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.