Why I Love Parks & Rec, or “O were my Love yon Lilack fair”

I love Parks and Recreation. Amy Poehler can do no wrong, of course, but it’s the show’s pitch-perfect blend of snark and heart that gets me every time. And also Ron Swanson. Oh Ron, you magnificent bastard, with your mustache and your Lagavulin and your love of breakfast food and pretty dark-haired women  . . .

Image courtesy zirconicusso / Freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy zirconicusso / Freedigitalphotos.net

(This is not the time to ask, friends, if I bought a waffle maker to ring in the show’s sixth season.)

As I was saying.

Mr. O and I delayed our viewing of the premiere by a day because he was out of town (an act of true love, as those three of you who follow me on Twitter know).  Well worth the wait, the show pushed its characters around with wit and gusto. Stop reading now if you care about spoilers. Look for the bold when I start a-chatting about poetry.

By far my favorite set piece: Ron on a Leslie-designed train trip through northern England and into Scotland, culminating in a visit to the Lagavulin distillery. But here’s the best part: Ron sitting on a green, craggy piece of land, reading the poetry of Scotland’s favorite son out loud — “O were my Love yon Lilack fair.” And tearing up. I sure did.

So, let’s talk about poetry and Scotch, and you’re safe to come back now, people who didn’t want to read spoilers. 

I came across Bobby Burns some time in college, but his genius didn’t truly hit home until I hosted an ersatz Burns supper when I was a young lass in grad school. In reality, it was more like a boozy birthday party with poetry (January 25th, if you were wondering, is Burns’s birthday). My friend Emily, having brought a fine single malt, performed another wondrous service, reciting “The Mouse” with an amazing Scots burr. It was a fine evening. I recommend hosting one such gathering yourself to keep off the winter chill. Here are the steps:

1. Make some food and buy a bottle of Scotch.
2. Invite your friends to bring a bottle of Scotch over.
3. Eat, drink, read Burns, and assign designated drivers. (Be safe and make good choices, as my college roommate’s mother liked to say.)

Now that I’ve assured you that I, like Ron Swanson, enjoy scotch, let me tell you that I also love the subjunctive, fast becoming a forgotten mood in English. If there’s a poet who loves the subjunctive, that poet is Robert Burns.

Here’s Burn’s “O were my Love yon Lilack fair”:

O were my Love yon Lilack fair,
Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring;
And I, a bird to shelter there,
When wearied on my little wing.

How I wad mourn, when it was torn
By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!
But I was sing on wanton wing,
When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.

[O gin my love were yon red rose,
That grows upon the castle wa’!
And I mysel’ a drap o’ dew,
Into her bonnie breast to fa’!

Oh, there beyond expression blesst
I’d feast on beauty a’ the night;
Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest,
Till fley’d awa by Phebus’ light!]

In other words, sic transit gloria mundi, but isn’t it something in the meantime?