Weeds and Wildings Lost and Found
Update for Uncollected Lost and Found:
We feature a rare pearl of love and beauty: Herman Melville’s dedication to his wife Elizabeth “Winnefred” of his poem collection Weeds and Wildings Chiefly: with a Rose or Two, from his death year 1891. It was found in his literary remains, the bread box containing Billy Budd and The Burgundy Club.
The dedication is not in Douglas Robillard’s The Poems of Herman Melville, as it is not a poem; it is not in the University of Virginia Library collection for the same reason; it is not in Hershel Parker’s biography, as it is not a biographical note; it is not even translated for Ein Leben, as it is not a genuine letter ot diary entry. I found it in the collected dedications, hoping it is in some letter edition.
The first half of Weeds and Wildings features some “deceptively simple-minded ditties” (John Bryant) about flowers and woodland creatures, all reminiscent of Arrowhead days shared by Herman and “Winnefred”-Elizabeth; the second half includes the prose and poem blending Rip van Winkle’s Lilac and the utter beautiful Rose Poems — examining inter alia barren virginity as opposed to love-making in snow. We shall come to all of these, promise. — The dedication:
Weeds and Wildings
With you and me, Winnie, Red Clover has always been one of the dearest of the flowers of the field: an avowal by the way as you well ween, which implies no undelight as to this ruddy young brother’s demure little half-sister, White Clover. Our feeling for both sorts originates in no fanciful associations egotistic in kind. It is not, for example, because in any exceptional way we have verified in experience the aptness of that pleasant figure of speech, Living in clover — not for this do we so take to the Ruddy One, for all that we once dwelt annually surrounded by flushed acres of it. Neither have we, jointly or severally, so frequently lighted upon that rare four-leaved variety accounted of happy augury to the finder; though, to be sure, on my part, I yearly remind you of the coincidence in my chancing on such a specimen by the wayside on the early forenoon of the fourth day of a certain bridal month, now four years more than four times ten years ago.
But, tell, do we not take to this flower — for flower it is, though with the florist hardly ranking with the floral clans — not alone that in itself it is a thing of freshness and beauty, but also that being no delicate foster-child of the nurseryman, but a hardy little creature of out-of-doors accessible and familiar to every one, no one can monopolize its charm. Yes, we are communists here.
Sweet in the mouth of that brindled heifer, whose breath you so loved to inhale, and doubtless pleasant to her nostril and eye; sweet as well to the like senses in ourselves, prized by that most radical of men, the farmer, to whom wild amaranths in a pasture, though emblems of immortality, are but weeds and anathema; finding favour even with so peevish a busybody as the bee; is it not the felicitous fortune of our favourite to incur no creature’s displeasure, but to enjoy, and without striving for it, the spontaneous goodwill of all? Why it is that this little peasant of the flowers revels in so enviable an immunity and privilege, not in equal degree shared by any of us mortals however gifted and good; that indeed is something the reason whereof may not slumber very deep. But — In pace; always leave a sleeper to his repose.
How often at our adopted homestead on the hillside — now ours no more — the farm-house, long ago shorn by the urbane barbarian succeeding us in the proprietorship — shorn of its gambrel roof and dormer windows, and when I last saw it indolently settling in serene contentment of natural decay; how often, Winnie, did I come in from my ramble early in the bright summer mornings of old, with a handful of these cheap little cheery roses of the meek, newly purloined from the fields to consecrate them on that bit of a maple-wood mantel — your altar, somebody called it — in the familiar room facing your beloved South! And in October most did I please myself in gathering them from the moist matted aftermath in an enriched little hollow near by, soon to be snowed upon and for consecutive months sheeted from view. And once — you remember it — having culled them in a sunny little flurry of snow, winter’s frolic skirmisher in advance, the genial warmth of your chamber melted the fleecy flakes into dewdrops rolling off from the ruddiness, “Tears of the happy,” you said.
Well, and to whom but to thee, Madonna of the Trefoil, should I now dedicate these “Weeds and Wildings,” thriftless children of quite another and yet later spontaneous aftergrowth, and bearing indications, too apparent it may be, of that terminating season on which the offerer verges. But take them. And for aught suggestion of the “melting mood” that any may possibly betray, call to mind the dissolved snowflakes on the ruddy oblation of old, and remember your “Tears of the Happy.”
Barren virginity loving evanescent snow, with a rose or two:
Jacqueline P. Carroll: Here Come the Woodland Creatures, March 16, 2010.
Evanescent snow: Orchestral Maneuvres in the Dark: The Waltz of Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans, from: Architecture, 1982.