Saturday, May 02, 2009

colour, asparagus, sonnets

Posted by PicasaThe colour of trees. This copper beech in Groombridge, rising like an umbrella against the skyline, suggests Autumn, just as Spring appears.

Asparagus is just coming into season. This curious and delightful vegetable, a lot of which is grown in these parts, brings with it at least in my memory, a whiff of snobbery. The senior history teacher at my school was man whose native kindness and enthusiasm for his subject, was marred by a strand of bitterness. I seldom think of asparagus without remembering how he claimed to have failed to obtain a fellowship at his Oxford college. "It's because I didn't know how to eat asparagus" he would say. And how do you eat asparagus? With your fingers, the old books of etiquette used to say. You hold the stem by the stalk and raising it above your lips, allow it to enter your mouth, the succulent head, glistening with melted butter. What did he do? He ate it, as any sensible man might do, with his knife and fork. I was reminded of him and the chip on his shoulder, the other day when Heidi and I treated ourselves to asparagus at the Black Pig in Grosvenor Road. The vegetable arrived with hollandaise sauce dribbled over it, stalks and all. You couldn't have picked it up by the bottom of the stalk even if you had wanted to. Poor old Charles Keeley. He might have ended up as an Oxford don, after all, if he had lived today, when such niceties presumably no longer apply at the high tables of Oxford colleges, any more than they do at the Black Pig.

Sonnets are on my mind. Inspired by Barrett Bonden's skillful use of it, I have been thinking with pleasure about this most adaptable and elegant of verse forms, which runs through European poetry encompassing, as they come to my mind, Dante and Petrarch, Shakespeare and Milton, Keats and Wordsworth, Mallarmé and Rilke, to the present day. I have just been reading a contemporary version of Rilke' s Orpheus sonnets adapted (rather than translated) in English by the Scottish poet, Don Patterson. They have a powerful sense of the present about them despite their classical form and associations with an early 20th century poet. Long live the sonnet.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Odd thing that, since the eating of buttery asparagus is inevitably wonderfully messy, and none too delicate. It also makes one's pee smell terrible, of course, which is not very refeened. There was an element of willful waste, I suppose, in the discarding of the stems, which made it the more luxurious. I prefer the green to the violet.