This is a Petrarchan sonnet. I love the juxtaposition of that highly academic, fancy form with the stark reality of the life described in the poem: the persona of the poem lives in a nasty urban environment. His first exposure to flowers comes when someone puts in a park.
I have never learnt the names of flowers.
From beginning, my world has been a place
Of pot-holed streets where thick, sluggish gutters race
In slow time, away from garbage heaps and sewers
Past blanched old houses around which cowers
Stagnant earth. There, scarce green thing grew to chase
The dull-gray squalor of sick dust; no trace
Of plant save few sparse weeds; just these, no flowers.
One day, they cleared a space and made a park
There in the city’s slums; and suddenly
Came stark glory like lightning in the dark,
While perfume and bright petals thundered slowly.
I learnt no names, but hue, shape and scent mark
My mind, even now, with symbols holy.
There is so much here: the way nature relates to the spiritual, the way exposing a young person to beauty can change everything, the lightning and thunder of new thoughts, a new way of seeing the world.
I live in an urban environment, too, and one of the things I love most is getting weekly flower deliveries from a merchant in my neighborhood. When I shared this poem with my eighth graders, I told them that the flowers in the poem were "almost holy." Then I looked back at the poem and saw that Craig hadn't qualified "holy" the way I had. There was no "almost" about it. For him, the flowers were "symbols holy." And for me they are, too. They remind me that there is still beauty even in the midst of difficulty, that riotous color still exists in spite of everything. They remind me to "consider the lilies," which Emily Dickinson wrote was the only commandment she always obeyed. Here is a recent bouquet from my "flower guy."
Here's an article I found about Dennis Craig and this poem. I posted this poem once before, in 2012.
Here's something I wrote about flowers when I was in the States after the earthquake.
And here's today's roundup, hosted by the incomparable Jama.