Tag Archives: poetry

An Unfortunately Collected Poem by Ted Hughes

Mia Brownell, Still Life with Chicken Villin Headpiece (2006)

A writer that I will not name (because I’d rather not misrepresent or misremember him) once told me that both T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were anti-Semitic, but that Eliot’s poetry was strong when expressing racism, while Pound’s poetry, when it turned to his fascist ideology, was not. I do not know if this is true. Whenever I encounter in their poems something politically or morally objectionable I ask myself: but is this “good” poetry? I can think of at least a handful of poems by each of these poets that I want to remember, but I quickly lose interest in the poems that turn to clichéd stereotypes and strident propaganda. And so, thus far, I have failed to answer this question … while conceding to the more immediate and subjective standards of 1) “do I like it?” and 2) “do I want to read it?”

In my friend’s case, this might be a small gesture toward excusing Ezra Pound of his politics. One which is along the lines of: we don’t need to pay too much attention to Pound’s fascism, that part of his poetry isn’t very good, anyway. The approach seems difficult to defend, and yet there are so many great writers and artists who were or are, in one or more parts of their lives, inarguably monstrous. (The same might be said of most people. I do not think this is a unique feature of artistic personalities.) And so (displaying my friend’s influence, perhaps) I often read while making some assumed moral judgments about the value of the poetry. Poems may be categorized by:

1. Convincing works which advocate for or give voice to good things. (Christopher Smart’s “A Song to David.”)
2. Works created by people who did bad things. (Pretty much anything and everything we do.)
3. Unconvincing works which advocate for or give voice to good things. (Trite little moralisms and juvenile works about the wonderful qualities of one’s grandparents.)
4. Unconvincing works which advocate for or give voice to bad things. (Some of the Pound Cantos.)
5. Convincing works which advocate for or give voice to bad things. (Eliot’s images of Jews.)

While #1 and #2 are comorbid, and while #4 is perhaps the most unpleasant, #5 is most the dangerous. Finally, although I am certain #5 is more dangerous, I find it difficult to distinguish between morally damaged poetry that is unconvincing (#4) and that which is convincing (#5). Frequently, the evil expressed makes the expression itself seem less convincing. In other words, I struggle to separate the medium from the moral. Nonetheless, from time to time, I try. Recently, I decided to apply these judgments to a brief poem by Ted Hughes, “Exits”:

‘We believers shall get away to God
That much earlier if the bomb drops!’ rejoices
Our parson to the old women’s faces
That are cold and folded, like plucked dead hens’ arses.

In many a corner tonight
The rat chews off its paw
And dedicates the other three
To getting away out of it joyfully.

A sudden pinky-blue scowling glistener
The baby balloons out of its mother –
Splitting the tissue of all time, and the tarmac too
Like a mushroom, O genii of the atom.

Marly Youmans, in her expression of disgust, introduced me to the poem and, I fear, I have already given it more attention than she thinks it deserves. (The poem that follows “Exits” is without a doubt far, far more unsettling—plain misogyny, complete with a chorus on the word “bitch.”) But, now that I’m this far in, let’s measure it against the (above) five moral categories.

Is this a poem by a person who did bad things (#2)?

Absolutely, I do not need to read biographies of Ted Hughes, to know this is true.

Is this a poem that expresses bad things, but poorly (#3)?

Ah, now that’s complicated. First, does the poem express bad things? Maybe. Women are at two ends of a complex metaphor. In both cases he uses the bodies of women (“women” in general) as the image of that from which one might want an exit. It would be an understatement to say that these representations are “unflattering.” In the first stanza, Hughes compares the faces of old women to the “arses” of plucked hens. In the third, he uses the image of a baby’s head crowning at birth to show the arrival and detonation of a nuclear weapon. (Think of all the mushroom clouds one sees blooming in slow-mo film.) But are these representations “bad”? Do they help us build a better world? Maybe. Maybe, on the whole, one reads the poem and realizes that this world is not something we should be so eager to exit. Maybe one reads the third stanza and sees a birth that we should work with more diligence to avoid. Perhaps, one might say, Hughes should be excused of his misogyny because he has used it to show us the horror of a nuclear “exit”. Or, more accurately, Hughes has shown us the lifelessness of wanting to leave this world so much that we might wish upon ourselves a nuclear end. Having read of Youmans’ wrath, I am reluctant to say that this is so. Youmans’ disgust with the chicken image is an example of at least one case in which a very skilled reader found the image to be more hurtful than edifying. I will conclude, therefore, persuaded that the poem expresses bad things. But does it do it well?

Is this a poem that expresses bad things in a powerful way (#5)?

Yes, to the bad things; see above. And yes and no to things expressed with poetic power. The three images used in this poem are at once efficacious and cartoonish. (By some aesthetic standards, cartoonish representations are always inferior, mimesis by shorthand, but I’m not sure that I hold to that.) I think that the first two stanzas are difficult to take literally. The rat that escapes without its paw does not hobble away “joyfully”; rather, it limps away like a rat with three good legs and one raw one. Likewise, while the parson’s remark seems a bit ridiculous, and although I have heard equally silly remarks in many sermons, what would be the occasion for the comment? The women, however, are less believable. Most churches have at least a few women with wrinkled or even grouchy faces, but in this scene it seems that the entire congregation is comprised of elderly, “church ladies.” (One must assume that the poet is there too, or at least has reason to own the anecdote; after all, he writes of “our parson.”) In addition to these reasons, I am also inclined to say that the stanza does not work because it has misplaced its focus. It is the exit, the parson’s message, which is the true focus of the stanza, but Hughes diverts our attention to the women’s faces. He makes the problem worse by choosing a distasteful vehicle for his metaphor. In short, one spends far too much time trying to imagine “plucked dead hen’s arses” and not enough time registering the exact “exit” that is recounted in the stanza.

The final stanza, in which the crowning head of a baby is used as the vehicle for a vision of a nuclear explosion, holds more power. Cleverly, it doubles back on itself—an exit shown to us by an entrance—we are exited from the world as the baby exits its mother, as the bomb enters the “tarmac.” But what are we to make of this? Something misanthropic and dark if not disturbingly misogynistic? Let’s not forget that we have, for the most part, all entered this world by “ballooning” out of our mothers, by splitting that “tarmac”—surely Teddy’s mom would not have appreciated this vision. Nor, I hope, would the poet want us to think of his own birth in such terms.

Finally, although I appreciate the cleverness whereby the final stanza revisits the first, I also fail to see how the poem works as a whole. What are we expected to conclude? Silly parsons are suicidal? Rats will do anything to get out of a trap? Old women are not attractive? Babies are deadly? If it’s “nuclear war is bad,” I think Hughes failed to get us there. Rather, the poem confirms the parson’s message. This is a more fitting paraphrase: the poet is looking for an exit and would be willing to chew off a foot to get away; he’d rather have never been born into this awful world, if it weren’t for aging women, he wouldn’t have had to be. So, the poem seems to plead: go ahead and drop the bomb; see if I care.

Read in this way, the poem is a powerful expression of Hughes’ own ugly mood. Perhaps that’s why he left it “uncollected”. Perhaps he too could hear the shrill adolescent tone. Perhaps he feared he’d anger his mother. Most of us will never have an editor to pick through our “uncollected” poems; the cost of being worthy of one is on display here in the Collected poems (Paul Keegan, ed. New York: FSG, 2003).

Therefore, I put this poem somewhere between #4 and #5. If we read it as an anti-nuclear war poem, it’s a four. If we read it as the work of a depressed adolescent, it get’s a five—although it offends more than it hurts. The poem shows the author to be a shallow person, it does not motivate us to be likewise.

Daffadillies: Lycidas

And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
To strew the Laureat Herse where Lycid lies.

– John Milton, “Lycidas“. 150-151.

With the daffodil, one comes to the end of Milton’s catalog of flowers in Lycidas. The daffodil makes frequent appearances in poetry (Dickinson, Frost, Herrick, Jonson, Shakespeare, Spenser, Wordsworth). It nearly rivals the rose and often tumbles into cliched preciousness. Its abundance in verse will come as no surprise to gardeners–were I to start another spring bulb garden, I’d probably include the poet’s narcissus (Narcissus poeticus). Not for its name, but because it grows so well, multiplies easily, and blooms abundantly. (I also like the shape and color–green-throated, stout yellow tubes, rimmed with orange against a very white background.) However, if Milton had any narcissus at all in mind, it seems unlikely that he would have thought of the N. poeticus. If he did think of N. poeticus, he would not have known it as the “poet’s daffodil.”

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Narcissus pseudo-narcissus, Redouté, Pierre Joseph, 1759-1840

In Milton’s century, botanists were frustrated with the common name “daffodil.” It seemed, to them, to be misplaced. Derivative of asphodel (“the affodil”), the name seemed a better fit for the genus Asphodelus. But common names are stubborn and Gerard uses “daffodil” throughout his descriptions of Narcissus. He also notes: “The yellow English Daffodil groweth almost everie where through England” (134). Thus, I would bet that Milton meant, if he meant any specific Narcissus, for readers to recall the common daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus). These were the flowers, as common as they were, to which botanists hoped that English speakers would limit there use of “daffodil.”

All the same, both the N. poeticus and the N. pseudonarcissus are mismatched to Milton’s somewhat mixed metaphor (part eyeball, part cup) in these lines. Not unlike the Narcissus myth, Milton gives the flower some human properties, specifically the ability to express grief. In the Narcissus story the flower bends its head over a stream to gaze at its own beauty, but in Lycidas the daffodil begins to weep and fills its cup with tears. I have no problem with the weeping, as saccharine as it is, but I see no way to fill its cup with liquid. Bent over, the common yellow daffodil cannot fill its cup with anything. In fact, it is probably bent over in this way to prevent it from flooding with rain water. Tears would merely spill to the ground. Although less bent, N. poeticus with its very short flute would serve similarly as a poor cup for sorrows.

Although not expressing incredulity, Sims is also underwhelmed by Milton’s daffodils:

The daffadillies with their cups full of tears seem to be deliberately anti-climactic to prepare for the sudden recognition of the unreality of all these flowers and of the “frail thoughts” of the poet about them. (89)

I agree with the unreality of the image, but I am less willing to make excuses for Milton. In many respects the poet was writing a faux-pastoral poem and at other times a genuinely pastoral poem. In both cases the young talent was showing us what he could do within and around the genre. He took risks and excelled (a lengthy flower catalog), but sometimes hit a false note (a teary-eyed daffodil).

References
Gerard, John, and Thomas Johnson. 1975. The herbal: or, General history of plants. New York: Dover Publications.
Sims, James H. “Perdita’s ‘Flowers O’ Th’ Spring’ and ‘Vernal Flowers’ in Lycidas,” Shakespeare Quarterly 22, no. 1 (Winter 1971): 87-90.

[Note: This is the twelfth post in a series. See also: The Flowers in Milton’s “Lycidas”, Primrose: Lycidas, Tufted Crow-toe: Lycidas, Pale Jasmine: Lycidas, White Pink: Lycidas, Not Your Freaking Pansy: Lycidas, The Glowing Violet: Lycidas, Musk-rose: Lycidas, Woodbine: Lycidas, Cowslips: Lycidas and Amaranthus: Lycidas.]

Nostalgia, Now and Then

Once, many years ago, on introducing myself to the Irish poet, John Montague, I mentioned that I was from Kentucky. Immediately, he asked for my favorite poems by Robert Penn Warren. I had to admit that I had not paid much attention to Warren’s poetry. Montague was visibly dismayed. I had probably read a few Warren poems and I know that I had read All the King’s Men, but I was more fond of Kentucky prose (Wendell Berry and Guy Davenport) at the time.

I am trying to remember why I had passed over Warren so quickly. Perhaps it was the association with “New Criticism” (which was politically incorrect in my graduate school), but I also recall a frustration with both the subjects and the pace of Warren’s verse. For example, on re-reading a few of the anthologized poems today, I am struck by his penchant for hyphenated nouns and the use of the spondee. On this account, see a few samples from his Coleridgean poem “Gold Glade“: wet-black, gorge-depth, leaf-lacing, leaf-fall, heart-hurt, grief-fall, Gold-massy, light-fall, gold-falling, tooth-stitch, gray-shagged. And these are merely the hyphenated words, add the spondees and one has a recipe for some slow chewing. But this is a recent revelation. I’m certain that I relied on my less self-conscious ear in the 90s. As for the subjects, I was (and perhaps I still am) afraid of the nostalgia of self-identifying Southerners. I could (or have been) one of these, a nostalgic “son of the South” … particularly when I tire of the well-intentioned contextual emptiness of the Midwest. (Southern nostalgia may be made from equal parts of molasses and rat poison.) To this day, I am wary of it.

On the other hand, I am reaching an age in which nostalgia fuels memory. Thus, I have been fascinated lately with Warren’s “American Portrait: Old Style” from the volume Now and then: poems 1976-1978. This very nostalgic poem relies on Warren’s narrative skills. The poem keeps some of the internal rhyming, alliteration and spondees which sometimes clot his verse, but these are masked (a bit) by the story line. I think of Coleridge, again (in so far as it recalls childhood as a privileged place for the imagination), but Warren’s Coleridgean bent is tempered by the focus on the relationship between the poet and his childhood friend. The ageing ex-pitcher and bird dog trainer, tends to humanize Warren in a way that his own thoughts (out of context) do not. While the poetry strives for a false immortality, the body does not. K, as he is named in the poem, ages Warren by giving us a reference point that is a bit more approachable and less authorial. And so, when the poet lies down in the ditch he once played in as a child, and watches the sky pass over, it’s easier to join him; it’s easier to love this life and this world that we share.

The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren stretches to an overwhelming 830 pages. I think I will begin, instead, with Now and then.

Micah Ling’s Sweetgrass in 200 Words

SweetgrassHaving raced through Micah Ling’s Sweetgrass (Sunnyoutside, 2010) twice, I’m perplexed. Not by the material, which is sweet and, as is grass, light and easy, but by genre and intentions. While the short book expresses an honest affection for her Western encounters, and while a few pages demonstrate creative verve–the poem beginning “Listen: this is a stick up” is the best stand-alone lyric–on the whole, these untitled bits produce an unstructured essay. As it turns out, Sweetgrass is a dude ranch in Montana, so one might even wonder if the book belongs to the what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation genre. The voice of the book is that of a tourist, not of one who shares a deep knowledge of her subject, nor of one who has any real or lasting allegiances to the place. As readers we are pulled into a kind of voyeurism—uncomfortably, we watch someone we do not know have a really good time in Montana. Ling and her hosts seem like truly nice people, but what’s missing from the book is the work. Not the romanticized work of the cattle ranch, but the work of hosting its gawking visitors. Being under the gaze itself must be a chore.

Bishop’s Fishy Poem

On mulling over Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish,” something smells wrong. I have been slowly turning the poem about in my mind trying to identify the off note. Sometimes I think I have found the source of the stench, but then it slips away. Nonetheless, there’s something wrong with this classic, much read and taught, poem.

As a way to spend one’s days, I prefer fishing to most all other activities–perhaps, truth be told, even to reading and writing poetry. One might think, therefore, that I would have a greater than usual appreciation for Bishop’s fish story. I think, however, that it is this very first-hand appreciation of angling that makes me suspicious of Bishop’s poem.

My first inclination was to object that Elizabeth Bishop knew nothing of fish–that she, herself, did not go fishing often. About this, I was probably wrong. She spent much time in Nova Scotia and in Key West–and even mentions her fishing trips in a letter or two. Having discovered Bishop’s, at least, passing familiarity with fishing, I next objected that the fish of the poem was not a fish that poet saw with her own eyes. It never swam in the water, never took bait, never broke a line. Ronald E. McFarland,  excerpted at the beginning of the page at UIC’s Modern American Poetry Site, believes that such an objection may be easily dispatched. He refers, as all do, to her days lived near the water’s edge and even goes on to speculate about type of fish that Bishop might have meant for the poem–he puts his money, without much real evidence, on the grouper.

As it turns out, Bishop herself, in her letters, provides conflicting information about the fish. First, in an epistle to (the superior poet) Marianne Moore, Bishop writes nothing of a grouper and instead identifies the parrot fish, so named for its loud colors and hook-beaked mouth:

The other day I caught a parrot fish, almost by accident. They are ravishing fish – all iridescent, with a silver edge to each scale, and a real bill-like mouth just like turquoise; the eye is very big and wild, and the eyeball is turquoise too – they are very humorous-looking fish. A man on the dock immediately scraped off three scales, then threw him back; he was sure it wouldn’t hurt him. I’m enclosing one [scale], if I can find it. (January 14, 1939)

Later, in a letter to (the far, far superior poet) Robert Lowell, Bishop sends a post-card of the “Jew-fish” (a Goliath Grouper) to the poet, saying: “Dear Cal: These are the “Fish”…. (December 21, 1948)

Setting aside the confusion that Bishop’s two letters fosters, I still insist that the fish is not the fish that Bishop caught … if she caught a fish. Rather, what we find in the poem is a caricature of a fish. It is as if the poet could not or would not take the factual fish as her model and so chose a fanciful one instead. What we have here (to cut too close to the poem’s allegorical bone) is a not the oversimplified rendering of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but rather the cartoonish parodies of Michelangelo’s image that have become the common stock of our cultural short-hand. Although the tone of the entire poem, which differs in such a great degree from the more honest note to Marianne Moore, seems ill-fit and improbable for the average fishing trip, it is the final images of the creature which I find the most unlikely and most objectionable. I have caught many, many fish, but only one with a lure in its mouth and a few with bait in their guts. Fish dislodge these irritants, or they rust away (one would think the salt water would make very quick work of the lines in this fish’s mouth)–on any account, most fish do not feed until they are free of the foreign object. To be very plain about it, a fish with a hook in its mouth is a fish that will not bite and will not be caught–a fish with four lines and leaders of rainbow hue hanging out of its mouth might be found at a puppet show, but not at the side of the boat. Bishop did not catch this fish.

Very well, one might reply. Bishop caught a fish, released it, imagined quite another fish and wrote a poem about the latter. What’s the big deal? I agree, in that there’s nothing dishonest about placing an imaginary fish in a poem, but I object to letting one’s readers assume a narrative veracity that does not exist. If the fish is imagined, so is the poet–her feelings, her brief epiphany and her fishy little moral lesson at the end, all are mere fantasy.

This dishonesty on Bishop’s part allows her readers to cede to her a voice of moral authority that she does not have. See, for example, Thierry Ramais’s thoughts at the bottom of this page on UIC’s Modern American Poetry Site:

The poem obviously celebrates a moment in person’s life when his/her humanness goes as far as to recognize the humanity of nature itself, to consider nature not as “object” but as equally “subject”. (On “The Fish”: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/bishop/fish.htm)

The irony of this statement is lost on its author–as, perhaps, Bishop was oblivious to her own dishonesty. Nature has no “humanity” and when it does, it is smaller for it. (On the other hand “humanity” has much “nature”–clearly, humans are but one of nature’s many features.) Ramais and Bishop have empathies for creatures and for natures which do not exist and, as such, they do not respect the nature that does exist. The poet may make herself and a few of her readers feel better about their place in this world, but she has done so with forgery. I would much rather have the smell of fish on my hands.

What will come after Carrie Jerrell’s revival?

After the RevivalIn the mood for hawks, snakes, horses and lonely, but fierce women? Given up on contemporary poetry, poems written for poets, camps of code-talkers engaged in self-congratulating games of inter-reference? Try Carrie Jerrell’s After the Revival (WorldCat | Amazon). True, it suffers a bit from the usual first-book excesses–the occasional over-reaching, metaphors which try too hard, and (at times) a kind of garish urge to be odd. Nonetheless, Jerrell’s poems are carefully written lyrics with a keen narrative sensibility.

As for me, I have not given up on contemporary poetry; in fact, I write the worst of it–unreadable, insensible, too-inside for the insiders. And so, I admire Jerrell’s book (which I discovered on Marly Youmans’ blog) for other reasons. Foremost, perhaps, because I can think of no other contemporary poet who has written better love poems for rural Indiana. John Matthias will forever own the St. Joseph River valley, and Indianapolis deserves its waste land of bad taste, but the case could be made (on the strength of only a handful of poems) to make Carrie Jerrell the state’s next poet laureate. At the very least, give her all the blighted little towns south of Seymour. Of the poems which name Indiana, I am most fond of two. The first provides a hawk’s snapshot of a forlorn and lonely landscape, “Self-Portrait of the Artist as Glezen, Indiana”:

I’m 4 a.m. deer-piss-drenched camouflage,
the haunted woods, the doe’s brown eyes, the gun
and Tater Warner’s hardware store on Main
and Cherry, baseballs aisle five, a tent
beyond revival, organ out of tune,
“Amazing Grace” played back-pew Baptist flat,
potluck to follow. Flying red-tail high,
I’ve circled every furrowed field for life
and only seen my shadow, the willow swing
by Panther Creek, an empty gravel road,
an unchained shepherd taking the long way home.

I met a shepherd like this during one of my long runs. On a cold January day, it took us a good twenty minutes of threats and concessions before we could pass.

Although it ends less well, I’m equally drawn to “In an Indiana County Thick with Copperheads”. Had the poem been written 50 years earlier, it opens with what would be a picture of my mother (minus the meth), somewhere south of Bedford:

Tweaked out on her mother’s meth,
the twelve-year-old walks
the county roads of my childhood,
sees stars in a sky crow-feather black,
finds the pack of wild dogs, the teeth
of the mottled Lab less frightening than
her uncle and his bristle-brush whiskers.
There’s little left to do here but grow
long and mean, to meet each day
like a belly meets gravel.

In addition to the other fine poems which self-identify as set in Indiana (including: “For the Sparrows Who Lost Their Nests in the Southern Indiana Tornado” and “View of Petersburg from Bell’s Hill Strip Mine, Pike County, Indiana”), there are those which evoke the place. First read the book’s excellent and harrowing title poem, “After the Revival”, and then turn to the view from a cracked, rear view mirror in the well-timed “Love Letter Written While Speeding Past the City Limit Sign” (also entitled “Drive” at DIAGRAM). Perhaps Indiana also accounts for at least half of the setting for spiraling conceit in “The Fire Tower”.

I think Jerrell currently writes in Kentucky, but I doubt she will ever completely rid herself of Pike County, Indiana. I’ll be looking for more poems from this poet. It might be nice to see more of Jerrell and less of her personae in the future. Her sensual, religious meditations (although a bit too impersonal) are a promising turn. She chose one of these to end the book, and perhaps (following the title poem’s evocation of death) to end on a hopeful note. Likewise, hoping for more, I’ll end this review with the final poem in the book, “When the Rider is Truth”:

I am froth and lather, sent steaming
through jade fields while he sits
heavy in the saddle, beating love songs
on my flanks I’m slow to learn.
His snapped whip rings like church bells.
He prays my name. In different winds,
it rhymes with win and race. At night,
he rests against my neck and tells me
stars are born between my heartbeats,
though they’re unreachable this trip.
Still, with him I feel sure-footed
running on this soil of sand,
this miraculous green,
where every day is like no other
in its symmetry of hill and valley.
When shadows blend, I want the blinders on.
I want the spurs and speed. It’s then
I understand tight reins, the firm grip,
the bitter iron on my tongue,
the blood and sharper bit I’m driven with.

Reference:
Jerrell, Carrie. 2009. After the revival. Ewell, UK: Waywiser.

 

Cowslips: Lycidas

“With Cowslips wan that hang the pensive hed,” John Milton, Lycidas. Ln. 147

Masaccio's "The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden"

With the addition of cowslips (Primula veris), Milton’s flower catalog parts from his Shakespearean sources, Oberon and Perdita. It’s not his first departure and (as was the first, the “crow-toe”) it is not an unwelcome one. Oberon’s flowers, which perfume Titania’s bower, include the oxlip (also a Primula). Milton might have used the oxlip, but its form is too close to its other cousin, the primrose. Edward King’s imagined mourners, therefore, would have adorned the casket with two flowers which (from their blooms alone) would have been nearly indistinguishable. Cowslips, on the other hand, are as Milton describes them, pendant, flower heads hung (not unlike the crow-toe) in a way that mirrors our own physical expressions of grief. (The grieved forms and “wan” faces of Adam and Eve in Masaccio’s The Expulsion and in William Blake’s The Expulsion come to mind.) In short, cowslips (which have always been more plentiful than oxlips) are a more fitting flower to be tossed on the dead poet’s hearse.

Curiously, however, Milton’s readers (if not Milton himself) had lost the flower’s baser etymology. The word “cowslip” has nothing to do with cattle slips or lips … nor slips, nor lips of any kind. The cowslip might be better named “cowslop”. Unlike the primrose, which prefers the shade, the cowslip grows in open pasture. Therefore, its gatherers (herbalists and cooks, when out “cowslipping”) would need to traverse paddy strewn fields. Cow manure comes with a lot of moisture (slop) and nutrients (instant mulch) and one might nearly expect to find healthy plants nearby. Fortunately, for Milton, cowslip had lost its slop … but, it would have been an altogether other-world had Milton honored the deceased with a rich pile of crows feet and a heap of manure.

[Note: This is the tenth post in a series. See also: The Flowers in Milton’s “Lycidas”, Primrose: Lycidas, Tufted Crow-toe: Lycidas, Pale Jasmine: Lycidas, White Pink: Lycidas, Not Your Freaking Pansy: Lycidas, The Glowing Violet: Lycidas, Musk-rose: Lycidas and Woodbine: Lycidas.]