American poet Amy Lowell died this month in 1925. In her poem “Madonna of the Evening Flowers,” she finds her titular lover “standing under a spire of pale blue larkspur”
[For the month of May, 13.7 Billion Years takes a look at what April showers bring. Through the process of photosynthesis, flowers create simple sugars, which feed ants, bees, butterflies, beetles and a whole range of other insects essential to the food chain. Without flowers, many plants that are crucial to the Earth’s food supply would become extinct. They are also critical to the changing of seasons and provide critical habitat for a host of microorganisms.]
Amy Lawrence Lowell (February 9, 1874 ‘” May 12, 1925) was an American poet of the imagist school from Massachusetts.
Though her brothers were extraordinarily learned men — Percival Lowell was an astronomer and Abbott Lawrence Lowell was the president of Harvard University — she herself never went to college. (Her family did not consider that “appropriate behavior” for a woman.)
But that didn’t stop her from becoming a successful poet. She published in the Atlantic Monthly , published several books, was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1925 and posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.
When she was 38, Lowell was the reputed lover of actress Ada Dwyer Russell, who was the subject of many of her poems, such as “Madonna of the Evening Flowers.” In this work, Lowell uses free verse in a conversational speaking style, a technique of the imagists who wanted to break free from the strict tradition of 19th-century Victorian poetry, which was still favored by her Georgian contemporaries.
Madonna of the Evening Flowers
All day long I have been working,
Now I am tired.
I call: “Where are you?”
But there is only the oak tree rustling in the wind.
The house is very quiet,
The sun shines in on your books,
On your scissors and thimble just put down,
But you are not there.
Suddenly I am lonely:
Where are you?
I go about searching.
Then I see you,
Standing under a spire of pale blue larkspur,
With a basket of roses on your arm.
You are cool, like silver,
And you smile.
I think the Canterbury bells are playing little tunes.
You tell me that the peonies need spraying,
That the columbines have overrun all bounds,
That the pyrus japonica should be cut back and rounded.
You tell me these things.
But I look at you, heart of silver,
White heart-flame of polished silver,
Burning beneath the blue steeples of the larkspur,
And I long to kneel instantly at your feet,
While all about us peal the loud,
sweet Te Deums of the Canterbury bells.
In her 2000 paper “Modernizing Excess: Amy Lowell and the Aesthetics of Camp,” Melissa Bradshaw writes, “We do not see the beloved. We never see her. Though she is infinitely invoked, unlike Robert Herrick’s Julia, or Petrarch’s Laura, Lowell’s beloved remains unnamed, unknown, in a sense, unwritten.”
But one thing we do see clearly: flowers.