Archives for category: Spring

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April 24, 2013 marks the 108th anniversary of the birth of multi-hyphenate Robert Penn Warren — a poet-novelist-essayist-editor-critic — the only person to win a Pulitzer Prize for both fiction and poetry, and likely the most decorated American author of all time.

Warren (1905-1989) received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for his novel All the King’s Men and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 and 1979. From 1944-1945, Warren served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. His other honors and awards include Presidential Medal of Freedom (1980), MacArthur Fellowship (1981), designation as first U.S. Poet Laureate (1986), and National Medal of Arts (1987).

Photo: Robert Penn Warren working on the revisions of a book in a barn near his home (April 1956 by Leonard McCombe, Time/Life, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED).

Let’s celebrate this remarkable writer’s birthday with one of his most beautiful poems.

TELL ME A STORY

by Robert Penn Warren

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.

I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse. I heard them.

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.

The sound was passing northward. 

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END OF APRIL

by Phillis Levin

Under a cherry tree

I found a robin’s egg,

broken, but not shattered.
 
I had been thinking of you,

and was kneeling in the grass

among fallen blossoms
 
when I saw it: a blue scrap,

a delicate toy, as light

as confetti
 
It didn’t seem real,

but nature will do such things

from time to time.
 
I looked inside:

it was glistening, hollow,

a perfect shell
 
except for the missing crown,

which made it possible

to look inside.
 
What had been there

is gone now

and lives in my heart
 
where, periodically,

it opens up its wings,

tearing me apart.

 Illustration: “Opus No. 122” by Kazue Shima

“End of April” is found in Phillis Levin’s collection The Afterimage (Copper Beech Press, 1995), available at Amazon.com.

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When poet Phillis Levin found the robin’s eggshell under the cherry tree, she might have been interested to learn a bit more about its unique, vivid shade of blue. For this, we turned to an expert — Patterson Clark, who writes and illustrates the Urban Jungle column for the Washington Post.

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ROBIN EGGS: THE BLUER THE BETTER

Illustration and Text by Patterson Clark

(originally published 5/1/2012 in the Washington Post)

Not much point in looking around for a nearby nest when you find an American robin eggshell on the sidewalk.

Soon after a chick hatches, the female robin grabs the eggshell and flies off to drop it far from the nest. Leaving the baby behind for a few moments is worth the risk, since the bright white insides of the eggshell can attract predators.

But before the egg hatches, blue-green pigments on the outside surface of the egg might help with camouflage. Pigments might also strengthen the egg and help protect it from solar radiation.

A robin coats her eggs with the same turquoise-hued compound found in our bile and bruises, biliverdin, an important antioxidant. Female robins with higher concentrations of biliverdin in their tissue lay darker, more vividly colored eggs, which apparently sends a strong signal to males.

“Males seem to use egg color to gauge the quality of their mate and the eggs she lays, putting more effort into rearing babies when they are more likely to survive and prosper,” says Robert Montgomerie of Queen’s University in Canada.

With Philina English, Montgomerie determined that when eggs are more colorful, male robins will invest as much as twice the amount of energy helping feed nestlings.

SOURCES: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology; Bird Coloration: Function and Evolution; Stanford University

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PLUM BLOSSOM HAIKU

by Hogan Reikan (1779-1860)

Describe plum blossoms?

Better than my verses

White wordless butterflies

Illustration: “Plum Blossom Viewing” by Suzuki Harunobu (1760s), available in a greeting card from zazzle.com.

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

RACHEL CARSON, Silent Spring

Illustration: “Flycatcher and plum” (ink and watercolor on hosho washi) by Lisa Chakrabarti. Visit Lisa’s website CloudDragonArt.com to learn more about this amazing, gifted L.A.-based artist.

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SPRING Poem by Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)

Spring air —

Woven moon

And plum scent. 

PHOTO: Words with Wings, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Caption: Heart palpitations…clammy…butterflies in stomach…dry mouth…

Credit: Roz Chast and New Yorker, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

In Los Angeles, the flowering trees start to bloom in February — and that’s as close as we get to spring in a place where the weather is pretty much the same all year long. Still, I’ll admit to bouts of spring fever — especially during our infrequent rain showers.

And that reminds me of what I consider one of the funniest things about living in Los Angeles — the rain attire worn by adults and children during our rare, rare, rare rains. Yes,  these folks have special wardrobes — colorful slickers, ornate umbrellas, stylish rain boots — that they use as armor, as if they will melt from a drop of water like the witch did in the Wizard of Oz. As someone who grew up in the rain-soaked Midwest, where we had no special rain wardrobe, I find this quite, quite amusing.

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SPRING HAIKU by Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)

Traveling this high

mountain trail, delighted

by violets

Photo: Lee Hiller, 2010, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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TODAY

by BIlly Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,

so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

 

that it made you want to throw

open all the windows in the house

 

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,

indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

 

a day when the cool brick paths

and the garden bursting with peonies

 

seemed so etched in sunlight

that you felt like taking

 

a hammer to the glass paperweight

on the living room end table,

 

releasing the inhabitants

from their snow-covered cottage

 

so they could walk out,

holding hands and squinting

 

into this larger dome of blue and white,

well, today is just that kind of day.

Photo by CT1967, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Billy Collins (born 1941) served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003 and New York State poet from 2004-2006. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York City, where he has taught for over forty years.

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VERNAL SENTIMENT

by Theodore Roethke

Though the crocuses poke up their heads in the usual places,
The frog scum appear on the pond with the same froth of green,
And boys moon at girls with last year’s fatuous faces,
I never am bored, however familiar the scene.

When from under the barn the cat brings a similar litter,—
Two yellow and black, and one that looks in between,—
Though it all happened before, I cannot grow bitter:
I rejoice in the spring, as though no spring ever had been.

Photo: “Crocuses in Snow” by Websterpics, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.