Thursday, March 17, 2016

The wearing of the green

Happy St. Patrick's Day! [apologies on this day for the link's colors] If you're not already familiar with the song's background, here's a version of the lyrics to, and story behind, "The Wearing of the Green." I've a bit of Irish blood in me from several generations back on my mother's side. It's the part of my heritage, along with being a "New Englander," with which I identify the most.

shamrock? or not?
shamrock? or not?
Photo by J. Harrington

Boston has had, since as far back as I can remember, and then some, a notable celebration of St. Patrick's Day, including a big parade in which I marched for a few years as a member of the parish band. Each year was a toss-up on the weather. Would Irish eyes be smiled upon with a day full of sunshine and mild temperatures, or would winds, howling like banshees, try to rip flags and instruments from marchers' hands and blow foam heads from the tops of glasses of green beer? My memories hold mostly heaven or hell for parade weather, rarely anything in between.

St. Paul, being "the last city of the east," shares with Boston and New York St. Patrick's Day parades worthy of attendance. In a good year, the weather on St. Patrick's Day is an "improvement" over that experienced during the Winter Carnival in January. All of this combines to help me feel pretty much at home in St. Paul. That feeling is no doubt enhanced by the city's street pattern, once described by a former Minnesota governor as having been laid our by "a crew of drunken Irishmen." I'm still pondering whether that pattern beats the wandering cow paths that served as the basis for Boston's street layouts.

One last thought about wearing green on this day: mother nature also starts to wear green about this time of year. Trees begin to wear pastel hues of emerald. The brown ground picks up slight tinctures of vermillion as grass blades and plant stems awaken from their long Winter's sleep, just in time for the Vernal Equinox in a few days. And another last thought, Billy Collins' poem sounds like my Irish relatives talking.

Irish Poetry

By Billy Collins

That morning under a pale hood of sky   
I heard the unambiguous scrape of spackling   
against the side of our wickered, penitential house.   

The day mirled and clabbered   
in the thick, stony light,   
and the rooks’ feathered narling   
astounded the salt waves, the plush coast.   

I lugged a bucket past the forked   
coercion of a tree, up toward   
the pious and nictitating preeminence of a school,   
hunkered there in its gully of learning.   

Only later, by the galvanized washstand,   
while gaunt, phosphorescent heifers   
swam beyond the windows,   
did the whorled and sparky gib of the indefinite   
wobble me into knowledge.   

Then, I heard the ghost-clink of milk bottle   
on the rough threshold   
and understood the meadow-bells   
that trembled over a nimbus of ragwort—   
the whole afternoon lambent, corrugated, puddle-mad.


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