flowers in winter (window ledge in the atom age)

by juno on February 10, 2011

Fresh flowers for weeks in winter for only a few dollars = forced narcissus bulbs = paper whites. Why? To remind us that under the earth all is not dead; spring will come, the grass will grow, flowers will bloom again. Find the bulbs at florists, garden and farm supply stores, sometimes even at the hardware store. Scatter a few rocks in a bowl or vase, set the bulbs on top, root ends pointing down, pointy sprouting ends up, and stabilize them with more rocks (pebbles, marbles, stones…). Fill with water to the bulbs’ halfway mark. They will last longest if you start them in a cool bright place and don’t bring them into the warm part of the house until the greens are at least a few inches high and the buds are set. Sometimes I just leave them in the cool bedroom where they bloom for weeks. Some people do not care for the scent of paper whites, but I am not one of those people.

Nor is Elwyn Brooks White. E. B. White’s poem “Window Ledge in the Atom Age” is one of my favorites. So much in this one: I can read it over and over through the years and it always speaks to the moment we inhabit, this very one, and this one, and this one. If you want a writing exercise, write a poem following the form of this one. Write a poem that is both comic and deeply serious. Write a poem grounded in the domestic that also embraces the whole great world. Write a poem that is hopeful, that reminds us that the earth is not dead: spring will come, the grass will grow, flowers will bloom again, “The tranquil heart may yet outrun / The rocket and the car.”

Window Ledge in the Atom Age

I have a bowl of paper whites,
Of paper-white narcissus;
Their fragrance my whole soul delights,
They smell delissus.
(They grow in pebbles in the sun
And each is like a star.)

I sit and scan the news hard by
My paper-white narcissus;
I read how fast a plane can fly,
Against my wissus.
(The course of speed is almost run,
We know not where we are.)

They grow in pebbles in the sun,
My beautiful narcissus,
Casting their subtle shade upon
Tropical fissus.
(No movement mars each tiny star;
Speed has been left behind.)

I’d gladly trade the latest thing
For paper-white narcissus;
Science, upon its airfoil wing,
Now seems pernissus.
(Who was it said to travel far
Might dissipate the mind?)

I love this day, this hour, this room,
This motionless narcissus;
I love the stillness of the home,
I love the missus.
(She grows in pebbles in my sun
And she is like a star.)

And though the modern world be through
With paper-white narcissus,
I shall arise and I shall do
The breakfast dissus.
(The tranquil heart may yet outrun
The rocket and the car.)

—E. B. White

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Pieter March 5, 2011 at 16:46

Thanks so much for this poem and thought, Juno. Rachel read it to me earlier this week and I had to go back and read it again this morning. Inspiring stuff.

juno March 7, 2011 at 21:35

That poem keeps on holding up. The line that is with me most often is “I shall arise and I shall do / the breakfast dissus.” A life philosophy (though Chris might not agree on the particulars) along the lines of “You got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow.”

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