Friday, March 28, 2008

You never know what you'll find in a compost pile

I immediately tripped over this following poem after my usual habit of following a link back to the commenter's blog (after yesterday's explainer post). Hedgie, your blog 'the compost pile' is a whole book of poetry, years of poems, and good poems, and I'm so excited to find it. I'll be spending time there, Thank you thank you thank you!

For other readers, Here is the pointer, go.

Monday, June 12, 2006


The first time we grew herbs,
we planted the whole back yard,
and the harvest took us by surprise;
we simply weren't prepared
for the burden of abundance
we found ourselves faced with.
Some herbs to be used fresh,
with others, just enough, to see
us through the winter with delicate
reminders of the warmth and motion
of summer gone -- that's all
we thought we'd have. We cut, bundled,
and tied stems -- rosemary, thyme,
marjoram -- and hung them from the cords
we'd stretched across the pantry. Without
making a noticeable dint in what still
flourished in the sun. We stretched
more cords across the kitchen, cut
and hung more herbs -- dill, mint, tarragon --
without reaching a conclusion. More
cords across the den, more herbs --
oregano, sage, rocket -- then into
the bedroom -- basil, chives, savory --
before arriving in the living room --
parsley, fennel, bay -- and the end.
Tsunamis of scent swept through
the house, swamping the day-to-day
with rich exuberance that tired
the nostrils. Neighbors complained
that we were using too much air
freshener. Bees lay siege well
into winter. Eventually, fragrance
faded, and we were left dodging
dangling bundles gathering dust,
lashed together with spiderwebs.
We gathered them -- wheelbarrow
loads -- hauled them out, and
burned them; it took much of the day,
and the scents returned, ascending
back to the sun.

Now we ask only for the merest pinch, artfully deployed
by the sparest of hands.

posted by Hedgie

Post note: Having a plain and ordinary mind, I can't imagine having such a gift for describing. This poem strikes a chord. I hung the rooms of my house with bundles of herbs and herbal wreaths for years (probably embarrassing the kids now that I remember it) and only a few years ago upon the excuse of 'needing to paint', did I take them down and store them 'temporarily' in bags out in the garage.

It was enough to lose the attachment which we all know is a step up the karma ladder. But they've been in the bags in the garage for two years now (and wonderingly enough Herb hasn't commented on them, probably fearing that if he did say something I'd re-hang them, Ha!), me being too sentimental to pile them all on the compost heap. Now I know what to do with them: a bonfire. Maybe on the next quarter day? I am part Scottish, so it might just be in the genes.

1424, from Lowland Scot., from Gaelic bealltainn "May 1," important Celtic religious rite marking the start of summer, probably lit. "blazing fire," from PIE base *bhel- "to gleam" + O.Ir. ten "fire," from PIE *tepnos, related to L. tepidus "warm." But this derivation of the second element is hotly disputed by some on philological grounds. Fires were equally important in the other Celtic holidays. Also known as "Old May Day," since after the 1752 calendar reform it continued to be reckoned according to Old Style; it was one of the quarter-days of ancient Scotland.
Online Etymology Dictionary 2001 Douglas Harper


Brenda Kula said...

That was certainly beautiful. I have loved herbs since the early 1990s, before they were really chic. Can't beat them for gardens of lasting endurance. I tell people who yearn to garden to plant herbs and they just look at me vacantly. I can tell they're thinking, "But I wanted flowers." Little do they know....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the poem and the etymology of Beltaine, Betsy! I enjoyed reading both. I actually enjoy feeding my old herbs to the compost pile, feeling like they'll find new life feeding the soil. But you could do the same with the herbs' ashes after you burn them, and enjoy the fragrant fire, too! (I confess that I'll soemtimes put incense in our fire pit along with the wood, especially if we get a batch that just won't seem to catch. Ah, woodsmoke and incense--heavenly combination! (Hmmm, that's starting to sound like a haiku...)

Hedgie said...

I'm glad you enjoyed that piece; my ex and I did rather overdo it the first time we tried to grow herbs back in the 80's. And thanks for mentioning "The Compost Heap"; the really good poetry, though (because it's by real poets), is over on my other blog The Jackdaw's Nest in the form of mini-anthologies which I post periodically; I hope to get a new one up in a day or so, in fact, in honor of National Poetry Month which is April. And I'm looking forward to see what you're going to be doing in "Betsy's Herb Garden."