a summer ModPo discussion

Note: I chose this because I was able to find some of the poet’s thoughts on it in a letter she wrote to one of the professors at Howard, Alain Locke, called by some the Father of the New Negro Renaissance. I’ll include the text of the note at the end and we can discuss.

Lines to a Nasturtium – Anne Spencer

A lover muses

Flame-flower, Day-torch, Mauna Loa,
I saw a daring bee, today, pause, and soar,
Into your flaming heart;
Then did I hear crisp crinkled laughter
As the furies after tore him apart?
A bird, next, small and humming,
Looked into your startled depths and fled…
Surely, some dread sight, and dafter
Than human eyes as mine can see,
Set the stricken air waves drumming
In his flight.

Day-torch, Flame-flower, cool-hot Beauty,
I cannot see, I cannot hear your fluty
Voice lure your loving swain,
But I know one other to whom you are in beauty
Born in vain;
Hair like the setting sun,
Her eyes a rising star,
Motions gracious as reeds by Babylon, bar
All your competing;
Hands like, how like, brown lilies sweet,
Cloth of gold were fair enough to touch her feet…
Ah, how the senses flood at my repeating,
As once in her fire-lit heart I felt the furies
Beating, beating.

Here is the note (transcribed): (from the papers of Alain Locke, Box 164-86, Folder 39. Howard University Moorland Spingarn Research Center)

Dunbar Branch
Jones Memorial Library
Lynchburg, Virginia


No, My dear, I do not feel that ‘air” and “shepherdess” are responsible for throwing the mind away from the central theme – “idealization of the commonplace.” I used “air” to indicate bearing, spiritual bearing: the ‘shepherdess,’ Sir, hails not from Montana Expanses, but from all-souls Arcady. Alas, never to’ve see black women with this inside (underlined) air!

I read your letter slowly, so’s my joy in it might be lengthened.


Anne Spencer

(On the back, a postscript, sort of)

Do not bother to return “Nasturtium.” I have a copy. In that poem a burnt and disappointed lover soliliquises. Thanks.

10 thoughts on “a summer ModPo discussion

  1. So descriptive, you know she must have seen this happen in her garden. And so Dickinsonesque! I p[ity the bee and the hummingbird.Seems to be (no pun) a correspondence across the two stanzas, up tp a point.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate the hummingbird being described not named–A bird, next, small and humming,– and then the fierce work of wings and hearts closing the poem– Beating, beating.– The sight of the bird,that human eyes cannot share makes me think of varied perspectives and spiritual knowing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi, Ray and ModPo friends,

    It’s so interesting to read Anne’s note about “air.” Does this point to speaking one’s mind even if…(now back to her poem):
    “Then did I hear crisp crinkled laughter
    As the furies after tore him apart?”

    What happens when we go for the nectar without taking in the whole entity? I’m thinking about how the saying “a bee in the bonnet” might play into the subtext of the poem.


    Liked by 3 people

    • And in regard to speaking ones mind…the word Mauna could be taken to refer to that inner voice that is so often silent but also volcanic when it erupts! I love how both her note and the poem speak to vengeance, (the furies), strength (the flame) and vulnerability; “a burnt and disappointed lover” in the note, and “Then did I hear crisp crinkled laughter As the furies after tore him apart?” in the poem.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello Ray,Alonna and other modpo people. Yes the idea of Air-Voice- what is spoken,not always heard. I write again to say this is Stephanie. I am off to work the weekend,but happy to return to this discussion come Monday night. And I echo Alonna in my thanks for beginning this Ray.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi, Deena, Ray, Stephanie, and all, that hummingbird (woman who hums, maybe? when did “bird” become a way of naming women…) anyway, that “bird” as a way of showing varied perspective and spiritual knowing makes sense! That “daring bee” became a cautionary tale.

    Spencer’s postscript “In that poem a burnt and disappointed lover soliliquises.” Such humming!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello Ray,Alona,Deena, So nice to come back to the gentle week where poetry,gardens,dogs become the thing. Mauna Loa, did seem like the erupting voice as Deena wrote. Emily’s Vesuvius too. –Hands like, how like, brown lilies sweet,–yes,favorite line. I see an animated younger woman enthralled by an older poets way of being.

    Liked by 1 person

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