Whan 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.
At 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.
At Houk, Valérie Belin’s piled-up negatives made people’s faces into gardens.
Walking 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.
Spring, Part II (Late April, Vassar College)
Now 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]
I 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)
Shut 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
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.”