19 November 2013

Can someone identify a partially-remembered poem? - updated

The reports today of the death of Nobel laureate Doris Lessing reminded me that there is a poem I encountered decades ago that I've been unable to identify, despite repeated keyword searches.  I'm almost certain that the poet was female, and I think I read it in the 1970s.

The poem (brief, perhaps 15-20 lines) describes admiration for a houseplant/potted plant which now has lush foliage but shows no signs of blooming.  The poet asks whether, if the plant fails to bloom during this season, she will be able to be satisfied with and appreciate the foliage alone.

I remember it as being a reminder that sometimes life happens while we are making plans for the future, and a concise and apt metaphor for careers or relationships that don't fulfill one's initial expectations.

Does anything there sound familiar?

Addendum:  I found it!   I Googled "will I have learned" and after skipping a few pages of links to Death Cab for Cutie I saw a link to a poem by Denise Levertov.  Here is "Annuals" in its entirety:

('Plants that flower the first season the 
seed is sown, and then die.')

All I planted came up,
balsam and nasturtium and
cosmos and the Marvel of Peru

first the cotyledon
then thickly the differentiated
true leaves of the seedlings,

and I transplanted them,
carefully shaking out each one's
hairfine rootlets from the earth,

and they have thriven,
well-watered in the new-turned earth;
and grow apace now--

but not one shows signs of a flower,
not one.
                  If August passes
and the frosts come,

will I have learned to rejoice enough
in the sober wonder of
green healthy leaves?

That poem spoke strongly to me when I was unmarried and just starting on my professional career.  I still find it to be powerful and worth saving here in the blog.


  1. Could this be the one? Houseplant by Theresa Ann Moore

  2. This one?
    The Sensitive Plant
    Percy Bysshe Shelley


    Longer than 15-20 lines, though.

    1. Nope. Not of that era. Definitely 20th century, and almost certainly a female poet.

  3. I know that this isn't the one (partially because it's by a man -- Pablo Neruda), but I wanted to post it because I find it profoundly moving:

    One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII
    By Pablo Neruda

    Translated By Mark Eisner

    I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
    or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
    I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
    secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

    I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
    the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
    and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
    from the earth lives dimly in my body.

    I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
    I love you directly without problems or pride:
    I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
    except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
    so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
    so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

  4. For future searches, you can remove pages based on what they contain so you don't have to manually sort through them by adding a minus in front (with quotes around entire phrase)
    Ex: "Will I have learned" -"Death Cab for Cutie"

    1. Clever, except if a webpage mentions both poems at the same time...

    2. True, but one can always go back and check the other pages if removing a section turns up nothing. :)


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