Garland for the Winter Solstice by Ruthven Campbell Todd

The sun stands still and flowers
Are all withdrawn, but memories
Give back cardinal lobelia, tall
Scarlet fountains for the humming-bird—
Vined, broken with blue and liver apios—
Beside hanging horns of jewelweed,
With pods which pop when prodded
By the idle or enquiring finger.

Also remain those favourite swamps
Where calopogon, butterfly-winged orchid,
Flaunted its magenta above pink-
Tinged sphagnum and crimson sundew,
Black water in the mind has purple spires
Of pickerelweed, and sweetly odoured
Lilies, richly scattered, and yellow cups
Of spatter-dock stemmed on the mud.

Orange pompons of butterfly-weed
Brighten the bare expanse of memory,
Where also grow the milkweed,
With rubbery white sap and knobbly pods,
Short-flowering stars of blue-eyed grass,
And rather more persistent amaryllis—
Golden stargrass on untravelled roads—
and the too seldom glory of wood-lily.

Asters and goldenrod for autumn equinox,
With the blue wheels of chicory, and,
At all times, the dandelion, that plant
Which, having become perfect for purpose,
Has forsaken sex and can evolve no more;
Also, little ladies’-tresses in the tawny fields,
And, under various trees, the last red-flushed
Indian-pipe—ghost-flower or fairy-smoke.

Before next solstice, I shall see once more
The arethusa by the woodland paths,
The galaxy of violets, and wintergreen,
Round-leaved and creamy belled,
Skunk-cabbage poke up beside a stream,
Bluets, whose masses make up for lack
Of size, and meadows staring white
With ox-eye daisies, untamed chrysanthemums.

There will be slender blue flag by the swamp,
And saffron-stamened deergrass,
Lambkill and lady’s-slippers in the wood,
And the wild rose with fragile petals.
The yellow thistle will rule sandy banks,
And the devil’s-paint-brush will be obvious
Among the tombstones, a curious irony;
Swamps will have candles, Linnaeus’ mistaken mistletoe.

Now, perched on this polar height
When all sap lies quiet and does not climb,
When all seems dead, I cultivate
The wild garden rioting in my memory,
Count in advance the treasures which
The sleeping sap contains, knowing that
Both alien and native will surely reappear
Regardless of my attentions and delight.

I see also that this deathlike sleep
Is only for a while. All is not interred
For bright scarlet partridge-berries
Shine among the green and polished leather leaves,
And through the snow emerge
Umbrellas and spikes of strange club-moss,
And winter runs from now toward
The waking of the sap and spring.

From: http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/garland-winter-solstice

Date: 1955

By: Ruthven Campbell Todd (1914-1978)

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