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 yes...love. 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.