Lingering like the last of the light
in the Schlossgarten at Erlangen
suddenly seeing a bed of them by the fountain
I remembered how much I love
violets – their intensity – that
wilful way they have of being
neither purple nor blue but
violet. Loveable too that a bunch
of them can also be a posy
and whilst bouquet sounds a bit grand,
just one in a tooth mug in any hotel
can make a bare room an arbour,
a bower, a dell.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2005. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2005 was Richard Price.
O'Rourke's poems are changing from the street-wise and street-friendly to images of gardens and quiet spaces. It's a change from his explorations of America to a more reflective relationship with Europe, notably Germany and Austria. He is a master of appearing to converse with the reader as his words dance and play and cause the reader to reflect. His observation about the light qualities of violets (the word itself delayed within the poem to emphasise the sense of discovery) mixes the registers of plainspeaking friendliness ('Suddenly seeing a bed of them', 'a bit grand') while calling on something redolent of the romances (the alliteration of the opening line and the gentle steps down in sound and meaning of the last two lines, 'an arbour / a bower, a dell'. That last short line, the shortest in the poem, seems to ring the posy of violets round – the flowers in a tooth mug surrounded by their secret valley, a safe, personal place within the urban landscape.
This wee poem appeared in, From Poetry's Waiting Room, a collection written entirely in and about, Nürnberg. It was published by a wonderful Nürnberg imprint, Spätlese Verlag with extraordinary graphics by H. H. Hoffman and the verso translations of Ulrike Seeberger, herself a keen planter and potterer. The trusted colleagues who commented on the manuscript pointed out its central motif which I had failed to notice. There are indeed many poems celebrating flowers and gardens in the book and it begins and ends by offering (metaphorically only alas) flowers to the reader.
'Violets' is the final piece in the sequence and was written after an afternoon spent visiting friends in the picturesque Huguenot, university town of Erlangen which is 8 miles from Nürnberg. Their garden is delightful and so was the barbeque... and the Frankenwein. I went to the castle gardens just as I describe them and inspired by a flower bed, composed the little verses on the spot. How very sub-Wordsworthian sophisticates will groan! But there you have it. It's a hit and miss, newsy, journalish, diaryesque kind of collection.
Chicago and Jena have squeezed whole books out of me too and I'm aware of a growing interest in what I warily call 'spirituality' or 'religion'; certainly the poems have got more and more contemplative – small wonder perhaps, as I subside (or surge!) into my mid-forties. Nowadays I travel half the year and the comforts of the soul and psyche are as essential as the traditional scotus vagans' need for food, shelter and supported solitude. So, to flowers and gardens, the heart increasingly reverts. And it is quite true that wherever I wander, always in my room are to be found flowers, usually in the tiniest and most improvised of 'vases'. Doubtless there's something of the Elizabethan sonneteers 'carpe florem', gather ye rosebuds in all this fragrant dreaminess. One of the songs I'm often asked to sing (usually it's how I end a set), is 'Irises and Lilies' with a plangent tune by Dave Whyte. Every Saturday the local florists knows I'll be in to select three contrasting stems for my window. I dither and swither exulting in my musky quandary.