk, and that it amused him to shorten your name to Phony (once you made the mistake of introducing yourself as the Queen of the Dead), and that was just fine.
So, putting Easter aside, here’s a poem about Spring.
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh
Philip Larkin (9 August 1922 – 2 December 1985) is known as a poet of great dourness and gloom. He wrote a lot of poems about death and old age—starting when he was still what most people would call young—without any romantic or spiritual gloss whatsoever.
And yet he didn’t kill himself, as many more exuberant poets have. He demonstrated the value of life over and over by the discipline and beauty of his work. He was the epitome of the depressive as realist, and the realist as one who is all too aware that life very often isn’t fun or pretty, even among the so-called privileged, but that any sane being, absent excruciating torment, prefers it to nothingness.
Basho, 1644 – November 28, 1694) the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan might have appreciated Larkin’s sensibility. Here’s one of his haiku.
First day of spring—
I keep thinking about
the end of autumn.