I thought it was about time I shared another poem here on the blog. I have chosen a poem I wrote a few years ago titled “Silent Spring”; a rhyming verse of just 11 short lines, but one that holds textures of meaning for me.
I took the path to the leafless wood.
It smelt of earth and rain and childhood.
I sought out spring where I used to find her,
in the sheltered places, by the withered burr.
I looked for the celandines shining gold,
but they were not there, and the wind was cold.
I searched for the bluebells that always grew
amongst the dainty stitchwort, starry-white.
There was nothing there but weak sunlight.
I thought I caught a snatch of robin song,
a few twittered notes, then that too was gone.
I rarely delve deeply and explain my poems, preferring to leave them to the reader’s own experience and interpretation. However, “Silent Spring” is one of my works that I feel is so layered with a strata of connections and meanings, some large some personal, that it justifies an exploration.
The title of the poem is inspired by a 1960’s book of the same name; “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, infamous for it’s portents of ecological collapse, a subject of such relevance today. My poem “Silent Spring” also covers the idea of loss of biodiversity, the disappearance of the wild things and the everyday overlooked natural history that we only miss and value once it’s gone.
I was prompted to write the poem after walking through the housing estate that at that point I called home. The swifts had just returned and found their nesting roofs had been refurbished; ‘home improvements’ had cut them off their theirs. A band of starlings probed a barren lawn in search of poisoned grubs, a couple of dull brown fledglings in their number, adults counting just half a dozen. 5-year-old-me remembered the swarm of starlings and house sparrows that flocked to the bird table in the family garden, far more than this pathetic crew that worked the dry patch of grass between the driveways. As I walked I began noticing, as though for the first time, the street names: Hawthorn Close, Beechgrove, Oakwood Road, Poplar Crescent, Pine Walk… the only trees I could identify were the upright posts and larch panels of garden fences.
Perhaps all is not lost – maybe the experience of this poem is simply the longing for spring, those long grey weeks early in the season when we ache for the green and sap and flora of the reborn year.
There is an undeniable undertone of sadness but also confusion to the lines of this poem. Last year, my grandmother passed away, but for some significant time prior to her death she suffered progressive mental deterioration due to dementia. Although we didn’t share that same love of nature and the outdoors and weren’t especially close, Grandma’s illness touched me in unexpected ways. I think some of that found its way into this poem; the lines recall the feeling of an image that is just out of reach; something you are sure you know but just cant make whole. The poem hints at a sadness of old age and a realisation of how precious our memories and the stories we tell ourselves, are, and how when these collapse and disintegrate, how disorientating and fearful the world must seem. Snatches of sweet robin song, offered up but lost, stolen, before you can scramble to catch it.
Then again, it could be that it’s not our memories deteriorating with each line of ‘Silent Spring’, but our senses: eyesight and hearing lend such clarity to the world, and introduce us to such treasures as the colour and music of nature. How long would we look and listen, if we knew it would be taken away?
There is another element of the poem, one that can be understood when you know that it was written in my early 20’s; the loss of childhood. With every mention of celandines, stitchwort, bluebells, I am walking a footpath to the school bus, spring sunshine lighting the roadside bank where flowers dared to spill onto the pavement unnoticed by most of the other kids. These were the things I used to rush home at the end of the day to tell my mum, signs of spring I would look for, wait for each year. And there was always a robin signing in the oak tree to welcome me back to the street.
All to often when we revisit our childhood stamping grounds as grown adults, we leave disappointed. Parks seem smaller. Woodlands that seemed boundless, full of life and hidden places, shrink to mere copses, two dimensional scraps of trees and brambles that hold no mystery. Its not that the places themselves are any different, although as nature continues to decline there may be less abundance there, but ourselves that have changed and approach from a different vantage point. Physically higher (we have grown ‘up’ after all) but also mentally detached, less prone to flights of fancy. We can see the wood for the trees. But if we look hard enough, there is still a glimmer, a hint of the magic that entranced us. Can we capture it, and kindle it in our hearts?
I took the path to the leafless wood. It smelt of earth and rain and childhood. I sought out spring where I used to find her, in the sheltered places, by the withered burr. I looked for the celandines shining gold, but they were not there, and the wind was cold. I searched for the bluebells that always grew amongst the dainty stitchwort, starry-white. There was nothing there but weak sunlight. I thought I caught a snatch of robin song, a few twittered notes, then that too was gone.