16 February 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/7

When young spring comes,
With silver rain
One almost
Could be good again.

But then comes summer,
Whir of bees . . . 
Crimson poppies . . . anemones,
The old, old god of Love
To please.

Langston Hughes

Hughes is best known as a poet of the twentieth-century American urban black experience, which in itself is a wide and varied field, but his work extends even beyond that. Here is a witty and rueful poem about the renewal of the year. It's written in Hughes's characteristic free verse, with the musical chiming of some irregularly recurring end rhymes: in the first stanza, rain/again and in the second, bees/anomones/please. We open with a sense of hopeful renewal: spring is young, and the lovely silver rain, like a baptism, will wash the world clean. But there's a bit of a warning in this stanza too: one almost / could be good again. It's not just that one could almost, though apparently not quite, be good; it's that one could be good again – "one" has apparently been through this before, and is speaking somewhat sheepishly from experience.

Past experience also shows in his foreknowledge of what summer will be like. The only specific thing we heard about spring was that the silver rain would come, but with summer he gets very specific and goes into sensuous detail, including sound (the whirring bees) and color (the crimson poppies) to highlight summer's seductive appearance. Spring may be young, but the god of Love is not just old, but doubly old: the old, old god of Love: ever renewed and ever recurring, ever reviving and ever falling, the new-old cycle of the seasons and of life.

I took this from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Arnold Rampersad editor and David Roessel Associate Editor.


Unknown said...

Great choice for Mardi Gras week, and for our confusing arrival of Summer here in the Bay Area this weekend.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Thanks. Actually I think of this as "Ash Wednesday week" so I'll just enjoy my half-full glass of mortification here.*

I did have a vague notion of making February a love-themed month, which kind of fell through but I guess this sort of qualifies.

* Not that I'm actually depriving or mortifying myself in any way. . .