Monday, April 27, 2015

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd ....

I have the annoying habit of quoting at inappropriate times and places scraps of poetry that have lodged in my head under conditions both fortunate and unfortunate.

The tail end of Thanatopsis (William Cullen Bryant) is an old favorite; the introductions to Kubla Khan (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) and, for some reason, Charge of the Light Brigade (Alfred Lord Tennyson), too.

With ever-returning spring, however, it's a line or two from Walt Whitman's masterwork, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd ....

This was written by Whitman in the form of an elegy during the period of national mourning that followed the assassination of President Lincoln on April 14, 1865. You need to know that context in order to appreciate it.

I had to write an essay many moons ago in English lit analyzing Whitman's symbolism --- an unfortunate circumstance. Fortunately, the poem stuck.

The lilacs are in full bloom right now, in case you've been distracted by all those bubble-gum wrapped redbuds and haven't noticed. And they're glorious. I found these giant bushes at Yocom Park, planted many years ago By Chariton Woman's Club members who most likely dug the starts out of their own long-vanished dooryard gardens.

It's one thing to read the poem quietly to yourself; quite another to read it aloud --- like chewing a mouthful of fresh, sweet, fully ripe strawberries that have been dipped in the finest milk chocolate.

So go find yourself a lilac bush and repeat after me --- with great feeling:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love....

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