The Pear Tree
In this squalid, dirty dooryard
Where the chickens squawk and run,
White, incredible, the pear tree
Stands apart, and takes the sun;
Mindful of the eyes upon it,
Vain of its new holiness, -
Like the waste-man's little daughter
In her First Communion dress.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
I was flipping through Millay's Collected Poems looking for something else when the title of this one caught my eye, since I had just planted several pear trees in my yard, and I thought I would keep up the springtime theme with this lovely lyric, which I had never seen before. Millay is usually thought of as the glamorously louche laureate of the jazz age, which like most labels is initially helpful but ultimately useless. I'm guessing that when she wrote this she was doing some creative remembering/reimagining of Housman's "Loveliest of trees"; both feature a narrator who is struck by the sight of a seasonal flowering tree which is linked not just to rebirth and renewal but to sacred celebrations of them. I love "takes the sun," which implies not only a leisurely luxuriant basking in the sun amid the dirt and the frantic chickens, but also that the tree is taking the sun into itself (which is actually a scientific fact), almost to the exclusion of the rest of the shadowed yard. But the character I find most memorable here is one that exists only in metaphor and memory: the little girl charmingly proud of having what is rare in her life, some beautiful new finery and some momentary glory.
This is income tax due day, so here's a bonus poem: Philip Larkin's Money.
By the way, can anyone tell me how to get an em-dash in Blogger? I've tried creating them in Word and pasting them in, but it throws off the leading. Is there some code in Blogger that summons them up?