April 2024

David Alpaugh


 “Body in a Dream of Spring” —Lynne Knight


          Overnight the snow’s blown back 
          along the fence, baring the field’s dull
          grasses, so when the villagers walk

          the rutted path toward church, they dream
          of spring. Most wear crow-black coats
          or dresses, but there’s one coming

          the other way headed out øf town
          in a green coat, hands deep
          in his pockets though he’s free

          of all constraint. The villagers greet him
          in secret envy of his green coat ways,
          then look quickly away as they hurry on

          to the sermon, cold traveling up their legs
          in defiance of gravity, like unhappiness
          that keeps rising. Oh, why can’t they

          set it down, why must it get out of bed
          with them, slip into their clothes, wait
          in their mouths like Amen. And why

          should that green-coated one go free.
          They’ll resent him less, come summer—
          but snow and cold will make them haul

          their dark coats from the attic. Then,
          with winter eyes, they’ll see him again,
          strolling in the opposite direction.

          All of them will long to turn and follow.
          Next year, they’ll promise, holding
          their black coats closer, hurrying on.


Lynne Knight’s “Body in a Dream of Spring” was inspired by Claude Monet’s “View of Argenteuil,” which she saw, along with other snow paintings, at the DeYoung museum’s “Impressionists in Winter” exhibit in San Francisco in 1999. Monet’s painting is one of fifteen of the exhibit’s paintings by Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Caillebotte that inspired the poems in her book Snow Effects (Small Poetry Press, 2000 and 2008).


Poems that focus attention on a visual work of art are called “Ekphrastic” (from    the Greek word “ekphrazein,” which means to describe or proclaim). Famous ekphrastic poems include Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” and Auden’s “Musee de Beaux Arts.” Those poems not only vividly describe the urn, the fragmented statuary of Apollo, and the Brueghel painting “The Fall of Icarus,” they lead to convincing universal insights inspired by the impressions the art makes on the poets.


Like her predecessors, Knight translates visual into verbal art—color, light, and texture into story, symbol, and sound:


    “As I looked at the paintings” [in the exhibit] she notes, “it seemed to me that they were more than studies of light. They were variations on a universal theme: the passing of light into dark, of love into death. I saw them as meditations on the body in winter, and they led me to my own version of snow effects.”



Claude Monet, View of Argenteuil, c. 1874, oil on canvas


Knight sees something unusual and easily missed in “View of Argenteuil” that leads her to translate Monet’s visual work into a convincing narrative with universal meaning that rings especially true for me, partly because of an experience I had, with my wife and children, years ago at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco.


As we approached the circular tank, hundreds of fish were swimming around in the same direction. Suddenly a fish came into view swimming the other way. Even our five-year old daughter found this behavior intriguing. We stood in the same place, transfixed for a while, as the herd of conformists streamed by; waiting for our rebel to re-appear, and it did so again and
again. Did this fish have a reason for choosing to swim the other way? Did it know something its brethren didn’t?


Knight’s poem begins with her noticing that although a dozen of the villagers in Monet’s painting are headed towards the church in the upper right corner, one is going the other way, passing them by, “headed out of town,” “free of all constraint.” While the funereal “crow black” coats and umbrellas of his fellow villagers suggest winter, discomfort, and death, his green coat, his hands thrust “deep in his pockets” suggest the jauntiness of spring and a celebration of life.


Once the contrast between Monet’s green and black coated figures is established, all the elements of his painting fall into place. The communal “body” of the parishioners, united in their habitual movement towards church and a sermon that will probably diminish the value of earthly pleasure is challenged by the joie de vivre of the “green-coated” one’s individualistic “body.”


For although Monet is outside in the snow, Knight takes us inside the psyches of his villagers. As they trudge along, bundled up in dark clothing, they keenly feel “the cold traveling up their legs in the defiance of gravity.” They too are looking at Monet’s painting and observing the tinges of green in the grass and foliage that last night’s wind and snow have exposed. Still sleepy after too early risings, they cannot help but dream of spring.


If we could press a button and animate Monet’s painting, frame by frame, we would come to the poem’s serial epiphanic moment; for each of the villagers must briefly become an individual who must pass by and acknowledge the existence of one who, unintimidated by winter, personifies the spiritual optimism and buoyancy of spring.


For a fleeting moment each villager feels that it may be possible to break free of winter—spiritually, if not physically; but, slipping back into the communal “body,” each will “look quickly away” and “hurry on / to the sermon,” secretly envying the green-coated one, asking why unhappiness must “get out of bed with them,” / slip into their clothes, wait / in their mouths like Amen.”


The green coated one’s recurrence towards the end of the poem suggests that he is more an apparition, more an impulse in the collective psyche, more symbolic than literal. As the villagers “haul / their dark coats from the attic”:


with winter eyes, they’ll see him again,
strolling in the opposite direction


He exacerbates the dissatisfactions we all feel at being restricted by our behavioral patterns, our roads too mechanically taken.




“Habit,” Vladimir observes in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, “is a great deadener.” Marcel Proust saw that, although that’s true, habit also liberates. As my literary pal, AI, puts it:

    “Proust describes the liberating effects of habit by illustrating how it can provide a sense of comfort, stability, and familiarity in our lives. Through routine and repetition, habit can offer a sense of security and ease, allowing individuals to navigate their daily lives with greater efficiency and confidence. Additionally,Proust suggests that habit can facilitate the process of adaptation, enabling individuals to adjust to new circumstances and challenges more readily. In this way, habit can serve as a form of psychological refuge, providing a sense of continuity and control amidst the complexities of existence.”

Simply put, human beings have a love / hate relationship with Habit which leads to the mental tug-of-war that Knight so powerfully explores via Monet’s painting. As in a dream, the villagers proceed through time’s seasonal cycle, from light to darkness, winter to spring and back again, trying to deny how the cycle must end.


The final lines of “Body in a Dream of Spring” poignantly express Knight’s sympathy for those who long to break free from habit but are too invested in the comforts and illusions it offers to attempt to change their lives.


We are left shivering with the poet’s villagers as they pass that irrepressible creature once again who continues to silently suggest that alternative directions are possible:


          All of them will long to turn and follow.
          Next year, they’ll promise, holding
          their black coats closer, hurrying on.



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David Alpaugh ’s newest collection of poetry is Seeing the There There  (Word Galaxy Press, 2023). Alpaugh’s visual poems have been appearing monthly in Scene4 since February 2019. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has been a finalist for Poet Laureate of California. For more of his poetry, plays, and articles , check the Archives.

©2024 David Alpaugh
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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