March has arrived and it’s at this time we can start to pack another winter away into the past and spring forth into spring with its sunnier, lighter and brighter days. It puts a spring into your step just thinking about it, even if it isn’t quite warm enough to shed those winter woollies quite yet – then again, you can’t put a definite date on nature’s change in season (although it would be nice).
Each year, there are certain markers that inform us that spring is approaching. There are the partly self-imposed rituals: the infamous ‘spring cleans’ (though clearly cleaning is not merely a once-annual undertaking) and simple but significant changes in habit; the almost indescribable but immediately recognisable feeling of it in the air. But the most commonly denoted signs of spring are the things we see around us as we glance out of the window or glimpse as we take even the briefest of walks outside. The blank canvas of winter with its overruling shades of grey and off white is splashed with enlivening hues of green and blue, and a whole kaleidoscope of colour is introduced with the blooming of an array of beautiful flowers. There’s something uniquely cheering about seeing the first buds of spring emerge from the ground after a frosty and largely flower-free winter; a sign that the time to hibernate and hide away is coming to an end. While waiting for a bus last week on a blindingly sunny St David’s Day morning, I spied my first flowers of the season bursting amongst the grass – somewhat coincidently, a neat row of daffodils. Still budding up, they’re not quite at the stage of resembling Wordsworth’s golden hosts just yet but those yellow petals provide enough sunshine to be getting on with for the time being.
I’ve always appreciated the appearance of those first fresh spring flowers, but I can’t say I’ve ever thought about the lifespan, or indeed the character, of them in that much detail. Other than qualified botanists, who can really say they have? Well, Henry King did. His contemplation upon a bunch of humble, apparently fragile little buds gives a whole new perspective on things we take simply as lovely but predominately decorative parts of the natural landscape. First off, they’re not as fragile as we might think. When you do consider it, they really are quite hardy – surfacing against the elements, shivering in the still cool air…and all to survive for not that long. Lilies, tulips and chrysanthemums aren’t typically listed amongst other symbols of solidity such as rocks or steel but this makes us think twice. Perhaps it’s not that much of a leap; after all, many things that are pretty on the surface can conceal a hidden core of strength. Certainly something to consider and contemplate the next time you gaze upon a new bloom…
A Contemplation upon Flowers
Brave flowers—that I could gallant it like you,
And be as little vain!
You come abroad, and make a harmless show,
And to your beds of earth again.
You are not proud: you know your birth:
For your embroider’d garments are from earth.
You do obey your months and times, but I
Would have it ever Spring:
My fate would know no Winter, never die,
Nor think of such a thing.
O that I could my bed of earth but view
And smile, and look as cheerfully as you!
O teach me to see Death and not to fear,
But rather to take truce!
How often have I seen you at a bier,
And there look fresh and spruce!
You fragrant flowers! then teach me, that my breath
Like yours may sweeten and perfume my death.
Henry King, Bishop of Chichester (1592-1669)