Thursday, May 21, 2009

Whitman's lilacs

I already knew Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, the poem he wrote mourning our just slain President Lincoln in the spring of 1865.

I found another lilac poem by our rustic American poet, titled "Warble for Lilac-Time" written in 1870. I so appreciate his ability to sing songs of nature as well as of human joys and ills. It seems he was remembering that other lilac poem and the death he elegized, and spring is helping him overcome his memory of grief, just as the lilac blossom and its smell first helped him find solace in the death of his leader. In the first, he broke a sprig of lilac to place on the passing coffin. He warbled for the dead, for death. He wrote:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed,
And the great star early drooped in the western sky in the night,
I mourned, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

But in this poem written five years later - Joy in the first line. Time heals. Nature heals. Beauty heals.

Whitman's birthday is close - May 31 - born in 1819. He died March 26, 1892 - twenty-two springs after the one he wrote in this poem.

Warble for Lilac-Time

WARBLE me now, for joy of Lilac-time,
Sort me, O tongue and lips, for Nature's sake, and sweet life's sake--and death's the same as life's,
Souvenirs of earliest summer--birds' eggs, and the first berries;
Gather the welcome signs, (as children, with pebbles, or stringing shells;)

Put in April and May--the hylas* croaking in the ponds--the elastic air,
Bees, butterflies, the sparrow with its simple notes,
Blue-bird, and darting swallow--nor forget the high-hole flashing his golden wings,
The tranquil sunny haze, the clinging smoke, the vapor,
Spiritual, airy insects, humming on gossamer wings,

Shimmer of waters, with fish in them--the cerulean above;
All that is jocund and sparkling--the brooks running,
The maple woods, the crisp February days, and the sugar-making;
The robin, where he hops, bright-eyed, brown-breasted,
With musical clear call at sunrise, and again at sunset,
Or flitting among the trees of the apple-orchard, building the nest of his mate;

The melted snow of March--the willow sending forth its yellow-green sprouts;
--For spring-time is here! the summer is here! and what is this in it and from it?
Thou, Soul, unloosen'd--the restlessness after I know not what;
Come! let us lag here no longer--let us be up and away!
O for another world! O if one could but fly like a bird!
O to escape--to sail forth, as in a ship!
To glide with thee, O Soul, o'er all, in all, as a ship o'er the waters!

--Gathering these hints, these preludes--the blue sky, the grass, the morning drops of dew;
(With additional songs--every spring will I now strike up additional songs,
Nor ever again forget, these tender days, the chants of Death as well as Life;)
The lilac-scent, the bushes, and the dark green, heart-shaped leaves,
Wood violets, the little delicate pale blossoms called innocence,

Samples and sorts not for themselves alone, but for their atmosphere,
To tally, drench'd with them, tested by them,
Cities and artificial life, and all their sights and scenes,
My mind henceforth, and all its meditations--my recitatives,
My land, my age, my race, for once to serve in songs,
(Sprouts, tokens ever of death indeed the same as life,)
To grace the bush I love--to sing with the birds,
A warble for joy of Lilac-time.

*hylas are tree frogs

Publication information, found at Whitman archive:

"Warble for Lilac-Time." Galaxy 9 (May 1870): 686. Whitman revised the poem for reprinting in Passage to India (1871), in the New York Daily Grahpic (12 May 1873), in the group "Passage to India" of Leaves of Grass (1872) and Two Rivulets (1876), and in its present form in Leaves of Grass (1881–82).


VioletSky said...

Thank you for this - I had found this poem when searching for lilac themed poetry - but I need a bit of a history reminder and a lot of help in deciphering the meaning behind some of these.

perhaps I am too literal?

amuse me said...

This post made me slow down for a minute, sip on a bit of coffee, and enjoy reading your words. :) M

laura said...

Oh, your lilac photos make my heart ache!! Lilacs are done here ... and I just have two little ones anyway. I need to get more, many more!!
That's one of my favorite pictures of Whitman too--what a darling face!

christina said...

Wow! I have slowed down to smell your lilacs. I'm in love. Simply in love. ; )

Unknown said...

Whitman almost seems to be saying, "See, I'm better now. I can now appreciate all that I couldn't before, because of my grief."

It is a beautiful poem to go with the beautiful photos.

Unknown said...

Thank you for such a visually beautiful post. Beauty in the words, Beauty in the shots.

Makes my heart warble!

Tiffany said...

beautiful poem. beautiful pictures.

Anonymous said...

I love lilacs. They remind me of my childhood. When I was in first and second grade, we had lilacs in our backyard. In the month of June, it would bloom and perfume our garden with its delicate smell. Just before I left for school, my mom would cut a small branch, wrap the bottom part it in a wet kitchen paper and then in aluminum foil. Then, I would walk to school my lilac flowers in hand, and give them to my teacher... :D

Merging Point said...

Drowned in expressions of self and, Ruth!

cathyswatercolors said...

Hi Ruth, your photos are A-mazing.The poem is so sweet. What a guy that Walt was. Don't you just love that beard and hat.I think of all your beautiful photos, my favorite is your driveway. It must be a joy to drive up that driveway.My jaw dropped when I saw it. Your close ups of the lilacs were so crisp,the greens and blues. Long weekend,yipee! Can you see me running barefoot across the lawn??

sandy said...

These are great photos of the farm and well, just love them so much. How are the wedding plans coming along.

ds said...

Beautiful. I think this, which I did not know, will replace the other in my head. Photos are, as always, gorgeous. Thank you.

Ruth said...

I don't know, Sanna, poetry is tricky. Sometimes I think I get something, and others I don't. What's good though is even literally, the words are good.

Ruth said...

Hi, M. Wouldn't it have been great to sit and drink a cup with Walt.

Ruth said...

Laura, you would die if you saw all the lilacs here this year! I don't know what happened - or if I just didn't notice last year. But this year they exploded everywhere. You can transplant some of your shoots maybe.

Yes, Walt's countenance is very sweet in this shot.

Ruth said...

I bury my face in them when I pull in the drive, after I get the mail, Christina.

Ruth said...

Susie, he really took the whole world to heart, it seems. He bares everything in his poems. I was glad to see the evolution between the poems.

It can take a long time sometimes.

Ruth said...

That's how I felt too, Kim. Thank you.

Ruth said...

I remember doing that too, Kanmuri! I imagine the whole classroom smelled yum.

Ruth said...

Cathy, has this not been the most glorious spring ever? I guess we're due for the rain this weekend. I hope it comes actually. And I love me some thunderstorms.

Do you know people who live in Florida can't believe how soft our grass is in Michigan! Good for running - yes I can picture you. Nice.

Ruth said...

Tiffany, thank you, sweetie.

Ruth said...

Merging Point - me, or Walt?

I don't take credit for either the poem or the lilacs. But I suppose I did express myself.

Thank you so much.

Ruth said...

DS, I was tickled to find this one too.

Thank you.

cathyswatercolors said...

I love me some thunderstorms too!

photowannabe said...

The poem, the photographs, the fragrant words are heady.
Beautiful work Ruth.

Leena said...

Greetings from Finland, where bird cherries start to flower.
And I can only say - beautiful about your post.
It takes still a while until lilacs will get such a beauty as yours.
Happy, happy weekend to you and yours!

Bob Johnson said...

Just beautiful Ruth, cool history lesson as well complimented nicely with your great photography.

We have lilacs in our front yard, just love the smell, wish it would last forever, the commercial sprays just don't do them justice do they,lol.

Loring Wirbel said...

?!?!?!?!?! I never knew Whitman and I shared birthdays. In the great Whitman-Emerson catfights, I always sided with Emerson, but this reminds me that Whitman's work was often amazing.

It's like Ezra Pound - no matter what they might do in their spare time, you can't discount them.

C.M. Jackson said...

ahh the smell of lilacs and great poetry--what could better? Intoxicating...I fear I have missed my opportunity to smell the lilacs in my neighborhood given the crazy weather--I must go in search tomorrow--thank you -c

Ruth said...

Thanks, Sue, but really, the work isn't mine. I am just an observer.

Ruth said...

Leena sweet, I didn't think anyone's lilacs were later than ours. You have them to look forward to.

We have a long weekend - Memorial Day Monday gives us 3 days.

Ruth said...

Oh I intensely dislike artificial sprays for my favorite scents, Bob. Right now I have lilies of the valley on my night stand, and the breeze blowing by it becomes intoxicating. But I don't like the scents you buy of it - way too strong and sweet.

Ruth said...

Loring, I LOVED what I read of Emerson in college - moreso than Whitman. I think I actually appreciate WW more for what his work did to change the literary landscape than I enjoy reading much of what he wrote.

So Happy Birthday in a few days!

Ruth said...

Enjoy, C.M.. We've had gorgeous blue skies for days - and today we have rain, much needed. So I don't think I'll be wandering out today.

GailO said...

..."Warble me now...a warble for joy"...This is now my all time favorite ode to spring:)

I have loved Walt Whitman's poems since my older sister did a high school paper on that was a long time ago!...the things memories connect...I wonder if my sister has the same memories?

Loring Wirbel said...

The reason I made the Ezra Pound comparison is that Whitman believed the poet should further the work of the nation. He was a big supporter of Manifest Destiny and the invasion of Mexico, and thought that Emerson and Thoreau were traitors. So that kind of back story can really color the way you perceive a writer or artist - at least it can for me.

Ruth said...

Oliag - "warble" is a wonderful word wisn't it? :) Almost an otomotopea.

Ruth said...

Speaking of warble - I mean wirbel . . .

I didn't realize that, Loring, bad history student that I am. Yes, these things can definitely affect my view of an artist. Problem is I rarely know much about anything/anyone, so I can go on loving the work of a fiend and not know it. I'm working on that.

But yes, as we've discussed before, it is hard to support the craft of someone whose behavior is despicable.

Daniel Chérouvrier said...

Thanks !!!

Ruth said...

De rien, Daniel! Merci.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Wonderful post! I love that photo of the grasses and the last lilac photo. One of my absolute favorite flowers!

Happy Birthday Walt!!

Ruth said...

Thanks, Andromeda.

Chica, Cienna, and Cali said...

Ruth, your posts are some of the most precious in the blogworld :)

Ruth said...

Ohh, Moi, wow!