There is a poem that I have loved for years and years, which the character Chris the Radio Guy reads in “The Mosquito Festival,” an episode of Northern Exposure. I heard it the first time when I was 12, and I fell in love with it. Over the years, I’ve thought of it and barely believed that it could possibly have been purpose-written for a TV show. And so I’ve googled it every few years to see if maybe, possibly, I could find out the name of the poet behind it, be it a screen writer or a famous poet…but I’ve also, I must confess, described it to people as being from Northern Exposure.
So this year, I went to post it on a friend’s request for poems for World Poetry Day, and I thought, “I’ll just google this yet again.” And this time, I found it. “Atalanta in Calydon” by Algernon Charles Swinburne.
Chris read the first stanza; I had never heard the rest.
To anyone I ever told this was from a TV show, I do apologize.
For winter’s rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows, and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.
The full streams feed on flower of rushes,
Ripe grasses trammel a travelling foot,
The faint fresh flame of the young year flushes
From leaf to flower and flower to fruit,
And fruit and leaf are as gold and fire,
And the oat is heard above the lyre,
And the hoofèd heel of a satyr crushes
The chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root.
And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,
Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,
Follows with dancing and fills with delight
The Maenad and the Bassarid;
And soft as lips that laugh and hide
The laughing leaves of the trees divide,
And screen from seeing and leave in sight
The god pursuing, the maiden hid.