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“Verde que te quiero verde”: Poems Written in Green

Living in Western Massachusetts instead of Baltimore this spring, I found myself rooting for the color green like its approach was a spectator sport. Baltimore’s springs arrive comparatively early and lush; here, I watched the hills barely tinged with the kind of blushes and yellows that promise real green long into April and even into May. I reassured myself with Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold . . .

I urged the landscape on with Gwendolyn Brooks:

Remember, green’s your color. You are Spring.

Poems often initially engage me through sound, pulling me in first through their music before I attend to narrative or theme or even imagery, but this season, my focused attention on a single color turned me from ear to eye even in my reading.

The “greenest” poem I can think of is Federíco Garcia Lorca’s “Romance Sonámbulo,” which begins with the following stanza:

Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña. 
Con la sombra en la cintura
ella sueña en su baranda,
verde carne, pelo verde,
con ojos de fría plata.
Verde que te quiero verde.
Bajo la luna gitana, 
las cosas la están mirando
y ella no puede mirarlas.

In William Logan’s English translation, the opening stanza reads:

Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches. 
The ship out on the sea
and the horse on the mountain.
With the shade around her waist
she dreams on her balcony,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
Green, how I want you green.
Under the gypsy moon,
all things are watching her
and she cannot see them.

The next stanza begins again:

Verde que ti quiero verde.
(Green, how I want you green.)

I love the poem’s combination of mystery and urgency, a kind of timelessness wed to surreal specificities, all hinging on the epanaleptic refrain, framed in green. An aside: repeating the word “green” to myself here just uncovered a memory of the early ’60s folk song “Green, Green,” which my mother used to sing when I was a child. While Lorca’s “green” poem is the one that captivates me as an adult, my first green refrain would have been:

Green, green, it’s green they say
On the far side of the hill
Green, green, I’m going away
To where the grass is greener still

Anyhow, my mind was already primed in a green place when I encountered two very new “green” experiences in verse in quick succession: Nate Pritts’s “A Reverent Green,” first published in April in wildness and featured in Verse Daily‘s “Web Weekly” series on May 1, and Ada Limón’s “Instructions on Not Giving Up,” the Academy of American Poets “Poem-a-Day” on May 15.

Pritts introduces his palette in the title, then connects the particular “reverent green” of “all these rocks scattered     near the banks” with both the domestic interior and, more crucially, the interior of memory:

I think I see that same green later—opening the cabinets
and drawers at home               just out of the corner of my eye.

A sense of that color has spread everywhere
             or            I carry it with me

but I know I will never see that green again.

Though it’s written in a mode quite different from Lorca’s surreal leanings (and from the familiar “grass is greener” axiom of the folk song), Pritts’s green still imparts a sense of longing. Limón’s green approaches more slowly, then bursts into and infuses the poem. In this fourteen-line poem, I feel the turn to green itself as the traditional sonnet’s turn, an “argument” in color, as she carries her first sentence across five lines, delaying the fundament of her syntax until the fifth line, first distracting us with ostentatious shades of pink:

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me.

Here, we arrive, finally, at “a green skin / growing over whatever winter did to us.” Here, green is still what is longed for, but with a slightly different valence—it is our own strength, everything that keeps us going, everything that gets us through. The intensity of Limón’s palette lets us forget the abstract import of the title, and then remember: these are, indeed, “Instructions on Not Giving Up,” implicit in the color itself, the season’s green.