Friday, April 25, 2014

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd...

Those are Walt Whitman's words.  The poem seems to be an ode to spring but in his later years, Whitman admitted he was writing about the tragic death of Abraham Lincoln.  That April, the lilac purportedly bloomed earlier than normal which made the unspeakable loss of the president all the more sorrowful to Whitman. 
Lilacs seem to mingle with our very souls, their scent is so dazzling.  And since most of us encounter them first in childhood, we have enduring associations with these purple blossoms.  Our yard growing up did not host a lilac bush but my best friend across the street had some ancient ones.  I remember picking bunches and bunches of them and then watching as her mother placed them in crystal clear glass vases throughout the house.  We brought some to our teachers after burying our faces in the cold blooms on our walk to school.  But the fragrance of lilacs builds to a crescendo quickly and then suddenly...they are gone. 
Because the time of lilacs is fleeting in proportion to the potent emotion they garner, it makes sense that Whitman uses them as a metaphor for the unencumbered past.  He longs for the innocent time when lilacs seemed to bloom unceasingly, only to realize that as they return each season, he remembers loss and bereavement.
All this is not to say that lilacs depress me.  They do not.  I do wish they lasted longer - at least until the roses and peonies replace them in June.  Lilacs will always remind me of my best friend, her mother, my mother and grandmother.  My wonderful teachers.  Spring school assemblies outdoors.  Friendships.  Music.  The first picnic.  May baskets.  Mother's Day.  Proms.  Spring dresses.  And oh  Always, always they remind me of love. 

 When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night;
I mourn'd-and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
O ever-returning spring! Trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the wet,
And thought of him I love.


  1. Since I live in the Lilac capital of the country, I especially love this musing on the wonderful blooms. I have a lilac bush by my bedroom window, and on soft May nights, I can catch the scent of the blooms as they sway in the evening breeze. Beautiful thoughts, Donna!

  2. I love the scent of lilacs, so many memories. I have never planted one in my yard. But in a very large median in our little circa 1950's subdivision grew a beautifully huge purple lilac bush. It was so big, that I think it was here before the subdivision. Every year it was just overflowing with blossoms. Gorgeous. It grew right next to the street and for 37 years as I drove past it when it was in bloom I would stop, open the car window and inhale that wonderful scent. I was sorely tempted to pick a few of those sweet flowers and take them home, but then I would think that the next person would never get to experience their beauty; so I never picked any.

    Last summer as I was driving down that street, I noticed that the beautiful ancient lilac bush was gone. Chopped to the ground. It made me so mad, and so sad. Who in the world would have done that, and why? I will never know. Better that someone would have dug it out and at least replanted it somewhere. Nothing else in the median had been trimmed or was missing. Only the lovely lilac bush. Last summer was hot and dry here, and the winter very cold. If there were any sprouts that came back, the mowers got them.

    This year I should have planted a lilac in my own yard. Maybe I still will. And I wish that I would have picked just one very small bouquet of those lilacs before they were gone.

  3. Oh that IS sad Susie! Plant your lilac and next year you will have that blossom.....

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