The Lilies of Landsford Canal Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

SUSAN LUDVIGSON[footnoteRef:1] [1: Susan Ludvigson was born in Rice Lake, Wisconsin on February 13, 1942 and graduated from the University of Wisconsin, River Falls in 1965 with majors in English and psychology. She taught English in various Junior high schools before finishing a master's degree in English at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She began the PhD program in English at the University of South Carolina, taking classes with James Dickey, but was offered a job at Winthrop University. Ludvigson lives in South Carolina. And was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 2009.]

The Lilies of Landsford Canal[footnoteRef:2] [2: Landsford Canal is the farthest upstream of a series of canals built on the Catawba and Wateree Rivers to provide a direct water route between the upstate settlements and the towns on the fall line.It is located along the Catawba River in Chester County and Lancaster County west of Lancaster and named for an early settler, Thomas Land, who owned the land with a ford across the Catawba River. It is the centerpiece of the Landsford Canal State Park. (Cox, James L. (June 2, 1969). "Lansford Canal" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. The title: 'Lilies' and "landsford Canal' demonstrates consonance and alliteration. Ludvigson frequently employs this technique to give her poem rhyme and motion.]

Twenty years I've lived so near a miracle it's possible to bicycle there.

(Not me, so out of shape a walk up a long hill leaves me breathless, but my fit neighbor says so.)[footnoteRef:3] [3: The poem is written in free verse, which means it lacks rhyme, meter, and iambic pentameter. Instead of focusing on rhythm, Ludvigson focuses more on the subject of the poem and what occurs. When shift is made to a new topic as in this stanza, there is a fresh stanza. This makes it clearer to the reader what is going on in the poem, and helps with the overall comprehension of the theme.]

In canoes we navigate the stony shoals, shores and islands green as a long-remembered dream[footnoteRef:4]. [4: Two things are evident here: the rhyming of 'dream' and 'green'; the consonance, assonance and alliteration that Ludvigson uses here as seen by the words 'stony shoals, Shores and islands." They have a quiet musicality - that best conveys the image that Ludvigson wants to portray. She therefore used the technique of assonance. ]

But where are the promised lilies?

I thought they'd be like Monet's, floating flat at the edge of a river [footnoteRef:5] [5: Water Lilies is a series of approximately 250 oil paintings by French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840 -- 1926). The paintings depict Monet's flower garden at Giverny and were the main focus of Monet's artistic production during the last thirty years of his life. It is interesting that most of them were flat and may have indicated the artist's condition: Many of the works were painted while Monet suffered from cataracts (Jane Turner (Editor). The Dictionary of Art. 1996.). Ludvigson's lilies, on the contrary, are vibrant and full of life. She makes her poem full of life too with sibilance, alliteration, consonance, and various other techniques to animate her imagery of the lilies. Notice, too, how 'floating flat' has the consonance.]

under the shadow of willows bending to riffle the water.

The others think we must be too late, must have missed the season.

A few clumps of tall grasses have stalks with possible buds, or maybe they're the stubble of flowers now blown by the wind toward shore, but in any case, there's nothing like blooms anywhere[footnoteRef:6]. [6: This free verse is deliberately shaped in such a way (with the lines shaped so that they work well rhythmically) so that it emulates speech ]

Then we round a bend and there they are -- choirs swaying in a rhythm to the moving water[footnoteRef:7]. [7: 'Choirs' and 'rhyme' this is imagery to her poem. It also exudes the sensation of calm and personification. She is associating the lilies with a group of humans, animating them with a presence beyond their abstraction. This personification of life is continued with 'swaying', 'singing', 'moving', embracing'.The poet, too, provides contrast by preceding the description of the vibrant lilies with the more passive descriptors of her and her party. They 'navigated' the shores; she 'thought'. Those accompanying her think they must have been too late and missed the spectacle. Passive verbs describe her and her friends. The lilies, meanwhile, are adorned with lively descriptive exuding an abundance of life. They are "singing hosannas"; they are 'embracing," they are "ecstatic" and so forth.]

They are singing hosannas, a music so ecstatic and silent it has to be white.

Whole islands are massed with them[footnoteRef:8], long stems and dark [8: Whether deliberately or not, Ludvigson's description reminds us of some religious congregation. They are " singing hosannas"; the color 'white' 9 assocaited with purity); "ecstatic and silent"; their long stems as though taut with veneration; choirs swaying in a rhythm to the moving water" -- representative of congregants massed in uniformity, swaying in rhyme, praying to the moving God]

embracing leaves like French genets[footnoteRef:9], [9: The small catlike wild animal found in parts of France. The contrast is evident here and serves to all the more highlight the softness and purity of the lilies.]

but the delicate spiked white blossoms are enormous and complex as stars through a telescope[footnoteRef:10]. They shine against [10: This imagery distances the lilies form us, as though placing them in another world. The author idealizes them clothing them in a transcendental shimmer of purity. They are as unlike humans (her and her companions) as possible in their pristine, ideal otherness. And she uses onomatopoeia, consonance, alliteration, and assonance to convey her awe. ]

the skittering silver water[footnoteRef:11], [11: There is certain sibilance here, with the onomatopoeia of 'skittering'. 'Skittering' is later reinforced by 'trembling' and that is contrasted by the quieter verbs of 'shimmering' 'smoother's and nouns such as 'swallows' or salmon returning home' all of which gives us a quiet, serene imagery of sensory language evoking sight, touch, and other emotions.]

against the trembling wall of green behind,

against the stones rising up in the shallows, seeming, by contrast, fragile[footnoteRef:12]. [12: Note the author's use of color: white lilies in the silver skittering water, set against the green behind. She also employs a gradual stepping forward from one very vulnerable image -- the lilies - to one less so the water and then even less intangible the grass, until she leads us to the most tangible of all; the stones. ]

But no[footnoteRef:13]. [13: This stanza is a sharp interruption form the last. We are led to linger into reflection at the vulnerability of the lilies. But no! This is the motif of the poem. The lilies are deceptive. They are resilient. " "They grow wild." They endure. They are "A thousand years old, against the odds, / they repeat themselves year after year." This is the marvel of these seemingly weak creations. They are strong and tenacious -- and the strategy of repetition is used "year after year" to indicate their perseverance. ." ]

They grow wild in just a few places in the world.

A thousand years old, against the odds, they repeat themselves year after year like swallows or salmon returning home.[footnoteRef:14] [14: Both have their rhombic cycle -- always on time, never diverted from. Swallows, for instance, are summer visitors, arriving from late March to mid-May and returning to their southern African wintering grounds in September and October. Salmon have a similar predictable routine.]

I rarely enter anything like their world[footnoteRef:15]. [15: This may be another allusion to the transcendence -- the other worldliness -- of the lilies. So distant from the human experience. ]

Even when we're past that shimmering, the Catawba wider and smoother than before, the air is fragrant as a childhood summer.[footnoteRef:16] [16: This is another example of line that is deliberately and rhymetically arranged to resemble speech.]

Surely there is no more innocence here than anywhere.

Downstream, I'm told, the river is polluted by chemicals[footnoteRef:17]. [17: One wonders whether this interruption -- or even the entire poem itself -- may not be message against the evils of pollution. Here you have the ethereal white lilies -- beautiful and pristine -- that are threatened by the disastrous effects of polluting chemicals thrown by senseless humans in their stream. It may be that the terms used: "innocence," 'childhood," "white" and so forth -- all manifestations of vulnerability and purity may be intentional so as to better offset the bestiality of pollution.Ludvigson was also a psychologist. Her poem could have many allusions to psychology: the resilience of vulnerability against social evil; the evils of pollution in various forms that attack childhood innocence; the transience and sensitivity of childhood that must be so staunchly protected against the toxic chemicals of the world.]

Yet I feel as if I'm entering something pure, some…

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