“Enlarge my life with multitude of days,
In health, in sickness, thus the suppliant prays;
Hides from himself his state, and shuns to know,
That life protracted is protracted woe.
Time hovers o'er, impatient to destroy,
And shuts up all the passages of joy:
In vain their gifts the bounteous seasons pour,
The fruit autumnal, and the vernal flow'r…”
Year chases year, decay pursues decay,
Still drops some joy from with'ring life away;
New forms arise, and diff'rent views engage,
Superfluous lags the vet'ran on the stage,
- Samuel Johnson, "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (253-260) (303-306)
This may be the best year for my chrysanthemums. A few years ago, I stopped ordering the fancy show kind each spring, like the fat white snowball I’ve always wanted to cultivate. Instead, I went for the cushion mums that bloom their brains out in quantity if not quality of bloom. Those are the kind now on sale in your local supermarket, the kind planted on the White House lawn behind the podium where Bush spoke yesterday about the “suffering” of Armenians in Turkey “that began in 1915.” Isn’t the passive voice amazing? Their suffering apparently sprang up without any cause, their genocide merely an unfortunate fluke of fate. I think Johnson would approve.
Now I’ve got plenty of each kind, and since I’ve rooted random cuttings, I no longer know most of their names. Many of my mums are planted in pots. But this year, because I’ve carefully enriched my soil with home made compost, I’ve begun to plant some of them in the ground.
Johnson says humans wish for fame or fortune, for beauty or knowledge, all in vain. The things we accumulate – from global power to collectible dolls – amount to so much compost.
Which would be the kind of bummer Samuel Johnson described in his poem, except for one thing. My mums drop some joy before withering away, like these early ones in a magnetic vase, reflecting their own light on a stainless refrigerator door. And they’re coming soon.