Book Note: LoTR
Borrowed Ideas

Himalayan Balsam

During the two years between the time I finished my associate's degree and when I went to college to start working on my bachelor's, I did a lot of studying on my own. I knew I wanted to major in English, so I created my own little line of study---criticial theory, poetry, fiction, poetry, writing books, poetry. Since the eleventh grade, when the Bangles' song about The Bell Jar got me curious about who this Sylvia Plath might be and my English teacher introduced me to Edna St. Vincent Millay by requiring me to do a project on her, I've been a driven reader of poetry. So while I was studying on my own, I attempted to figure out which poets I "should" read and which poets I liked. Anne Stevenson was one of the poets I fell in love with, and the following poem is one of the first I tried to read critically. I'm not sure I fully understand it still, but it haunts me; I think it is beautiful. I liked trying to figure out what it might be saying because it is so full of researchable little tidbits---what exactly is Himalayan Balsam? (A common weed.) What kind of spiders? And some of the lines...they are what I used to tell my students are "mmmmmmm lines," language so good, precise, surprising, and exacting in its metaphor that you want to eat them. Better than chocolate. So I'm sharing it here as the first in a line of poems I just want to have on my blog because I love them---because I want to feel that I am doing something with these things I love, if only just sharing them with whomever might stumble across my blog.

Himalayan Balsam

Orchard-lipped, loose-jointed, purplish, indolent flowers,

with a ripe smell of peaches, like a girl’s breath through lipstick,

delicate and coarse in the weedlap of late summer rivers,

disheveled, weak-stemmed, common as brambles, as love which

subtracts us from seasons, their courtships and murders,

(Meta segemtata in her web, and the male waiting,

between blossom and violent blossom, meticulous spiders

repeated in gossamer, and the slim males waiting).

Fragrance too rich for keeping, too light to remember,

like grief for the cat’s sparrow and the wild gull’s

beach-hatched embryo. (She ran from the reaching water

with the broken egg in her hand, but the clamped bill

refused brandy and grubs, a shred too naked and perilous for

life, offered freely in cardboard boxes, little windowsill

coffins for bird death, kitten death, squirrel death, summer

repeated and ended in heartbreak, in sad small funerals.)

Sometimes, shaping bread or scraping potatoes for supper,

I have stood in the kitchen, transfixed by what I’d call love,

if love were a whiff, a wanting for no particular lover,

no child, or baby, or creature. ‘Love, dear love,’

I could cry to these scent-spilling ragged flowers,

and mean nothing but ‘no,’ in that word’s breath,

to their evident going, their important descent through red towering

stalks to the riverbed. It’s not, as I thought, that death

creates love. More that love knows death. Therefore

tears, therefore poems, therefore long stone sobs of cathedrals

that speak to no ferret or fox, that prevent no massacre.

(I am combing abundant leaves from these icy shallows.)

Love, it was you who said, ‘Murder the killer

we have to call life and we’d be a bare planet under a dead sun.’

Then I loved you with the usual soft lust of October

that says ‘yes’ to the coming winter and a summoning odour of balsam.


corinne delis

ok a bit to difficult to me, lol!



No there is a name I haven't heard in ages Edna St Vincent Millay. Off to find the poem we used to read in school all the time.


Amy, where the hell do you find these incredible freakin' poems? "Murder the killer we have to call life..." ...OMG, I like to die. *snif*

Heather D. White

Oh I so miss my college English classes! I love this. And I loved Sylvia Plath's work as well! I need to get back into things like this. I really miss it!


This one is dense and satisfying, rich with metaphor. I was not familiar with Stevenson's work, thanks for sharing it here.


I came across this poem about fifteen (can it be that long?) years ago while I was in college in Nottingham. It struck me as one of the most beautiful things I had ever read, especially as I knew the flower from my childhood and the description of the fragrance was so spot on, then the rest.... I like the idea of your blog, I too have a little boy (31/2) adn my life revolves around teaching, my son and poetry and art and nature. Sounds like yours does too. How about reading poetry and putting it up as an MP3 or something? I a such a gift to hear voices as well as seeing words. Strange how I bought loaned a CD of poets reading their work and how disapointed I was at the sound of their voices - except for Sylvia Plath and Larkin - I thought that Dylan Thomas was awfully plummy and not like Richard Burton (who read his work soo beautifully). It is hot and dry here in Australia at the moment, the bushfires raging and our damns alomost empty - perhaps it is snowing on your mountain.


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