Lilac season

I had an Eliot seminar my last quarter of college--the same quarter in which I had to finish my thesis, apply to graduate school, write an essay about Dostoevsky (in Russian), stay abreast of my soap opera and decide what to do with a degree in English. Needless to say, poor Eliot got short shrift. (So did Dostoevsky, I'm afraid. My trenchant observations about the novelist in his native tongue translated read like: Dostoevsky is a big existentialist. Russians love the literature of the existentialists. Remarkable that I didn't become a Russian literary critic.)

Eliot confounded me. Think about it. You're 21, it's spring, 16 years of schooling are about to come to hault like a train hitting the side of a mountain and you're trying to suss out:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

Oh for goodness' sake. Nobody's got that kind of patience.

But I think about that spring and Eliot everytime the lilacs bloom. Beneath the window of the third-floor apartment where I lived, grew an enormous, poorly tended bush, the kind you see a lot of in Denver. They grow in great, amorphous mounds and every third or fourth year they put forth a show of scent and blossom so spectacular we're convinced they've never been more beautiful.

The spring of my senior year that bush exploded in a profusion of lavender-colored blossoms. All over campus the flowers hung pendulous and fragrant like the spring we're having now, when the earth and clouds conspire to give us a rare prima, prima vera. Dripping flagrantly from their stems in white, violet and the palest of purples, they are the hardiest and most fragile of things. They can bloom for weeks out of doors in the absence of frost. But bring them inside and they will wilt and curl in hours.

From my window I could see that lilac bush as I sat with my edition of Collected Poems, 1909-1962, working out some sort of drivel for my final paper. How could I not remember the first line of The Waste Land? Or the still point in a turning world, which for me that spring, sad to say, was "All My Children," the only thing in my life that wasn't about to change.

The lilac bush outside Aspen Hall is probably 60 years old, old enough to have seen a lot of cruel and confusing Aprils, old enough to have bloomed and not, to have suffered the noses of countless coeds, eagerly pressing face to blossom to catch their heady scent.

I got a "B" in Eliot. Probably better than I deserved. But I did take time to smell the flowers.

Comments (2) -

May 19. 2010 21:02

Deborah Robson

Lilacs wilt inside? AH, you need one of our family heirlooms: the lilac trick. Before cutting a lilac stem, find a hammer. Clip a lovely branch. Set it on concrete, or a brick, or something similarly brutal. Smash the bottom inch or two of stem with the hammer: you want to blast the stem apart into segments that will allow it to take in water, which it otherwise can't. Take the branch inside and put it in a vase. Enjoy.

Deborah Robson |

May 19. 2010 21:02

Deborah Robson

Yes, water in the vase.

Deborah Robson |

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