As I write this, the first daffodil buds have burst and yellow floods the garden. Welcome as daffodils are as a sign of advancing spring, I’m no great fan of many of the cultivated varieties we have today – those bred for drama rather than subtlety. Much kinder on the eye is the native British daffodil, beloved of the Welsh and immortalised in Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal where she recorded her walk to Ullswater in 1802, and then by her brother, whose verse I learned at school, and remember some of today.
William Wordsworth wrote about nature, not to say anything particularly profound about it, but to illuminate the human condition, and his poem Daffodils is about the importance to us of time spent in the natural world, and the fulfilment that memories of this can bring. Wordsworth wrote three poems about another native spring flower that blooms largely unbidden and often unremarked, even in gardens. An early source of nectar, it reacts to wind and rain by closing its petals, but as it ages it loses this ability to protect itself. Unlike humans, however, it is spared this knowledge of change and decay and the temptation to remember and regret.
The Lesser Celandine
There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!
When hailstones have been falling, swarm on swarm,
Or blasts the green field and the trees distressed,
Oft have I seen it muffled up from harm,
In close self-shelter, like a Thing at rest.
But lately, one rough day, this Flower I passed,
And recognized it, though an altered form,
Now standing forth an offering to the blast,
And buffeted at will by rain and storm.
I stopped, and said, with inly-muttered voice,
It doth not love the shower, nor seek the cold:
This neither is its courage nor its choice,
But its necessity in being old.
The sunshine may not cheer it, nor the dew;
It cannot help itself in its decay;
Stiff in its members, withered, changed of hue.
And, in my spleen, I smiled that it was grey.
To be a Prodigal’s Favourite – then, worse truth,
A Miser’s Pensioner – behold our lot!
O Man, that from thy fair and shining youth
Age might but take the things Youth needed not!