Sunday, October 25, 2009

When Bailey Came Home

In the 1930s, retired Cornell Dean and world plant explorer, Liberty Hyde Bailey returned twice to the city of his birth, South Haven, Michigan. Bailey reflected that his writings, "...all came out of South Haven. My roots are here and my experiences here must enter into my consciousness. All life comes out of childhood." Here, in the largest non-citrus fruit producing region in the world, a young Bailey partook in the operation of his family's 80-acre fruit farm. The region remains a diverse botanically rich environment and was well suited as the training ground for America's Father of Modern Horticulture. A report on one of his last visits appears in a May 9th, 1934 article from the local newspaper, "The South Haven Tribune." Filled with wonderful anecdotes the article shows an intimate exchange between Bailey and his "homefolks." One of the last poems that Bailey read that evening was "Campanula," inspired by "the finding of a lovely, lonely bell flower," during his frequent boyhood nature excursions in a local marsh near the city's Fruit Exchange. The poem appears in his book of verse, "Wind and Weather." We offer it here. The poem is not just an extolling of nature but a deeper reflection on the opposition of the "world of men" and nature.


THERE is a ferny dell I know
Where spiry stalks of harebell grow.
It is a little cool retreat
Of bosky scents and airs complete.
There is a maze of fragile stems
That hang their pods above the hems
Of mossy fountains crystal clear
'Mongst webby threads of gossamer
And filmy tints of green and blue
A-strung in beads of fragrant dew.
A tiny stroke the blue-bell rings
As on its slender cord it swings,
And if you listen long and well
You'll hear the music in the bell.

And often when I've toiled with men
Or passed my day with plans and pen
Or fled afar on starry seas,
I join the camp of moths and bees
And wander by the minty pools
To sedge and fern and campanules.
And then I lie on twig and grass
And watch the slimsy creatures pass,
And find the little folk that dwells
So deep inside the azure bells
I wonder how they come and go.
And as I listen long and low
I catch the cadence of a note
Astir within the petal throat,
I hear a tiny octave played
And slender music, crystal-rayed.

There are two worlds that I know full well-
The world of men and the petal bell.

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