Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Nothing is Certain, Only the Certain Spring

I am not too happy with my garden this year. Here’s a photo I took to show the progress on the arbor (and the arbor-meister assures me that now he has wheeled in the more than four tons of rock needed to create the paths, the arbor will be finished very shortly.) This is the view you get if you sit sipping coffee at the picnic table, and from a distance, the garden looks pretty decent. But I know better: seen up close, the flowerbeds evidence a coreopsis that should have been deadheaded long ago, a lily that desperately needs transplanting, some weeds that have made themselves at home . . . well, you get the picture. I can blame the weather, time given over to other worthy pursuits, or plain laziness. Take your pick.

It happens every year: I am aware of my mistakes and shortcomings as a gardener and vow to do better next year. The garden is a recalcitrant child which needs to be put to bed for the winter. Next year we can both redeem ourselves.

But shall I? The succession of seasons is a conceit I have long cherished. I found comfort this spring in Housman. How easy it is to read his account of the passage of the years. The sky is blue, the blossoms are white and fluffy and he has a reasonable expectation of reaching his allotted lifespan. That gives him fifty more years to see the beauty of the transition from winter to spring with its unspoken promise of amends.

Laurence Binyon had no such illusions. I don’t know when he wrote his poem The Burning of the Leaves, but it was certainly at a time when the succession of seasons held no promise of infinite springs. The vocabulary of the poem bristles with words like “weeping”, ‘brittle”, “rotten” and “corruption.” Binyon understands that Nature demands clean-up work to be done in the garden in Autumn and that there is the sure and certain hope of the glory of spring—but that he may not be the one to enjoy it. The poem ends:

That world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.
They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.
This poem is a reminder to live in the moment. Our only achievements are what we accomplish today, not what we promise to do tomorrow. Nature will endure, not us. I have already written about the hymns I want sung at my funeral. This is the poem I want read.

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