Auld Lang Syne

Monday, March 25, 2019

Me too and why I didn’t tell for 48 years

It is painful to remember some things, like the day I lied to my father about drawing a picture of our next door neighbors in a bath tub naked and putting it under their door. I hid under the porch until he found me there shaking with fear of what punishment I might face. I was 5. I had never lied to my father before (or since) and just knew he’d be disappointed in me for drawing that picture and putting it under the neighbor’s door. Since I was just five, and pretty proud of my drawing, I signed my name to it. I was naive to say the least but lied anyway, lying in plain sight so to speak. I was banished to my room without supper and got a spanking. I was repentant, but I’m not sure if my sorrow was for the drawing or for getting caught or for the lie I told. Maybe all of that.

Most of the pain of remembrance however, doesn’t circle anywhere near the art-gone-horribly-wrong of my tender years. It lands squarely on two incidents that were not my fault. I cannot remember so many of the details, the day of the week or how I got out of there, if I ran home or whether my mother was in the kitchen or doing laundry or what she might have said to me. I don’t remember dinner that night. But what is clear as sunlight are the details of what happened to me and the way I felt. It’s best to tell as I remember and let the reader understand why I waited so long to tell anyone.


I was ten, living in a nice middle-class neighborhood with my parents, my 8 yr old sister, and my baby brother who was a year old. I had a best friend who lived catty-corner across the street. We played together every day and walked to school together with two other friends. Her grandparents lived one house away, on the same property. Her grandmother had been my second grade teacher, beloved by me and our whole class. Sweet and loving. Her grandfather was, in contrast, a mean irrascible old man who yelled at us if we stepped onto his immaculate lawn or ventured into his garden where we like to play hide and seek in the corn stalks. What happened to me (and I guess probably to her too at some point or points) was horrible. I was ten. I barely knew my own body, much less the body of a man. It happened behind the bulkhead of his house, just out of eyeshot of my friend’s house or my beloved teacher’s ability to look out her kitchen window. He’d called to me and said he wanted to give me some corn to take to my mother for dinner. I was afraid of him, but that day his voice was softer than usual. I remember being able to see the garden just steps away, the corn stalks blowing in the breeze of that hot hot day.

I remember him asking me if I was wearing a bra yet. I was confused and said nothing. He said let me see and opened the buttons of my blouse. The buttons of his overalls were open too and there was something like a big snake coming out of the buttons. He pushed my head there onto the snake and held it down. I pulled away and then he bit me on the left breast, leaving a red mark. He told me to never tell anyone or he would hurt me worse. He said îf anyone asks, tell them you got stung by a bee. To this day I remember his shoes, the garden dirt on his shoes, and there is a faint metallic taste in my mouth when I remember. I remember thinking that if I told my father, he’d probably kill the man and then he’d go to jail. What would we do without Daddy? So I shut up. After that I walked the long way around when picking up my friend for the walk to school. I never went over there to play again. I always invited her to my house. She never asked why.

I also never wore that blouse again, though it had been a favorite: white with a palm tree embrodered on the left breast.  To this day, I fear having my head touched or restrained, even by a hat. Blowing corn stalks can trigger the memories.

I’m pretty sure that my friend was one of his victims too, because she was obsessed with brushing her teeth and scrubbed her face nearly raw. She went away to boarding school at age 14, the year we were to have started high school together. I never asked her, never told anyone any part of it. In 1985 I wrote a poem about what happened. I didn’t show it to anyone, especially not to her. She died at a young age. Only then did I relase the poem. I still had not told anyone.

Here is the poem:

At Our 20th Class Reunion
for Debby

If you mention him, your grandfather,
speak of his beautiful garden, of the tall corn 
where we played 
as children, I’ll have to tell
you about the rows
of thieving stalks with their pale silk flags —
warnings of the approaching storm, 
the shaft of lightning
that split my childhood in two.

If you talk about his stubbled jaw,
say it smiled, say it was kindly,
I’ll think of crooked yellow teeth
like misshapen kernels of corn, grimacing
through open husks, a sudden
split in the green of August.

If you go so far as to say 
he loved you, and you miss him,
I’ll glance away, remember the day 
you strode from the rows
to brush your teeth over and over, to scrub
garden dirt from your face, your knees,
your pretty lace socks.

If you utter a single word
about his sad end, twisted with palsy,
rotting bit by bit from cancer, 
I’m afraid I will laugh, twirl madly
with my skirts up around my waist,
letting the stench of his garden

fly off me into the wind.


I will never know if my friend told anyone, if that is why her parents sent her to boarding school. We never talked about any of it. In 2005, when my mother was dying and long after my father had died, I finally spoke about it. I told my mother, not the details but that I had been assaulted and by whom. Her response was what I had feared, a palid non-response to the horror I had lived and relived. Im sorry if that happened to you. Now can we talk about something else please?  I felt some relief at having said SOMETHING, but knew that there was going to be no more talk of it. It took me 48 years to tell her. She was dying and all the people who might have protected me were already dead.  

When the House Judiciary Committee did their cursory investigating of Brett Kavanaugh, when the republican members of that committee focused on HIM rather than seeking to find justice, I felt her pain. I listened the whole day. I anguished over her story and all of our collective stories. I was transported back to 1957 and felt violated all over again. I know why Dr Ford could not pin down a date. I know why her clear memories are in that house, on those stairs, in that room, in the bathroom afterward. I know why she is still afraid and did not want to be in the room with her abuser. I know why it took a momentous event (his nomination to the Supreme Court) to make her brave enough to come forward after 36 years.

We want to stop being afraid. We ought to be able to live without worrying what someone will do to us, or how we will be vilified if we are hurt and choose to tell.

Here is the poem I wrote shortly after the hearings. It tells my story in another way:

The Day 

I remember details of the day, burnished 
somewhere in my brain, but not where 
I can find what he was wearing or whether 
it was a Wednesday or Friday.

I remember his shoes, the garden dirt
on them, the frayed right lace. I remember 
the corn was high and blowing, the sea 
was fragrant on the breeze.

I remember the green bulkhead
behind his house, the bee that stung 
my left breast, opened to air. 
If you ask me what exact time it was
I’d probably get that wrong,
but my mother called me in to lunch.

I remember that I choked down 
my sandwich, trying hard not to cry. 
I don’t remember
the lunch chatter or if my sister
was annoying, as she could be. 

I said nothing serious to my mother.
Not until she was dying. No risk then;
she could take it with her. I’m sorry
if that happened to you. If. If. As if.

I know I never again wore that white blouse,
the one with the palm tree 
over the left breast, that breast 
which was barely a breast at all back then. 
I’ve waited for years to love that part of me, 
but we are strangers.

The bottom line is this: we are hurt. We are afraid. We fear being hurt another way if we do tell. I say it is time to end the silence. If you are a #metoo woman, tell someone. Tell your story in your way, but tell.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Compassion and Madness

brrrrrrr  when a dream from long ago haunts you and finds itself too real in the present or future...

I awoke on a certain morning (several months ago) from a dream that began in compassion and ended in madness. It was a chilling dream filled with bizarre elements that will take me a LONG time to decipher.

I should begin by saying that I dream vividly on a regular basis. I dream in color (always) with a few b & w vignettes popping up from time to time (as in last night’s/early morning’s dream). My dreams are epic in nature most of the time, with wide-sweeping dramas or landscapes. They often involve walking in a city or town and being in different buildings that I have never seen or visited.  Sometimes I wonder if my “regular life” is the dream and the “dream” is my real life. (I think that is where a bit of the madness might come in).

My dream opens (I think) in a bedroom where there are several high beds with pretty quilts or comforters on them. I hurry to make my bed because I am going somehwere and need to get ready. The next thing I know, the dream switches to b & w in a park of some kind where there are large numbers of homelss people sleeping on open ground and under trees. There are no homeless children other than where a few mothers are breastfeeding their babies (babies not visible but I know they are there). It is like a scene from a dystopian film. I walk past the people, sobbing for all that I see. I feel (physically) their sorrow. At the edge of the field or park, I see women dressed in robes (not burqas, but ragged on the edges and long-skirted).They are dancing slowly and crying and I feel extreme sadness and fear coming from them. I step up over a curb and onto a street where the scene changes to vivid color. I am told by a youngish woman I meet not to look back. I feel like Lot’s Wife but do not look back. My heart is sad. I am afraid.

I am dressed in a colorful dress with a full skirt. I look at the flowers on the dress and wonder why there were no flowers in the park I have just left. A young woman who greets me says we should walk and we do, weaving in and out of streets an past buildings with brightly colored doors. I am greeted at an open door by a well-dressed (not gaudy) woman who takes me into a room, multi-colored and angular. I sit in a green chair and she takes my wallet from me. (I had no purse, just my wallet). I complain that I need that because without my ID and credit caard I will not be able to get home. she tells me I will never go home.  I awaken drenched with sweat and crying. In every scene/group of children, my own children (and in one case younger versions of two of my grandchildren) were part of the scene. I was at this point trying to climb out of something that at first seem like a basement with sharp broken windows. That basement faded into a pit with very slippery sides. Every time I get almost to the top I fall back/slide back. I see down on myself too. I know that I had to help the mothers find their children before the children faded like cheshire cats, leaving only their mouths.

The madness that ensued in the dream involved children who were wailing and looking for their mothers, unable to be held or comforted.

What do I learn from this? That somehow (with only a strange bit prescience) I knew mothers and children were going to face some kind of drastic action. It would be too easy to say that my dream predicted what has been going on with immigrant families. I do not give myself credit for that kind of psychic ability. But still, I think the dream was/is all about women’s precarious place in the too-white, too-unfeeling world. We have come a long way, baby really was about being declared equal…targets… we are now not even tokens of being honored and “protected” by man or society. In light of recent events, neither are our children. "Women and children first" is ancient history and not applicable. Cue the Titanic of the Future: "Men to the lifeboats! Women and children go down with the  ship."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Manners Matter

When my grandson Christopher was a tween, we set him up for an etiquette class at the local country club where my husband played golf. It was to be a dinner adventure wherein the kids would learn about table setting, napkin folding, which utensil to use for what dish, etc. Every child was dressed in Sunday Best. There were a dozen kids, boys and girls together. We offered this to him and he jumped at the chance. Did I mention it was a meal, so free food including dessert was part of it. When he arrived, he began holding out the girls' chairs and shaking hands with the boys and the staff. Unexpected for a 12 years old, and we were proud. The meal and its lessons proceeded to unfold. Christopher raised his hand and asked if someone could give a toast. The woman who was leading them said that that is not a normal part of a dinner, but certainly he could do that if he wished to do so. He did. He welcomed everyone, remarked how nice everyone looked, and thanked the staff and the teacher. When dinner and the class were over, he politely thanked the teacher and put his napkin in the right place before holding the girls' chairs for them again.

My point is this: We have a president who just flicked a piece of something off a foreign head of state who was at the White House to attend a state dinner. The boorish behavior was accompanied by telling French President Macron that he got a piece of dandruff off his suit. He did this as the press was snapping photos. It is possible that he thinks this is an intimate gesture between friends. Yes, he is that unschooled in manners that he would not know that even best buddies and family members do not announce dandruff flicking in public.

This kind of thing happens every time the president meets with foreign dignitaries. Of course he (sometimes) reserves his direct insults for times when he is alone with his mouth, his inner circle, or his keyboard.

The limits to his bad manners and insulting tone seem unreachable. There is no inhibition present whatsoever. It is never the case that he behaves in a dignified way, even when he is saying nothing. His facial expressions, hand gestures, his body language, and his undignified mannerisms are always and ever on display. He has even picked his nose in public.

I know that there is an Office of Protocol available to teach him how one behaves in the presence of heads of state. Or perhaps he has disbanded that. It would certainly be a good idea to partake of a few lessons on how to comport himself. I am guessing that this all falls under his basic rejection of any kind of learning. He has not availed himself of any kind of that since taking office. He knows and is better at everything. He is quick to point that out. When he embarrasses the President of France on TV, it is clear he has overestimated both the friendship and his people skills.

Maybe our grandson could teach him something about being gentlemanly at dinner parties, before he blows his nose on the linen tablecloth.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Yes, poetry matters: to all of us

In a world of digital everything, and yes here I am blogging on my laptop, the question that always comes up when discussing poetry, is what if any relevance does poetry have now that anything is fair game to be reduced to 140 characters or fewer? I would answer that poetry is more important than ever. When we relegate ourselves to text-speak, we nearly eliminate syntax, spelling, grammar and we obliterate complex thought and nuance.  

A few years ago I wrote a poem in text-speak just to do it. Its dryness and clinical nature reminds me that I love words filled with the sounds and feelings that vowels produce. Being a person who has the ability for visual closure, my brain will fill in the vowels for understanding. However, minus the actual vowels, I lose something. Beauty.  Look at this small stanza of Richard Wilbur's (from The House) written as it was intended and again in txt spk (apologies to Wilbur for the bastardization of his beautiful words):

Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.

Smtms, on wking, she wd cls her eys
Fr a lst lk at tht whte hse she knw
In slp alne, nd hld no ttle to,
nd hd nt ntred yt, fr all hr sghs.

Can you "read" the second version? Probably. You can get the likely "meaning" as well. But did you sense the beauty of the diction, the intricacy of one word played against another? Were you moved?  Not likely.

While this is an extreme example, a rather silly one I might add, it underscores what I mean about language for its own beauty. Think of your favorite word. Say it (aloud or silently) and let its sounds take you, rolling them off your tongue and around the cavern of your throat. What do you FEEL?

My two favorite words are ocean and lullaby.  I love the sounds of them, the way they fill my mouth, the way they encompass me with joy. Imagine now how these two words can work together to make something of a heightened joy through their complementary imagery. This short poem is an example of how they do this for me:

When I was a baby, rocked
to sleep by the waves, I had no word 
for ocean, knew only the rise
and fall of its heartbeat, like the lullaby 
heard below my mother's own 
tidal days and nights. Lullabies are like that: 
no beginning, no end to the soothing. 
Tides too without alpha, omega, 
just a repeating lullaby on the shore.  
Now I am here at its lip, awash
in the music of the ocean, 
lulled toward sleep
as if stilled from my cries 
by an invisible mother.

Plain language to be sure, nothing fancy or hard to pronounce. It is the way the two plain words work together, spurred on to make a feeling and to paint a picture of that feeling. 

Author David Biespiel writes, in his NY Times article about the importance of poetry, that: 

Poetic utterance ritualizes how we come to knowledge. In the same way that poems illuminate our individual lives, poems also help us understand ourselves as a culture... Poetic utterance mythologizes our journey of being. Poetic utterance tells and interprets our stories. 

I would add that human beings think in metaphor, which is a wonderful testament to complexity and interconnectedness  which makes us sentient beings with souls. 
Dana Gioia in his famously controversial essay, Can Poetry Matter, tells us that poetry is an essential human art. He tells us that to be fully human we need nuanced language and delicacy or rigor of diction. He says that we are separate from other animals in large part because of complexity of thought and language which is the life-blood of poetry.
Poets are sure that each word in a poem has its own value in that a word creates (in concert with other words) an inner and outer landscape. Each word is important not only in its connotation but also in its denotation. Words have power, intrinsic power to inflame, inspire, inculcate. When words get together in the way poets hear them, the power is great, almost magical. It is why poets are (generally) so careful about word choice, word order, word play. 
Bespiel says: No matter what language we speak, we follow the guidance of poetry to better perceive sorrow and radiance, love and hatred, violence and wonder. No matter what continent we call home, we read poetry to restrict us in time and to aspire toward timelessness — whether we are in our most vibrant cities or in the remote woods. 
Poetry is like a road map therefore, or a genealogical chart, connecting past to present and leading to the future. Poets hold a great responsibility in making certain that the path ahead is one of beauty, even in its darkest moist dangerous spots. Poets are responsible for holding up a mirror to history in order to tug at our present conscience. Poetry is a vehicle taking us from there to here. It can heal as well as (sometimes) wound. Even in its wounding, there is healing. If we care about ourselves, about our cultures, poetry will always matter because it is the best way to know who we are in the world. 
Poetry is not in competition with other kind of written communication, not as some say a mere shorthand for prose. It is its own.  When we read a poem, something entirely different happens than when we read the newspaper, a novel, a text. We are stirred to think beyond the naked words, even beyond the meaning of those words. We are stirred to a new vision of the world outside our windows, outside our relationship to that world. We are more deeply connected, even if we are alone.

Poetry matters because it is the art of the utterance a balance between the beautiful and the bizarre. Poetry matters. It is lullaby and explosion, daylight and darkness, truth within truth

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Odes; why we write them

The ode is a lyric poem, classically structured in three major parts (as in the Pindaric Ode): 1. the strophe 2. the antistrophe, and 3. the epode.  

The parts of the poem correspond to movement of a chorus to one side of the stage (strophe), then to the other (antistrophe), and a pause midstage to deliver the epilogue (epode). 

The epode is of a different meter than the strophe and antistrophe. For example: iambic tetrameter, iambic tetrameter, trochaic dimeter. This change of meter is a great way to make a final point without being over the top in terms of diction. 

Pindar, as a poet, was determined to preserve and interpret great deeds (athletic and heroic) as divine values. He did this by writing odes to celebrate such victories or values. We write odes for these reasons, even now.

Let's look at the (traditional) Ode and its 3 parts:

1. Strophe typically begins the poem, consisting of two or more lines in a dominant meter, repeated as a unit.

2. Antistrophe, second stanza, is metrically harmonious with the strophe.

3. Epode is a one or two line stanza, in a different meter than the previous two stanzas.

A good contemporary ode doesn't announce itself by ay of overdone meter. In fact some contemporary ode writers eschew meter altogether. Sharon Olds' latest book, Odes, doesn't use any of the traditional poetic devices (rules) for odes. The heralding gesture of these odes is the praising (or scoffing at) of the topics she has chosen for her poems. As Olds shows, the contemporary ode is open for interpretation as to the person, place, or thing it is celebrating or praising. Here is a partial list from her table of contents:

Ode to Stretch Marks
Ode to Dirt
Ode to a Composting Toilet
Ode to Buttermilk 
Ode of the Corner I Was Stood In

One might say that Olds is breaking the form even in her choice of topics. Perhaps she is. There is nothing wrong with breaking form. Clearly Olds' choices are unconventional. I think, however, that she is leading the charge for those who want to fly in the face of tradition and strike out in new directions. It seems to me that poets writing today, especially those who write away from form, will find the praise and honoring of the ode to be a great vehicle for their work. For those who wish to stay with the traditional approach of Pindar's, brava! But this is 2018. We can ode as we are comfortable. 

It may be worth doing a few formal odes, just for the satisfaction and for getting to really KNOW the form. Then, off you go into your own space with odes, reinventing as you go but with the foundation well-built first.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Because I am not feeling kissable today

Yesterday I had some surgery on my face. A little thing called basal cell cancer on my nose and a trip to the surgeon has left me feeling awkwardly un-kissable. I love love love kissing, so this is a great hardship.

My husband is a great kisser. I am always happy to kiss him or to be kissed by him. When we were first together, kissing was one of the best parts of learning about each other, about learning how we fit together in terms of personality and approach to relationship. There is simply no way to hide inside a kiss. The kiss is a barometer of relationship. Marcel Danesi, in his The History of the Kiss!, says that "unlike sex, there is nothing to prove in kissing." I might not wholly agree with that. I think the kiss IS a proof of many things, including tenderness, loyalty, forcefulness, aggression, and more.

When I was in 8th grade I discovered kissing, the non kiss-your-grandmother-goodbye kind of kissing. I was taught to kiss by the bother of a friend. He pushed me gently against the coats in the coatroom at a dance and put his lips so gently on mine that I got dizzy. His lips were warm and soft and he put his hands on my face. The kissing he did with me remains one of my best boy-girl memories. It was so impressive that I celebrate it every year on his October 3rd birthday. All of my adult kissing has been measured against his kissing. Sometimes however kissing style or approach can be a deal breaker. I once was kissed by a boy whose braces cut my lips. He smelled of sour food too. I was so repulsed I never spoke to him again. Sometimes the kiss is a signal of the end of a relationship (the kiss-off).

I am currently reading a book edited by Brian Turner, The Kiss, which is a series of essays about all kinds of kissing, contributed by a melange of wonderful authors. Reading the book is, for me, like going to a fine restaurant and ordering a sampler. Each author/contributor shares unabashedly and honestly, adding both spice and substance to the conversation. Reading this book has made me consider how fortunate I am to have been well kissed in my lifetime. It makes me know all over again how wonderful it is to be kissed now, even as I must admit I am no longer a young kisser trying to find a mate. I am fortunate to know and expect lovely wonderful kissing on a daily basis by my sweet husband. I do know that kissing has been a make or break situation for me my whole kissing life.

In thinking about kissing today,  I took to the internet for a bit of fun looks at the "science" and non-scientific conjecture about kissing. I found a site called You Tango where there is a fun look at how various signs of the zodiac are assessed as to their kissing styles.  I share this here — just for the fun of it.

Note: the website writer put these in order from what are supposedly the best kissers to the worst. I do not agree with the line-up. Kissing is so personal as to style and effectiveness that I doubt anyone could rank them. Kissing is to be enjoyed. Great kissing is to be celebrated.

According to the web site, each zodiac sign has its unique way of kissing, from soft pecks to an open, deep French kiss. Some zodiac signs are passionate while others approach intimacy in a methodical or mechanical way, some with hands involved and some without. I offer these as they were offered by the web site writer. You be the judge.

1. Scorpio    They use their tongues. Literally, penetrating your mouth with their tongue. This can be wonderful or dangerous (if you were to bite down, it would be quite unpleasant!)

2. Virgo    The Virgo's kissing style is a sweet kiss on the hand when you're driving or watching a movie. When they get serious, the sweetness remains. 

3. Leo    Leos are passionate kissers who will brush your hair away and look into your eyes first. Otherwise, they'll wrap their arm around your neck and pull you in to give you a simple kiss on your cheekbone. They are both passionate and tender.

4. Taurus    Taureans are driven by the need to use senses, to feel their partner’s plump lips (if they are plump), smell their enticing scent, touch their soft skin and take you in. They love to kiss the neck to feel the skin and get a deep whiff of scent.

5. Gemini   Gemini is (supposedly) in fifth of the top five best kissers. Gemini, being a cerebral sign, will go for the forehead. It's a great way to feel connected. Getting a chance to gaze into expressive eyes after the kiss is a bonus for the Gemini.

6. Aries   An Aries is a physical person, making kissing a full body experience which might start pressing both of your lips, add in a little tongue, and finish with a bite. They enjoy a partner who is a little aggressive too.

7. Sagittarius   Fun and game kissing here. Sagittarius likes to use lips to trace the skin, beyond your mouth.

8. Cancer   Cancers are not wild kissers. They’re tender-hearted kissers who build tension slowly. If the They might work themselves up to holding you against something during the kiss.

9. Pices   Pisces kissers are always gentle. Unafraid to sink into their emotions, they get lost in them. At first, their go-to move might be a single lip kiss that leaves you feeling connected and wanting for more.

10. Libras   Libra kisses are soft and light. They’re shy kisses. They like to go for the butterfly kisses where your eyelashes touch together. They leave you feeling a bit lightheaded.

11. Capricorns   Capricorns are a little more classy in their kissing, but they are go-getters. They might nibble and bite you like an Aries, but more softly. They'll try not to kiss you where it might be uncomfortable for you as long as you let them know.

12. Aquarians   They show their mental connection by kissing you on the eyelid. This is more common in spouses or with parents and their children. Still, it shows a strong mental connection.

What do YOU think about kisses? Have a memory of a wonderful kiss or memory of a kiss that turned you off? Please share. I'm in the mood for writing some poems about kisses and kissers. Send me some material.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Because it's Poetry Month

Because it's poetry Month and because I am a bit nervous over some surgery scheduled for tomorrow, I am reposting a previous blog post. It is I hope worthy of your renewed attention.

The Poem, unpacked, with some translation from medieval Scots English to English.
The Thrissil and the Rois (Thistle and Rose), composed by my ancestor, William Dunbar of Scotland, is comprised of stanzas in rhyme royale form. It is a bit of a struggle to get the poem to levels of deep understanding in its original language. However, as you read along, the elements of thought and expression begin to emerge. 

To clarify, rhyme royale stanzas consist of seven lines, usually of iambic pentameter (typical for narratives of the time). The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-c and is normally made up either as a tercet with two couplets  (a-b-a, b-b, c-c) or as a quatrain with a tercet (a-b-a-b, b-c-c). 
This allowance for variance is particularly helpful in longer narratives.  

Notice that the poem uses aureate vocabulary (using both Latin and French) to glide it forward. Aureation is seen nowadays by some critics as being pretentious, however it is a method not of embellishment for embellishment’s sake but as necessary dressing. The narrative of Dunbar’s herein is presented via a quite common medieval device: dream vision. Since the poem was written to celebrate/commemorate a wedding (James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor of England), the embellishment of aureation and the dream vision devices are appropriate. 

aureate ˈôrēətˈôrēˌāt | adjectivedenoting, made of, or having the color of gold• (of languagehighly ornamented or elaborate

Let’s look at the poem itself now, beginning with Dunbar’s description of Spring (also emblematic of the beginning of married life).
Quhen Merche wes with variand windis past,
And Appryll had with hir silver schouris
Tane leif at Nature with ane orient blast,
And lusty May, that muddir is of flouris,
Had maid the birdis to begyn thair houris,
Amang the tendir odouris reid and quhyt,
Quhois armony to heir it wes delyt,

The sleeping poet has a dream in which he is addressed by the personification of May.

Me thocht fresche May befoir my bed upstude
In weid depaynt of mony divers hew,
Sobir, benyng, and full of mansuetude,
In brycht atteir of flouris forgit new,
Hevinly of color, quhyt, reid, broun, and blew,
Balmit in dew and gilt with Phebus bemys
Quhill all the hous illumynit of hir lemys.
"Slugird," scho said, "Awalk annone, for schame,
And in my honour sumthing thow go wryt,
Quhairto quod I, Sall I uprys at morrow,
For in this May few birdis herd I sing?
Thai haif moir caus to weip and plane thair sorrow,
Thy air it is nocht holsum nor benyng,

May reminds him that he had previously promised her to write a poem about the rose. 

With that this lady sobirly did smyll        [smile]
And said, Uprys and do thy observance,
Thow did promyt in Mayis lusty quhyle
For to discryve the ros of most plesance.
Quhen this wes said depairtit scho, this quene,
And enterit in a lusty gairding gent.
And than, me thocht, sa listely besene,
In serk and mantill, full haistely I went,
Into this garth, most dulce and redolent,
Of herb and flour and tendir plantis sueit,
And grene levis doing of dew doun fleit.

In the garden, Nature (seen of course as a woman) sends messengers to the animals, birds and plants of the world, requiring their immediate presence, their homage. [All present were in twinkling of an eye, both beast and bird and flower, before the queen ... as embodied in the last couplet of this part.]
Scho ordand eik that every bird and beist,
Befoir hir hienes suld annone compeir,
And every flour of vertew, most and leist,
And every herb be feild, fer and neir,
All present wer in twynkling of ane e,
Baith beist and bird and flour, befoir the quene.

Nature calls the Lion forward, described as the Lion Rampant standard of Scots Kings. Notice the rich description of this kingly beast and know Dunbar, as poet of the Court, was wont to thusly honor James:
Reid of his cullour as is the ruby glance,
On feild of gold he stude full mychtely,      [on field of gold he strode most mightily.... think of royal banner]
With flour delycis sirculit lustely.
This lady liftit up his cluvis cleir,
And leit him listly lene upone hir kne,
And crownit him with dyademe full deir,
Of radyous stonis most ryall for to se,          [of radiant stones most royal for all to see]
Saying, The king of beistis mak I thee,
And the chief protector in the woddis and schawis.
Onto thi leigis go furth, and keip the lawis.
Exerce justice with mercy and conscience,
And lat no small beist suffir skaith na skornis
Of greit beistis that bene of moir piscence.

The lion is the embodiment of the duty of the King to bring justice to all of his subjects,
the humble and the more powerful.The animals therefore acclaim their new King. 
The Eagle appears to symbolize the King's plan to keep the peace within Scotland and,
perhaps, with England. Nature crowns the Eagle King of the birds, sharpens his feathers
to dart-like points, enjoining him to let no ravens, or other birds of prey, make trouble.

All kynd of beistis into thair degré
At onis cryit lawd, Vive le roy!
And till his feit fell with humilité,
And all thay maid him homege and fewté, 
Syne crownit scho the Egle, king of fowlis,
And as steill dertis scherpit scho his pennis,   [pennis = feathers]
And bawd him be als just to awppis and owlis 
As unto pacokkis, papengals, or crennis, 
And mak a law for wycht fowlis and for wrennis. 
And lat no fowll of ravyne do efferay,
Nor devoir birdis bot his awin pray.

Nature then inspects the plants and judges the spiked thistle to be 'able for war'. The thistle (thrissil) is crowned King of all plants with a gleaming crown of rubies.
The thistle seems to represent the King's determination to defend his Kingdom.
Nature then advises the Thistle to show discretion when judging other plants.

Upone the awfull Thrissill scho beheld
And saw him kepit with a busche of speiris.
Concedring him so able for the weiris,
A radius croun of rubeis scho him gaif.
And said, In feild go furth and fend the laif.
And sen thow art a king, thow be discreit,
Herb without vertew hald nocht of sic pryce
As herb of vertew and of odor sueit,
And lat no nettill vyle and full of vyce          [and let no nettle vile and full of vice]
Hir fallow to the gudly flour delyce,
Nor latt no wyld weid full of churlichenes
Compair hir till the lilleis nobilnes,              [compare her to lillies’ nobleness]

Dunbar is a not-so-subtle admonisher to the King in this next part, wherein he seems to be warning the King to be done with the practice of having mistresses. He does this in the voice of Nature who praises the red-and-white rose over all the other flowers.The rose represents Margaret of England.

Nor hald non udir flour in sic denty
As the fresche Ros of cullour reid and quhyt,
For gife thow dois, hurt is thyne honesty,
Conciddering that no flour is so perfyt,          [considering no flower is so perfect]
So full of vertew, plesans, and delyt,               [so full of virtue, pleasance, and delight]
So full of blisfull angelik bewty,                      [so full of blissful angelic beauty]
Imperiall birth, honour, and dignité.               [imperial birth, honor, and dignity]

It is clear that these lines are meant to praise the lovely Margaret of England, and to serve as a warning to James that he has it all at home, and should not stray. Nature addresses the rose directly, praising her and calling her forward to be crowned.

Than to the Ros scho turnyt hir visage
And said, O lusty dochtir most benyng,
Aboif the lilly illustare of lynnage,
Fro the stok ryell rysing fresche and ying,
But ony spot or macull doing spring,
Cum, blowme of joy, with jemis to be cround,
For our the laif thy bewty is renownd.
A coistly croun with clarefeid stonis brycht,
This cumly quene did on hir heid inclois,  
Quhairfoir me thocht all flouris did rejos,
Crying attonis, Haill be thow richest Ros,
Haill hairbis empryce, haill freschest quene of flouris!
To thee be glory and honour at all houris!

The birds join the acclamation of the new Queen who is compared to a pearl which is totally expected in the poem as 'Margaret' is derived from the Latin term (margarita) for a pearl.
The commoun voce uprais of birdis small
Apone this wys, O blissit be the hour,
That thow wes chosin to be our principall,
Welcome to be our princes of honour,
Our perle, our plesans, and our paramour,
Our peax, our play, our plane felicité:
Chryst thee conserf frome all adversité! 

Now the poem switches from the dream of Dunbar to Dunbar himself.  Birdsong merges with the dawn chorus. Dunbar awakens and looks for the garden he saw in his dream but finds it gone. While half-frighted, he “begins” to write the poem. This is reminiscent of what would later be seen as a magical realism poem, much like Xanadu.

Than all the birdis song with sic a schout,
That I annone awoilk quhair that I lay,
And with a braid I turnyt me about,
To se this court, bot all wer went away.
Than up I lenyt, halflingis in affrey,
And thus I wret, as ye haif hard to forrow,
Of lusty May upone the nynt morrow.
It is the ninth of May.

This poem may be one of Dunbar’s best. It certainly engendered a fairly robust admiration for his work from James IV, who appointed him as Poet to the Court. Dunbar’s ability to connect nature (with a capital N) to the monarchy is without reproach, either then or now. I am reminded of Sir Elton John’s remake song sung at the funeral of Princess Diana, wherein he refers to her as England’s Rose. I’d like to think Sir Elton has read Dunbar’s Thrissil and Rois, but I’m not taking that leap. But I will happily claim a certain visceral intertextuality that comes from the collective unconscious. In the world of magical words and symbols, we can rest assured that there is more “out there” waiting for us if we allow ourselves to be dreamers and writers, and to pay attention to the issues of the day, happy and not so... all is the stuff of poetry.