Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Today's poem by Amy Lowell


False blue,
Color of lilac,
Your great puffs of flowers
Are everywhere in this my New England.
Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing
Their little weak soft songs;
In the crooks of your branches
The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs
Peer restlessly through the light and shadow
Of all Springs.
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
You were everywhere.
You tapped the window when the preacher preached his sermon,
And ran along the road beside the boy going to school.
You stood by the pasture-bars to give the cows good milking,
You persuaded the housewife that her dishpan was of silver.
And her husband an image of pure gold.
You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms
Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—
You, and sandal-wood, and tea,
Charging the noses of quill-driving clerks
When a ship was in from China.
You called to them: “Goose-quill men, goose-quill men,
May is a month for flitting.”
Until they writhed on their high stools
And wrote poetry on their letter-sheets behind the propped-up ledgers.
Paradoxical New England clerks,
Writing inventories in ledgers, reading the “Song of Solomon” at night,
So many verses before bed-time,
Because it was the Bible.
The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.
You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,
You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.
You cover the blind sides of greenhouses
And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass
To your friends, the grapes, inside.

False blue,
Color of lilac,
You have forgotten your Eastern origin,
The veiled women with eyes like panthers,
The swollen, aggressive turbans of jeweled pashas.
Now you are a very decent flower,
A reticent flower,
A curiously clear-cut, candid flower,
Standing beside clean doorways,
Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,
Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight
And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.

Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
And Massachusetts
And Vermont.
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of gardens of little children,
You are State Houses and Charters
And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.
May is lilac here in New England,
May is a thrush singing “Sun up!” on a tip-top ash tree,
May is white clouds behind pine-trees
Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky.
May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And apple-blossoms,
And windows open to a South Wind.
May is full light wind of lilac
From Canada to Narragansett Bay.

False blue,
Color of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

On the cover of Time Magazine, March 2, 1925. She died the following May.


  1. Lilac is one of spring's greatest ambassadors, I find, bringing in that period when we can usually be quite sure that there won't be any frosty nights anymore until late autumn.
    In my area, the blossoms have turned "rusty" about 2 weeks ago; instead of the scent of lilac, the neighbourhood smells of roses and wisteria now.

  2. Librarian, well put!
    This poem is so much my reality. I am planted in New England as much as those lilacs. They are indeed everywhere - from the dooryards of old abandoned houses, to lining driveways, to cemeteries. The only thing I planted next to my folks' graves was two tall white lilacs. They are still thriving after almost forty years. We have lilacs all over our land - in every direction you see them. They are just the best, best flower.

  3. This reminds me so much of something Gladys Taber once said about the lilacs in dooryards of old abandoned houses. I can't remember what book it was in, but I do remember her talking about it. Knowing her, she probably cut some and brought them home and arranged them in one of the milk glass containers from her prized collection!

    Lovely poem.

  4. Jill, I know what you are talking about. And I've read other people talking about this too. The whole idea of lilacs being where there used to be a home and life, and are still there when they are gone. Very melancholy.
    Are you in New England? (have you already told me? Sorry if you have)

  5. I delightful poem that I will copy and put in a special place to remember.

    Ours are just about faded here near Chicago, but, we were up near the Twin Cities, MN this weekend and they are just starting to show off.

  6. This is a wonderful ode to lilacs and spring. The smell is emanating from the computer. The Orioles have just arrived in our garden though. The lilacs have done their duty and are settling in for a long summers growth. Just reading about all of those New England states puts me in the mind of a different country. It is all so beautiful but a different beauty of the midwest where I live. Another great poem. Thanks.

  7. You are the smell of all Summers,

    Most of the lilacs in our neighborhood have finished. However, my Miss Kim has just started (such a late bloomer!), as has the larger variety. It smells like heaven in our back yard!

  8. What a wonderful poem. When I run errands in Shelburne Falls at this time of the year the whole town is perfumed. We have ancient lilacs at our house - and new ones too. And thanks for reminding us of Amy Lowell. She was a standard in my English class curriculum in the 50s but I think she is almost forgotten now.

  9. Nan,
    One of my favorite memories of England is the smell of lilacs.
    Thanks for sharing this poem.
    (Been to England several times and even lived there for a year once, but have never been to NEW England!)

  10. Penny, we are often in sync with Minnesota weather! I love the words in this poem. She says it all. I love the idea of lilacs watching a deserted house.

    Lisa, I am often in awe of how huge this country is and how the landscapes vary so greatly. We are too cold for Orioles I think. I've seen one or two in 30 years.

    Les, the Miss Kim lilacs do come later. They are not the traditional lilacs that Amy Lowell writes of. And though I have two, in honor of my Korean born children, I don't care for the smell that much. They are a whole different plant from the other lilacs.

    Commonweeder, that saddens me. I couldn't find her in my old Norton Anthologies either. I think we need poems like this desperately. It felt to me like it was just written.

    Kay, I wonder if the ones in England are like the ones in the 'new country.' :<)

  11. Nan, I'm not in New England, but I wish I were! I'm in central Illinois, right in the middle of corn and bean country. One of my greatest wishes is to visit New England in the fall. I think it would be wonderful since I have read so much about it. I actually have my itinerary all planned -- now just waiting for the right time!

  12. Amazing writing
    So modern for the age she wrote in.
    Thanks you for making me come here and read this.

  13. I didn't know that lilacs were a feature of New England, I have only visited (from England) in the autumn (fall!!). I love them, there is something very special seeing the first lilac blooms of the year. Our own poet Rupert Brooke liked them too, I seem to remember him mentioning them in a poem.

  14. Jill, it could be really fun to start at the 'top' of NE and follow the color down. Around here, 'peak' is the last week of September into the first week of October, usually. Sadly, the tourists show up on Columbus Day weekend, and there often isn't too much left. But in the more southern NE states, the color comes later.

    Joco, I was amazed at how familiar the images are to me all these years later.

    Carole, and I thought for a long time that they grew only here! :<)


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