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Thursday, September 8, 2011

These Poems She Said

(White Narcissus by Pierre-Joseph Redouté,
1759-1840, French botanist and watercolorist)

There are two possible sources for the botanical name of this bulbous plant. The Roman historian Plutarch (circa 45-125) wrote that Narcissus comes from the Greek word narke or numbness; its ingestion was thought to cause palsy or paralysis.

Most gardeners, however, believe the legend that it is named after a nymph in Greek mythology who became fatally bewitched with his own beauty when he happened on his reflection in a pond. For this reason, the narcissus, however beautiful, does not really belong in a bouquet of blossoms for a beloved. In the language of flowers in the West, it represents vanity and egotism.

However, when called by its common English name of
Daffodil, the plant can express more pleasant meanings — as a Lent lily, the subject of Wordsworth’s beautiful poem “I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud,” and the image of the annual fundraising campaigns of the North American cancer societies.


These poems, these poems,
these poems, she said, are poems
with no love in them. These are the poems of a man
who would leave his wife and child because
they made noise in his study. These are the poems
of a man who would murder his mother to claim
the inheritance. These are the poems of a man
like Plato, she said, meaning something I did not
comprehend but which nevertheless
offended me. These are the poems of a man
who would rather sleep with himself than with women,
she said. These are the poems of a man
with eyes like a drawknife, with hands like a pickpocket’s
hands, woven of water and logic
and hunger, with no strand of love in them. These
poems are as heartless as birdsong, as unmeant
as elm leaves, which if they love, love only
the wide blue sky and the air and the idea
of elm leaves. Self-love is an ending, she said,
and not a beginning. Love means love
of the thing sung, not of the song or the singing.
These poems, she said. . . .
You are, he said,
That is not love, she said rightly.

~ Robert Bringhurst, born in 1946, Canadian poet, translator of the epic myths of the Haida, indigenous people of west-coast Canada and Alaska, and writer of a most informative book on the art and technique of designing the printed page, The Elements of Typographic Style

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