A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poem of the Day: Yvor Winters

Time and the Garden 

The spring has darkened with activity,
The future gathers in vine, bush, and tree:
Persimmon, walnut, loquat, fig, and grape,
Degrees and kinds of color, taste, and shape.
These will advance in their due series, space
The season like a tranquil dwelling-place.
And yet excitement swells me, vein by vein:
I long to crowd the little garden, gain
Its sweetness in my hand and crush it small
And taste it in a moment, time and all!
These trees, whose slow growth measures off my years,
I would expand to greatness. No one hears,
And I am still retarded in duress!
And this is like that other restlessness
To seize the greatness not yet fairly earned,
One which the tougher poets have discerned --
Gascoigne, Ben Jonson, Greville, Raleigh, Donne,
Poets who wrote great poems, one by one,
And spaced by many years, each line an act
Through which few labor, which no men retract.
This passion is the scholar's heritage,
The imposition of a busy age,
The passion to condense from book to book
Unbroken wisdom in a single look,
Though we know well that when this fix the head,
The mind's immortal, but the man is dead.
--Yvor Winters

It's funny how a writer can be both out of the mainstream and square in the middle of it. No matter how much Winters might have honored tradition -- heroic couplets, for God's sake! -- he couldn't help being a modern poet. Which is what makes his poetry so engaging, and, as in this poem, reminds us that we are what our times make us. The question is whether it's nobler to fight 'em or join 'em. Winters makes a good case for the former.

4 comments:

Charley Lindsey said...

The last line is wonderful, and it's nice to see some loping rhythms. But I'm lost at "fix the head." What does this mean?

Charles Matthews said...

I wondered that myself, and even checked to see if it was a typo. Could it be Winters going archaic and using subjunctive "fix" instead of "fixes," in a conditional situation? As in, "if this be the case, etc." I.e. "if this fixes [makes firm] the head [the intellect]." Weak, I know, but otherwise, I got nothing. Will see if I can find something more on it.

myth_of_Serpentry said...

This piece has an interesting progression; juxtaposing the restless transition of spring to summer with the scholar's restless transition in years and work.

But the latter "restlessness" is nuanced a bit more. Yes, it is "like that other restlessness," but different in that the human element, and thus the heady conscisousness of TIME, is added in to the mix.

-- Charles, I am interested in your thoughts about this progression or nuance of "restlessness."

Charles Matthews said...

Charley: Another possibility (aside from the grammatical one) is that "fix the head" means something like "becomes an idée fixe" -- referring to the obsession to "seize the greatness" or the scholar's desire to "condense ... Unbroken wisdom." But I'm still working on it.
myth_of_Serpentry: I don't know that I can add much to your acute observation about the theme of restlessness in the poem.