15 April 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/16

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?


Unknown said...

Keep this springtime theme up. I'm really enjoying it. This one impressed me so much with its ability to paint a very clear picture of a scene in only four lines, and then to paint another very clear picture in another four lines.
And, of course, I thought of your proud little pear trees.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

My manly pear trees scorn your condescension!