Saturday, March 20, 2010


Yesterday, the sun came to The Mountain here at Sewanee, and I spent the day outdoors raking twigs in the front yard, which is really a sea of moss and dead grass. While raking, I spied one lonely yellow daffodil in the woods adjoining the yard and walked over for a closer look–a cluster of flowers bore buds that were near bursting through, and I anticipated them opening in a week or so. However, I looked out of my study window this morning and saw the happy faces on at least ten plants. Later, we went over for a visit with our friend, Anne Boykin, and saw her front yard thick with daffodils that reflected the welcome sunlight.

The sight of these wonderful spring flowers brought to mind the poet William Wordsworth’s lines: “I wandered lonely as a cloud/that floats on high o’er vales and hills/when all at once I saw a crowd,/ a host of golden daffodils.” These golden blooms announce the coming of Easter, a time of resurrection and rebirth in the Christian world, and in many places in the U.S., daffodil festivals are held to celebrate the advent of spring.

Daffodil is a common English name derived from the botanical genus name Narcissus. The ancient Greeks created a legend about this flower in which a vain youth died after he became so enamored of his own reflection that he couldn’t leave the pool and died of starvation and thirst at the edge of the water. The gods turned his remains into the lovely flower, and that tale has persisted since antiquity. The legend became a nomenclature in contemporary psychology; a person who is labeled narcissistic is one who epitomizes self-absorption and self-centeredness. When I see the glorious daffodils every spring, I try to discount the legends and nomenclatures associated with these plants.

We’re warned to beware of the toxicity in daffodil leaves, as all varieties of Narcissus contain the alkaloid poison, lycorine. Last year, school children in Suffolk England became sick after they included a daffodil bulb for zest in a soup they were making in cooking class. The bulb resembles an onion and could be confused with those edible bulbs. However, good press about daffodils tout that Japanese medical practitioners once treated wounds with the narcissus bulb and wheat flour paste. Residents of China with a plot of daffodils that blooms during the Chinese New Year can expect wealth and good fortune throughout the coming year. I prefer the Chinese legend to the Greek version regarding Narcissus.

To a poet, the cluster of daffodils in the yard provides inspiration, and I’m with Wordsworth in extolling their trumpeting beauty, despite the bad press and legends attributed to this spring flower.

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