Thursday, April 11, 2013

Forsythia Frost, Spring

Yesterday, the Forsythia bloomed.

It put me in mind, again, of the poem by Robert Frost, which I keep meaning to write about. I'll quote it again:

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf's a flower
But only so an hour
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Adam sank to grief
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

Every spring, like clockwork, this poem comes to me. I must have memorized it, along with others, in grade school. But I don't remember it being particularly memorable to me then. It only came back to me later, when I was a young adult and living on my own in my second apartment, a third-story nest in the top of an old house, and started to truly look at the world around me.

I noticed then, that very, very early in the spring, really late winter, before anything buds or blooms or sprouts or pushes up, the very thin furthest twig ends of certain trees start to redden. I was perched up there on the third story, and I'd look out at the horizon, a band of trees in the near distance, and the line against the sky was faintly pink, like a reverse sunset, and day by day became redder and redder until, one day, leaves appeared, the tiniest reddish bursts of color.

The second year this happened, I felt a strange kind of anticipation. This is spring coming, I'd think. It's got its own fore-runners! And I started to look around and see others. I think it was then that Frost's poem returned.

The town I grew up in, McDonald, Ohio, is a very small steel town. When we were young and growing up, its streets were lined with maple trees. Not young ones but not old ones. These were young adult trees, with robust, deep green leaves and round ball-shaped crowns, neatly marching up and down every street of the grid that mostly defines McDonald.

And I noticed a curious thing. The seeds of the maple flower before the leaves. They sprout like tiny wings, fluttering out day by day. But they're not wings, or leaves, or seeds. They're tiny little flowers. And they're not quite green. Not quite gold. They're spring.

This, I thought then, is what Robert Frost means. The seeds before the leaves. And for many years, this is what Frost's poem has meant to me.

But this year, as I pondered this poem that for me has become a seasonal pondering, I thought about the lowly forsythia. Most of the year a totally unspectacular shrub. Sometimes a wild haired scrawny child. Sometimes a tangled weed of a thing. But in the spring, before anything blooms, except perhaps the crocus, before its own leaves even, it floods the world with gold.

And that you can count on. It keeps coming back. It's pretty tough, that forsythia.

And yes, it fades, but other things come to take its place. And I just can't see that as a sad thing. And for me the Frost poem, too, is not a sad thing. It's a kind of renewal, in the spring of every year. A tradition. A chant. The harbinger.

So I say to Robert Frost, no, nothing gold can stay. But it can return. And it does. And that, that returning, that is spring, to me. And poetry.

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