We were going to follow up yesterday’s cat homage with something for the dachshunds today in the spirit of fairness.
But then the Advent Calendar landed us with Cream of Earl Grey. This is an old favourite. We discovered it months ago, and in a fit of whimsy, bought some to try. We should probably add: We don’t like Earl Grey. Never have. It tastes of soap.
This isn’t the fault of the Earl Grey people. We don’t think. We have fond memories of having tea with a former kindergarten teacher years after the fact and she used to rinse the mugs out for use before adding the teabags. She was a fantastic teacher and no kindergarten since has had anyone half as good, but we’re pretty sure there was always trace amounts of soap in those mugs. We still love her.
Anyway, we bought the Cream of Earl Grey whimsically and were converted. It’s not normal Earl Grey. It’s lighter on bergamot, has added corn flowers, and there’s a wonderful, creamy richness to it. A bit of milk brings this out beautifully and the result is a full-blooded tea that gives you the kick you need to wake up. So, it’s been our default breakfast tea since we discovered it.
And serendipitously, we had just finished the last of our supply yesterday. What we should have done is rationed today’s little gold tin but instead we made three separate pots and enjoyed every last one. It was fantastic.
So, when we were thinking about poems to go with today, we stopped looking for dog-themed ones, though we stuck a pin in that idea. Instead, have an old favourite to go with an old favourite tea.
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
In addition to what was probably faintly soapy tea, we also have fond memories of hearing this poem read on cassette by Robert Frost. Remember cassettes? We can still hear the tape crackling when we think about it.
Perfect accompaniment for nostalgic snaps of ice-laden branches, isn’t i?
One thought on “Birches and Bergamot”
He observes and describes with a painter’s eye! You want to get your pencils and paints out right away, while the impression of what he evokes is still fresh, crackling included! And then, Birches!
Also, I wonder if Virginia Woolf would call this a story poem? Doesn’t it constantly feel like almost, almost spilling out of its own skin, this poem, so rich it is, so much it has to share all at once? Much like a child coming run in from the snow world?