Saturday, 10 May 2014

"Excrementitious" Spring

Spring is largely a myth, isn't it?  The myth, of course, is the sort of stuff you see on Easter cards: green grass, sunshine, flowers and lush leaves.  For many parts of Canada, especially the great swath of land once called "the north west," spring is not so cheerful and sunny.  Instead spring is the muddiest, dirtiest, wettest, sloppiest, slushiest, filthiest season.  And even in May we can be weeks away from new leaves.

Yet it is still, in its muddy way, beautiful.  What amazes me every year at this time is just how many, many shades of brown there are: the grass on the lawns, the leafless branches, the sandy ditches, the bare fields, the churned-up mud, the turbid puddled water.

What also amazes me is how few expressions there are about this time of year--the real spring.  The spring that begins in March and slowly, muddily churns its way through to April and into May.  There is E. E. Cummings' "in Just-spring" in which "the world is mud-/luscious" and "puddle-wonderful."  Or Wm. Carlos Williams' "By the road to the contagious hospital," one of my favourite poems, where:

"Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches---"

But perhaps one of the most profound discussions of the nature of spring is Henry David Thoreau's "Spring" chapter from Walden, in which the dirty and the beautiful mingle evocatively.  Here is a quote from "Spring" (the word that delights me here in its aptness is "excrementitious"):

True, it is somewhat excrementitious in its character, and there is no end to the heaps of liver, lights, and bowels, as if the globe were turned wrong side outward; but this suggests at least that Nature has some bowels, and there again is mother of humanity. This is the frost coming out of the ground; this is Spring. It precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular poetry. I know of nothing more purgative of winter fumes and indigestions. It convinces me that Earth is still in her swaddling-clothes, and stretches forth baby fingers on every side. Fresh curls spring from the baldest brow. There is nothing inorganic. These foliaceous heaps lie along the bank like the slag of a furnace, showing that Nature is "in full blast" within. The earth is not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a book, to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree, which precede flowers and fruit — not a fossil earth, but a living earth; compared with whose great central life all animal and vegetable life is merely parasitic. Its throes will heave our exuviae from their graves. You may melt your metals and cast them into the most beautiful moulds you can; they will never excite me like the forms which this molten earth flows out into.

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