Spring and All

V1 Header P4212919_edited-1Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

—Chaucer, from The Canterbury Tales, The Prologue

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

–T. S. Eliot, from The Waste Land, Part I, The Burial of the Dead

Spring, Part I (Early April, New York City)

In the lobby at 745 Fifth Avenue, there was a fellow playing piano. Moon River, to be exact. What, I wondered, would an alien landing on earth think of that? Inside the building, for which I felt decidedly underdressed in jeans, an old mock turtleneck, and fleece jacket complete with cat hair, were at least three posh galleries. Despite my appearance, I was allowed to enter and roam the halls.

A Guston Forms on Rock Ledge 1979 P3262754_edited-1At McKee Gallery, Philip Guston

B Zucker P3262762_edited-1At Mary Boone, Joe Zucker’s homage to the 100th anniversary of exhibition of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase at the 1913 Armory Show.

C Valérie Belin Amazon Lily (with Garden Roses) at Houk P3262763_edited-1At Houk, Valérie Belin’s piled-up negatives made people’s faces into gardens.

NYC P3262784_edited-1Walking home, we gawked at buildings. The camera around my neck prompted several invitations to ride in a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park. In all the years I’ve lived in and near New York City, I’ve found I’d rather walk. Only if you walk do you spot, low to the ground, the first signs of spring.

Frit P3262730_edited-1

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Spring, Part II (Late April, Vassar College)

V1 P4212934_edited-1Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined —
It quickens : clarity, outline of leaf

—William Carlos Williams, from Spring and All [by the road to the contagious hospital]

V1 P4212871_edited-1I spare you the whole-souled burblings in the park, the leaves, lilacs, tulips, and so on. Such things are unmanly and non-Prussian and, of course, a fellow must pooh-pooh something, even if it happens to be something he rather fancies, you know.

—excerpt, Letter from Wallace Stevens to William Carlos Williams (1918)

V1 P4212880_edited-1Shut your eyes, and you can feel it for miles around.

Now open them on a thin vertical path.
It might give us—what?—some flowers soon?

—John Ashbery, from What is Poetry

V1 P4212928_edited-1

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Listening List

 Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring (Part 1 of 3)(for The Rite of Spring on Spotify, click here.)

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Credits: The quotations from the poems and the Stevens letter may be found at the links indicated in the text. The quotations allude loosely to trails of conversation and contention among the poets quoted. T. S. Eliot’s opening lines of The Waste Land allude to Chaucer’s Prologue from The Canterbury Tales. William Carlos Williams already had his dander up about T. S. Eliot when, in the words of C.D. Wright’s introduction to Spring and All, “Then came The Waste Land. . . . Whap. Now he knew what he was opposing.” Wallace Stevens and Williams were in lifelong contention about “the plain sense of things.” Ashbery came strolling in later with his own, inimitable view of, in his words, “What Is Poetry.”

21 thoughts on “Spring and All

  1. T.

    Lovely photos! Thanks for sharing these. It’s ‘summer’ over here but I live nowhere as beautiful as this. Also, I envy you for being able to take photos inside a gallery/exhibit.

    T.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      T.: Thanks for stopping by! I hope one day you’ll show us a photo or two of your seasons as they go past. One of the many pleasures of these cyber-connections is that they span time zones and seasonal variation worldwide. As for photos in the galleries–it’s often unclear what’s permissible, and you don’t find out until you try. I never use a flash camera, because I know that’s an issue, but in this case, no one said a thing at any of the locations.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Leslie: And a great whoopie back to you! So glad you enjoyed it, and hasn’t it been the greatest possible relief to have some springlike weather at long last! Hope to see you again, perhaps this time out in your fabulous garden, very soon!

  2. Leigh McAdam (@hikebiketravel)

    Spring is the cruelest month – as it’s been way colder and snowier than March here in Calgary. You’ve photographed some beautiful flowers in NYC – whereas I’m just waiting for green.

    Heard an Earth Day Concert yesterday – put on by the Calgary Civic Symphony. The first piece was very unusual and perhaps something someone like you would love (I certainly did) – Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for Birds & Orchestra) by Einojuhani Rautavaara. Taped bird songs were part of the concert. Have a listen if you ever get the chance.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Your Calgary Civic Symphony seems to know how to pick ’em. I only recently learned about that piece (when I was looking, natch, for bird-themed music) and loved it–so clever the way he integrated the bird sounds. It must have been wonderful to hear live. Winter has its treasures, surely, but now it’s time for spring (at least in the northern climes!), and I will wish for your spring to come soon.

  3. friko

    Ah spring! I daren’t close my eyes in case it disappears again.

    “Unmanly and non-Prussian? “ Why does Stevens refer to “Prussian”? Do enlighten me, please.
    Art, a walk in the park and Stravinsky; now you’re talking. I can follow you without tearing my hair out in despair. Thank you for throwing crumbs to a starveling bird like me.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Friko (or shall I say “starveling bird”?): As for the Prussian, I’ve not found a reference as of yet, even though I sat in a bookstore and pored through the entire “Selected Letters”–which, as it turned out, didn’t contain this letter. I suspect, given the 1918 date, WWI was much on his mind, but even given that, I hazard to guess at it without more context. I’ll keep my eye out. Meantime, yes, The Rite of Spring doesn’t age, does it? Still sensational, even if not the shock it was at first hearing. May spring stay with you over your way, and I look forward to continuing posts from you about your garden and the surrounding countryside.

  4. wanderer

    I do like a good spring, but then I’ve really only ever had one which was in (taah raah): New York – so thanks for the memories. It looks as rebirthingly beautiful as I remember, though my ear drums still ache from the cold. And like very good tourists, we did take a carriage ride through the park having eyed off this otherwise out-of-work horsie (called Speedo, do you mind!) and the rather handsome driver (and speedos came to mind) whose charm was excelled only by his looks! In we climbed, as he covered our shivering knees with a rug, and off like Julie Christie minus the sleigh bells we went. You do see quite a lot – slow enough to capture the small things, fast enough to cover the distance, like a slow bike ride. Heaven.

    Those pictures are so evocative, all that bursting new life. And how generous to slip in that yellow weedy thing (name forgotten; poor weeds, no one ever remembers their names) next to the hellebores. The terrific slide show feature I must investigate. I’m guessing it comes with wordpress?

    How lovely Mom is coming to stay.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      wanderer: I didn’t realize you don’t get a springtime down your way OR that you’d had your one spring in New York itself! Speedo, eh? Well, I never . . . The drivers do seem a charming lot, as indeed they must be, though there are worries about the horses, particularly in the worst of the heat. You think of Julie Christie; I think of Woody Allen (I believe the movie was Manhattan), and I think you have the better of that bargain . . . The yellow weedy thing is a dandelion–and I’m glad you noted what was next to it, because I had it wrong! (How could I mistake that flower for a fritillaria, now, I ask you?)

      As for the slideshow–yes, it’s a WordPress feature, and very handy–once you get how it works, it’s easy, as with so many things. it’s also possible to do on blogger, but more complicated to achieve.

  5. Mark Kerstetter

    Lovely! Guston is one of my favorite painters. When V and I first met I casually invited her to go to an uptown gallery with me to see bl&wh Rothkos. It was a very gray day, windy and wet. She met me wearing white pants and a cute little hat and I suddenly realized this was our first date. While there we spied another gallery and saw an amazing collection of Guston’s small bl&wh drawings. One of my favorite days of all time.

    The first time I heard the ‘Rite of Spring’ was equally memorable. I was still in my teens, listening to the radio on a wild early spring day (mighty wind and some rain). Because I couldn’t tear myself away from the radio, I was running late for work. With the music still thundering inside my head I raced to work along the river road, the crazy wind shaking the trees back and forth. That music did something to me, turned something on, and I don’t think I’ve ever been the same.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Mark: I love your “first date” story. I love Guston, too, and this show was terrific. I have no words for what makes his work so fascinating–if I think of the components, the choice of colors, the almost cartoony shapes, it all seems so unlikely–but then, that’s the genius of it, isn’t it?

      I love your Rite of Spring story, too. When I was searching for spring music for the post, I suddenly realized that was the one and only choice. I hadn’t listened to it for a while, and it was wonderful to come back to it. Though it may not shock in the same way anymore, it’s impossible to think it will ever lose its power.

  6. David N

    Ah, it was time for a Prufrockian photowander. Here Easter happened a month late: the Pasque flowers, the pulsatillas I adore, bloomed in the windowbox on Sunday. Kew is a riot of magnolias, and yesterday we almost had the ‘sexy airs of summer’ as everyone stripped off in a mini heatwave.

    You’re right about looking down (and up) on foot: a wander along the Thames to Chiswick Park on Saturday, past the beautiful old houses of Chiswick Mall whose gardens are the other side of the road, on the river itself, made me see far more than I ever do when I whizz past on my bike.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David N: Yes, I’d say a Prufrockian photowander was overdue (quite the turn of phrase for it!). I’ve been taking my camera along with me recently, but to no avail–which is why in this post you get a few from early April, and now, with the flowers finally coming on, a full post’s worth on display. The magnolias have come out here now, too–and just now in the city, the cherry trees and crabapples are in bloom. Quite a sight. Innisfree opens early May, so we’re looking forward to that.

  7. shoreacres

    Lao-Tzu says: “In Spring, the grass grows by itself”. That easy, unforced, unself-conscious unfolding of energy is perhaps the hallmark of Spring, and the sense that pervades your post.

    The forsythia – ever the symbol of midwestern Spring for me – is beautiful. I laughed aloud at the lady cardinal and grew just a bit sad at the dandelions. In days gone by, I would have been out plucking them for my squirrel. He could be a demon, but I miss him.

    There’s a good bit of “Spring music” I like, especially Vivaldi’s, but one of my new favorites is the version of “Here Comes the Sun” by James Taylor and Yo-Yo Ma. It’s got that same easy flow that can surprise you with its power – like Spring!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: Your observation that “That easy, unforced, unself-conscious unfolding of energy is perhaps the hallmark of Spring,” is so right–though one of the things that struck me this year, after an unusually cold and gray March, was the way the grass seemed to turn overnight from brown to green, as if it simply could not wait any longer for its “true color” to come out. My choice of Stravinsky, rather than something pastoral, comes out of that, along with the twisted trees on green, rather than flowers, to head the post. That lady cardinal was the tamest I’ve ever seen, standing no more than two feet from us in Central Park. (BTW, new fact for me: I didn’t realize that squirrels ate dandelions. Must watch for that in our yard.)

      1. shoreacres

        Squirrels enjoy fungi, too, and will collect and store them for winter. I saw on montucky’s blog that many of the fungi will dry out and become as crisp as potato chips, so I suppose they’d make a perfect snack for a housebound squirrel!

  8. Elizabeth Newleaf

    Susan, happenstance led you through such an array of contrasts on your galleries visit! What strikes me most is Belin’s flower/face photography: an intriguing reinterpretation of the usual women with flowers, paired but not layered. What ethereal imagery, and with such potential for personal commentary! It would be interesting to hear how you were struck by any of the art you viewed that day.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Elizabeth: I’m afraid with the Belin, it was simply a passing glance, though it certainly caught and held my eye. The Zucker, too, was only in passing, and I think, in the end, limited, for me, anyway, in long-range appeal. The texture and materials were certainly part of the fascination there. The exhibit I went for, the Philip Guston, was, for me, far and away the best. There is no one I know whose angle of vision is even remotely like his.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Hey, Mirela: Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the post. It was fun to put together, including following the trail of the poems.

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