Nemerov’s “Sonnet at Easter”

Though I still haven’t found a particular poem that I like enough to want to memorize, it is interesting to read Nemerov’s viewpoint of the the world in the 1940’s and 1950’s. I didn’t really realize until today that Nemerov was Jewish, though I’m sure that must have given him a unique viewpoint of World War II.

Perhaps it helps to explain why many of his poems about Europe remind me of Henry James’ novels, watching the intellectual and moral decay that slowly ate away at European culture. It’s the anti-Victorianism that Pirsig noted in Lila.

I doubt many Christian poets could have written this poem:

SONNET AT EASTER

You splice together two broomsticks, then reef
A tie (a Christmas present) at the throat.
A hat must rattle on the knob, a coat
Keep warm the chest (for he has little beef).
You set this person up disguised as you
And let him flap. He hangs lonely as grief.
His wraithless hull, no blood and no belief,
Your children don’t despise but your crows do.

He is a habit now, perennial,
One of your pieties. You plant him deep,
And though you have no earthly use for him
You dress him in your father’s coat, and call
Good Evening sometimes when the light is dim,
Seeing he stands for you in upright sleep.

On the literal level, of course, this is simply a poem about a scarecrow. The poet begins by telling you how to create one. The title, though, suggests it’s about more than a scarecrow. Even though many people put scarecrows up to keep crows away from their garden seeds in Spring, I’ve never heard anyone call it their “Easter scarecrow.”

In what sense is he “disguised as you?” And why is he as “lonely as grief?” Is it true that “He is a habit now, perennial, One of your pieties?” Ever wonder why Easter Sunday draws such huge crowds?

Is it true that we have “no earthly use for him?” Do you suppose the Nazis had “a use for him?”

What do you think?