The Romance of Nature; or, The Flower-Seasons Illustrated/Spring
When proud-pied April dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing.
Winter's wrath begins to quell,
And pleasaunt spring appeareth:
The grasse now ginnes to be refresht,
The swallowe peepes out of her nest,
And clowdie welkin cleareth.
SPRING, AND SPRING FLOWERS.
——April with his showres sote,
The droughte of March hath pierced to the rote,
And bathed every veine in swiche licour,
Of whiche vertue engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eke with his sote brethe
Enspired hath in every holt and hethe
The tendre croppes, and the yonge Sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe course yronne,
And smale foules maken melodie
That slepen alle night with open eye.
And you, soft winds, so clear,
That dance upon the leaves, and make them sing
Gentle love-lays to the Spring,
Gilding all the vales below
With your verdure as ye blow;
Raise these forms from under ground,
With a soft and happy sound.
Beaumont and Fletcher.
Come, thou beautiful blossoming Spring,
And to me thy loveliest flow'rets bring;—
Come! let their bright leaves encircle thy brow,
And wave 'midst thy glittering tresses now;
Oh, linger no more 'neath the fleecy veil
Flung o'er thee by Winters congealing gale,
But gently breathe on the snowy shroud,
And 'twill vanish in tears like a summer cloud,
As grieved to see thee its whiteness excel
In the virgin hue of the snowdrops bell.
Then gaze upon earth with thine azure eyes,
And bid their emblem, the violet, rise
On the green-wood bank, where the primrose pale
Looks up, to welcome the nightingale;
And the regal crocus, in purple and gold,
Bursts into life from its leafy fold.
Come—we are weary of wind and storm;
Gladden our hearts with thy fairy form;—
Paint the first daisy's "wee crimson tip,"
Like the roseate hue of a maiden's lip:
And blest childhood s darling, the buttercup,
With bright rays gild, as its flowers glance up;
Let the hyacinth wave in the scented breeze,
And the May-buds peep on the hawthorn trees,
And the orchards dress in their gayest gear,—
'Tis the holiday-time of the circling year:
And bid the birds sing on each branch and spray,
While the gay flowers dance in the genial ray.
Merry and glad will the bright earth be
When Winter retreats, and thou art free,
Floating around us on fragrant wing,
And gemmed with soft dew-drops—thou fair young Spring!
FRIENDS IN WINTER.
THE SNOW-DROP, CROCUS, AND ROBIN RED-BREAST.
Hark, hark! with what a pretty throat
Poor Robin Red Breast tones his note.
John Lylie, 1553.
Cold blew the wintry wind, as if it swept
O'er frozen worlds, and caught their iciness:—
The small birds, hopping 'mong the leafless twigs,
Chirped cheerily as I around me flung
Their wonted portion of my morning's meal;
And, leader of them all, the Robin, tame
And free, came warbling and hopping on,
Nearer and nearer yet; his bright black eye
Looking askance upon the scattered food,
And his tail frisking, as he skipped about,
Singing his glad good-morrow.
I do love
That fearless bird—all the long winter through,
'Midst snow, and frost, and bitter cold he came,
Greeting me daily with his rich, sweet voice,
Nor e'er went unremembered.
The poet's Nightingale, the Red-breast holds
A place in my esteem,—for she seems coy,
Distant, capricious—and commands you forth
To listen and admire her, in her pride
Of conscious excellence; like beauty, vain,
And claiming such our homage as her right:—
While my own merry Robin comes to cheer
Our gloomy winter with his lively song;
He comes to us, and, perched on twig or gate,
Or on the chimney top, or window sill,
Sits warbling sweetly on his welcome lay.
The rose is for the nightingale,
The heather for the lark;
But the holly greets the red-breast
'Mid winter drear and dark;
And the snow-drop, wakened by his song,
Peeps tremblingly forth,
From her bed of cold still slumber,
To gaze upon the earth.
For the merry voice above her
Seemed a herald of the Spring,
As o'er the sleeping flowers
Blithe robin came to sing—
"Up, up! my lady snow-drop,
No longer lie in bed,
But dance unto my melody
And wave your graceful head."
The bulbul wooes the red, red rose,
The lark the heathery dell;
But the robin has the holly tree
And the snow-drop's virgin bell.
The snow-drop timidly looked out,
But all was dim and drear,
Save robin's merry song, that sought
Her loneliness to cheer.
And presently the crocus heard
Their greeting, and awoke,
And donned with care her golden robe
And em'rald-coloured cloak;
And, springing from her russet shroud,
Stepped forth to meet the sun,
Who broke the clouds with one bright glance,
And his jocund race begun.
The crocus brought her sisters, too,
The purple, pied, and white;
And the red-breast warbled merrily
Above the flowerets bright.
Oh! the nightingale may love the rose,
The lark the summer's heather;
But the robin's consort-flow'rs come
And brave the wintry weather.
THE FAIRIES' FIRE.
The flowers, which cold in prison kept,
Now laugh the frost to scorn,
Richard Edwards, 1523.
See, where the first pale sunbeams of the year
Fall faintly, fearfully, upon the snow,
That rests in wreathed flakes on every twig,
Trained with neat care around the window-frame.
So icy cold is every thing around,
That even sunshine trembles to alight,
Lest it be frozen too.
Ha! are they out?
My summer friends, the fairies? Surely not;
Yet who but they have lit these tiny fires,
That gleam and glow amid the wintry scene?
Yes, here they are, aweary of the storms,
And wrecking winds, and pinching frosts, that keep
Within their darksome prison-house of earth
The gay and spendthrift flowers; here they are,
Lighting their ruddy beacons at the sun
To melt away the snow. See, how it falls
In drops of crystal from the glowing spray,
Wreathed with deep crimson buds—the fairy fires.
And now that there is something bright on earth,
The clouds are driven from the clear blue sky,
And heaven is bright'ning too. Serene and calm,
The very air is hushed into repose,
That not a breath may ruffle the young flowers,
Now gently waking into life and light.
TO A NARCISSUS IN JANUARY.
How beautiful art thou, my winter Flower!
Lifting with graceful pride thy stately head,
Heavy with its rich crown of pearl and gold:—
Thou sheddest on the air such soft perfume,
That I could deem 'twas incense, gently flung
Before thy beauty's shrine by some fair sprite
Enamoured of thy maiden loveliness.
The hyacinth and violet entwined
Have scarce so sweet an odour.
Thanks, my Flower,
My gentle, kind companion—for to me
Thy silence is most eloquent:—I love
Thy quiet steadfast gaze, as, o'er my desk,
The long day through thou hast seemed watching me;
And ever and anon, in glancing up,
I still have met thy calm unchanging look,
Reminding me, in silence, of the friend
Whose gift thou wert to me. Yet thou wert then
A mere unsightly root. Oh! how I watched,
With almost childish eagerness, thy growth,
And tended thee with more than common care.
How rich is my reward! My gentle Flower,
I fain would never lose thee; but thou'lt die—
Droop—wither—pass away like all fair things—
Like all I ever loved.
But yet, not lost,
Not lost, my beautiful; thou wilt but hide
Thy quiet loveliness while Summer's sun
Calls forth the courtiers of his glittering train
To revel in their gay and festal 'tire:
When Autumn dims them, and when winter chills,
Thou wilt lay by thy cloak of russet brown,
And spring up bright and beautiful once more.
So when thy fragrance breaths its faint perfume,
And pallid droop thy petals round the stem,
I will but think thy life one day has spent,
And bid thee, sweet, sleep till we meet again.
TO A VIOLET,
GATHERED ON CHRISTMAS DAY.
Sweet violets, Love's paradise, that spread
Your gracious odours, which you couched beare
Within your paly faces,
Upon the gentle wing of some calm-breathing wind
That plays amidst the plain;
If, by the favour of propitious stars, you gain
Such grace as in my lady's bosom place to find,
Be proud to touch those places.
Sir Walter Raleigh.
On old Hyem's chin and icy crown,
A fragrant chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set.
Fair child of the Spring,
Loved gem of the year,
Why thy fragrance fling
Amid winter drear?
Each kindred flower hath veiled her head,
E'en the Autumn daisy is closed and dead.
Dost come because Summer's bright laughing sky
Can no more with thy sapphire radiance vie?
Nor when breathing thy scent through the leafless vale,
No roses their rival perfumes exhale?
And com'st thou, loved flower, mine eyes to greet,
Because thou art alone, the fair—the sweet?
I know thou art oft
Passed carelessly by,
And the hue so soft
Of thine azure eye
Gleams unseen, unsought, in its leafy bower,
While the heartless prefer some statelier flower
That they eagerly cull, and, when faded, fling
Away with rude hand, as a worthless thing.
Not such is thy fate: not thy beauty's gift
Alone bids thee from thy bower be reft;
Not thy half-closing, dewy, and deep blue eye;
But the charm that doth not with beauty die.
'Tis thy mild, soft fragrance makes thee so dear,
Thou loveliest gem of the floral year!
And with joy, sweet flower,
I welcome thee here,
While dark clouds lour,
And winds sound drear.
The Christmas wreath hath entwined my brow,
But the Violet smiles in that chaplet now.
Sweet wanderer!—gladly I greet thy form
'Mid the loud shrill blast and the wintry storm.
Thou callest up visions of happier times—
Thou tellest of sunnier southern climes—
Thou paintest bright pictures to memory's eye,
Of bliss-fraught hours for ever gone by—
Thou speak'st of the distant—the lost—the dear;
Thine azure is dimmed by a grief-fraught tear;
Yet I will not be sad, for thou tellest to me
Of returning Spring and returning glee.
THE MAY MORN BOUQUET.
Come let us goe, while we are in our prime,
And take the harmless follie of the time.
There's not a budding boy or girle, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
A deale of youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
Some have dispacht their cakes and creame,
Before that we have left to dreame;
And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth;
Many a green gown has been given,
Many a kiss, both odde and even;
Many a glance too has been sent,
From out the eye, Love's firmament.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.
Oh! the morn is bright, the sky is blue,
The sun is shining cheery;
And the may-pole's dressed—but where are you,
My Lubin—where's my dearie?
I've put on all my finest things,
(This kerchief looks so natty!)
My ears have now as handsome rings
As those Will bought for Patty.
I wonder who'll be chosen queen,
I know who'd like to play it;
There's none so tall as me, I ween,
Nor prettier—tho' I say it.
And Lubin always says I tread
As stately as a Venus,
When I've one milk-pail on my head,
And another's held between us.
[Enter Lubin., &c.
'Long looked for, come at last,' they say—
I've wanted you for hours;
And now you have not a bouquet!
Here, take some garden-flowers.
"No, Dora, none of these for me,
To you I'll leave the rose,
And violets, too—for both, I see,
Your cheek and eye disclose.
And Marion may mate her pale
And fair face with the lily;
And jealous Nancy cannot fail
To choose the daffodilly.
The honeysuckle give to Kate,
So kindly and caressing;
Whoever wins her for a mate,
Will win both wealth and blessing.
Narcissus take to Roland Hay,
The dandy of our village;
Whose Sunday suit walks every day,
Far from his farm and tillage.
Yon bramble fling to Rachel Rann,
So crabby and so spiteful;
The mignionette's for little Fan,
Both darlings—they're delightful.
Sweet William flies to blushing Sue,
For oh! she loves him dearly;
The scarlet poppy, Meg, to you,
Your lip's as red, or nearly."
The green is swept—the fiddler's come,
And lads, to lasses glancing
(While flourishes sound on the drum),
Are eager to be dancing.
And Lubin now, without remorse,
His bright blue vest's adorning
With a gay bunch of yellow gorse;
While all the maids are scorning
Such "trumpery and queer" bouquet,
'Till Lubin begged they'd hear him
In its defence:—and soon the gay
Young faces gather'd near him.
Fair maidens, I'll sing you a song;
I'll tell you the bonny wild flower,
Whose blossoms so yellow, and branches so long,
O'er moor and o'er rough rocky mountain are flung,
Far away from trim garden and bower.
It clings to the crag, and it clothes the wild hill;
It stands sturdily breasting the storm,
When the loud-voiced winds sing so drearily shrill,
And the snow-flakes in eddies fall silent and still,
And the shepherd can scarce wrap him warm.
'Tis the bonny bright gorse, that gleams cheerily forth,
Like sunlight e'er lingering here,
In the verdure of Spring, and when Summer on earth
Has called all the fairest of blossoms to birth,
As a crown for the noon of the year.
When the "fall of the leaf" in the forest is heard,
And the naked boughs stretch through the air;
And when rustling under each foot that is stirred,
The crisp leaves are crushing;—and when the coy bird
At your door pecks the crumbs scatter'd there;
Even then blooms the gorse—not a month of them all
But finds this true friend on his way;
And does not its cheering presence recall
An old proverb?—sweet Dora, why suddenly fall
Thy blue eyes? and why turn thus away?
I'll never rob thee of a lily nor rose,
While the bonny bright gorse may be mine;
For that flower is a charter to love while it blows,
And entitles thy Lubin, wherever it grows,
To a kiss from those sweet lips of thine.
Nay, pout not, nor frown—though you thus prove the flower
E'en more emblematical yet—
For the golden bud lives in a weapon-girt bower,
All around and about her are guardians of power,
And countless spears valiantly set.
But as, when resolved the bright blossom to gain,
We value not spear head nor lance;
So when Lubin a kiss craves, sweet Dora in vain
May frown a refusal. Come, now to the train—
To the flaunting May-pole and the dance!
LOVERS AND LILIES.
The Naiad, like lily of the vale,
Whom youth makes so fair, and passion so pale,
That the light of her tremulous bells is seen
Thro' their pavilions of tender green.
Then seek the bank where flowering elders crowd,
Where scatter'd wild the lily of the vale
Her balmy essence breathes.
Come, Lady, mine, into the woods, for there
The sweet May lilies their young beauty show,
Bending their slender stems, whose pearly bells,
Like cups o'er-filled with perfume, shed it forth,
Lading the fragrant air.
Come, Love, mine,
And I will show thee how the lilies fair
Are guardian'd by their tall and shelt'ring leaves,
Who brave themselves the rude and boisterous wind
To shield from every harm the fair things wrapped
Safe by their careful love.
I'll tell thee then,
That thou, e'en like the lily bell, should'st be
Guarded by fond and all-enduring love;
That thou, far fairer than a flower, should'st hide
From too familiar sight thy beauty's wealth,
And give it unto one whose long-tried heart
May claim a prize so rich.
Smile, Lady, mine,
And though thou art so passing fair, yet deign
To imitate the lily-bells—and I
Will shelter thee from every unkind breath,
And fold thee close in true and faithful love,
E'en as those leaves the flowers.
PANSIES; OR LOVE IN IDLENESS.
|Oberon.||My gentle Puck, come hither: thou remember'st|
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
|Oberon.||That very time I saw, (but thou could'st not)|
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
|Ophelia.||There's Rosemary—that's for remembrance; 'pray you, love, re-|
member: and there is Pansies, that's for thoughts.
|Laertes.||A document in madness— thoughts and remembrance fitted.
Most strangely true and beautiful hath grown
The fancy of that line—Pansies for thoughts;
And thought is changeful ever. So are now
The fair Ophelia's token flowers more fit
To be its emblems; for their varying hues,
Like thoughts, diversified with bright, and deep,
And gay, and sombre tints, mirror the mind
In every changeful mood. Some robe them still
In milk-white garb; and these are maiden thoughts.
Then, "purpled with Loves wound," they're pencilled o'er
With richer beauty; and fantastic oft,
And fleeting, too, are these love-marks, I ween.
Some prank them bravely out in courtier garb,
Trimming with gold their purple. Some, methinks,
Their quiet humble-coloured heads bend down,
Like gentle, modest beings, doomed to bear
Much of earth's grief, subduing their young hearts
Into a holy calm. Others again,
With hues abruptly, almost harshly mixed,
Are like the meteor-minded sons of earth,
With whom wild genius dwells—brilliant and strange;—
In them e'en error oft times glorious shows.
Others, like hoarding misers, deep within
Hide a rich golden treasure, guarded round
With many a blackened line; and all the rest
Sombre and dusk appears;—they would not seem
To have such wealth, and so go dimly clad.
Oh! are not Pansies emblems meet for thoughts?
The pure, the chequer'd—gay and deep by turns;
A hue for every mood the bright things wear
In their soft velvet coats—
And let his name,
Who thus entwined them in immortal song,
Be ever honoured when they meet our gaze;
And bring, as though 'twere writ upon their leaves,
All that most graceful fairy scene, where Puck,
His elvish ears attentive, learns the tale
Of Oberon's syren-song—and how the shaft
Of armed Cupid dyed this "western flower,"
Which maidens now call "love in idleness."
SPRING MEMORIES AND MUSINGS.
I have presented my graphic portraits of Spring's fair children to my readers, with little illustration save my own fanciful, and, it may be, feebly descriptive poems; but as several of the selected Flowers, and others (which, though not represented in the illustrative groups, are famed gems), have poetic fables connected with them, I shall now give a few brief memoirs of familiar favourites, illustrating and enlivening my dull prose with extracts from our great old Poets.
In suffering my own productions to take precedence of these jewels, drawn from the mines of poetic wealth bequeathed to us by our ancient Bards, I am not actuated by vanity, but by a very different feeling—that of policy; believing that my humble lays would be far more graciously received by my readers, before the memory of favourite passages on like subjects had been refreshed by my extract-gleanings; well knowing, how
As in a theatre, the eyes of men,
After a well-graced actor leaves the stage,
Are idly bent on him that enters next,
Thinking his prattle to be tedious.
There are few persons to whom the return of Spring is not a source of delight, Even to the denizens of the dim and noisy town its approach is welcome, as bringing a promise of clean streets and fair weather, and offering the chance of an occasional peep of blue sky between the tall houses. But to the dwellers in pleasant country places, where the hills and dales are Nature's own—where the wide heaven is unsmirched by smoke, and the air is pure and bright, and fragrant with the springing Flowers and the fresh earth; where the birds are flitting gaily around, and trilling forth songs of liberty and love;—to all whose lives may happily be passed among such scenes, how glorious is the Spring-time!
How exhilirating are the first few warmer days—how joyously we fling aside portions of our cumbrous winter-walking attire, to ramble along "by hedge-row elms and hillocks green;" and, after the first small buds have burst forth on the branches, how anxiously we watch their growth, and fancy we may see the leaves expanding in the genial sunshine, and clothing the skeleton forms of winter with robes of young vernal beauty. The general hue of the evergreens, which have so kindly solaced us during the wintry months, seem to acquire a more sombre tinge, as the vivid yellow green of the other trees now quite eclipses their beauty, although, when the young shoots of firs and cedars are put forth, the alternation of colour in them is very striking.
The birds are now busy, too, and musically clamorous; hundreds of them are warbling, and chirping, and chattering at once, yet in their mingled voices we hear no discord. It is all harmony—the music of nature. I often listen to the happy creatures, singing so merrily in their greenwood haunts, and flitting airily along in search of materials for their nests, those wonderful little things! or looking for food for the young callow brood within; and I do marvel how any being can be so wantonly cruel, how any spirit can be so blind to the glory and happiness of nature, as to ensnare or destroy creatures so harmless, so glad, so beautiful, as birds.
The fathers of English poetry have so landed this, their favourite season, in undying verse, that of all poetical subjects, "Spring" has perhaps the least chance of receiving any thing like original treatment at the hands of their descendants, who must not only shrink to stars of small magnitude indeed beside the greater luminaries, but be content to appear, for the most part, as shining only with reflected light.
The Bards of old looked on nature with the eye of the naturalist, the fancy of the poet, and the grace of the painter. The simplest flower, or the most trivial incident, is described by the pencilling picture-like verse of Chaucer with a bright, clear, gleesome expression, only equalled in its peculiar beauty by his simple, impressive, and touching pathos. He revelled in the merry Spring-time, and many are the bright and sparkling descriptions of reviving nature which he has left us, telling how
The shoures sote of rain descended soft
Causing the ground fele timis and oft,
Up for to give many an wholesome air;
And every plain was y-clothed faire
With newe grene; and makith smale floures
To springen here and there in felde and mede,—
So very gode and wholesom be the shoures,
That they renewin that was olde and dede
In winter time; and out of every sede
Springith the herbe; so that every wight
Of this season wexith richt glad and light.
Spenser, in his "Cantos of Mutability," describes a procession of the seasons and months, from which I select the following. The attributes of each are very fancifully and appropriately marshalled forth.
So forth issued the seasons of the yeare,
First, lusty Spring, all dight in leaves of floures,
That freshly budded, and new bloosmes did beare,
In which a thousand birds had built their bowres,
That swetely sung to call forth paramoures;
And in his hand a iavelin he did beare,
And on his head, (as fit for warlike stoures,)
A guilt engraven morion he did weare,
That as some did him love, so others did him feare.
These marching softly, all in order went,
And after them the months all riding came;
First, sturdy March, with brows full sternly bent,
And armed strongly, rode upon a ram,
The same which over Hellespontus swam.
Yet in his hand a spade he also hent;
And in a bag all sorts of seeds y-same
Which on the earth he strewed as he went.
Next came fresh April, full of lustyhed,
And wanton as a kid whose horne new buds;
Upon a bull he rode, the same which led
Europa floating thro' th' Argolick fluds:
His homes were gilden all with golden studs,
And garnished with garlonds goodly dight
Of all the fairest flowres and freshest buds
Which th' earth brings forth; and wet he seemed in sight
With waves, thro' which he waded, for his Love's delight.
Then came faire May, the fayrest Mayde on ground
Deckt with all dainties of her season's pryde,
And throwing flowres out of her lap around:
Upon two brethren's shoulders she did ride,
The twinnes of Leda; which, on eyther side,
Supported her like to their soveraine queene:
Lord! how all creatures laught when her they spide,
And leapt and daunced as they had ravisht beene!
And Cupid self about her fluttred all in greene.
These alegorical stanzas are quite in the "Faëry Queen" spirit. In that great poem Spenser displays infinite grandeur, loftiness, and luxuriant imagery; but when we peruse or listen to it, we are no longer in the world of reality—the world of Chaucer; we are at once witched away to Faëry Land, where nature is arrayed in such gorgeous hues, that, much as the imagination may be fascinated and dazzled by the splendid dreams before us, we cannot walk in fancy side by side with the poet through his maze of enchantment, as we may, and do, with the poets of this world, our cheerful, simple-minded Chaucer especially, whose flowers, and trees, and arbours, and nightingales, are realities that seem to rise in social companionship around us, while listening to his truth-invested verse.
Spenser's descriptions in the Faëry Queen are grand and luxurious pictures, at which we gaze afar off, and wonder and admire, and gaze again; and by these he is chiefly known. But it is in his pastoral poems, his "Shepheard's Calendar," "Colin Clout," "Hymmes of Beauty," "Muiopotmos," "Prothalamion," and "Epithalamion," his many sweet sonnets, and his "Ruines of Time," that Spenser's truly natural poetry is found; and it is most true and beautiful. "Poets paint with the pen" said one of the Caracci; and plentifully scattered through the above mentioned poems are pictures of pure sylvan loveliness that the pencil of Claude himself could not exceed. We might almost fancy they were endowed with some spell of enchantment, they have such a delightfully calm, happy effect on the mind engaged in their contemplation.
We will now
"Pursue his footing light
Through the wide woods and groves, with greene leaves dight."
The following exquisite stanzas are in his "Virgil's Gnat:"
The verie nature of the place, resounding
With gentle murmure of the breathing ayre,
A pleasaunt bowre with all delight abounding
In the freshe shadowe did for them prepayre,
To rest their limbs, with wearines redounding.
For first the high palme-trees, with braunches faire,
Out of the lowly vallies did arise,
And high shoote up their heades into the skyes.
Here also grew the rougher-rinded Pine,
The great Argoan ship's brave ornament,
Whom golden Fleece did make an heavenly signe;
Which coveting, with his high top's extent,
To make the mountaines touch the starres divine,
Decks all the forest with embellishment;
And the black Holme that loves the watrie vale;
And the sweete Cypresse, signe of deadly bale.
Emongst the rest the clambring Yvie grew,
Knitting his wanton armes with grasping hold,
Least that the Poplar happely should rew
Her brother's strokes, whose boughes she doth enfold
With her lythe twigs, till they the top survew,
And paint with pallid greene her buds of gold.
Next did the Myrtle tree to her approach,
Not yet unmindful of her old reproach.
But the small birds in their wide boughs embowring,
Chaunted their sundrie tunes with sweete consent;
And under them a silver spring forth powring
His trickling streames, a gentle murmure sent;
Thereto the frogs, bred in the slimie scouring
Of the moyst moores, their iarring voyces bent;
And shrill grashoppers chirped them around:
All which the ayrie Echo did resound.
In this so pleasaunt place the Shepheard's flocke
Lay everie where, their wearie limbs to rest,
On everie bush, and everie hollow rocke,
Where breathe on them the whistling wind mote best;
The whiles the Shepheard self, tending his stocke,
Sate by the fountaine side, in shade to rest,
Where gentle slumbring sleep oppressed him
Displaid on ground, and seized everie lim.
The following poem by Robert Herrick, entitled "Farewell Frost; or, Welcome Spring," is very descriptive, though not remarkable for the peculiar melody of sound usually found in his short but sweet writings.
Fled are the frosts, and now the fields appeare
Recloth'd in freshe and verdant diaper;
Thawed are the snowes, and now the lusty spring
Gives to each mead a neat enameling;
The palmes put forth their gemmes, and every tree
Now swaggers in her leavy gallantry.
The while the Daulian minstrell sweetly sings,
With warbling notes, her Tyrrean sufferings,
What gentle winds respire! as if here
Never had been the northern plunderer,
To strip the trees and fields, to their distresse,
Leaving them in a pittied nakednesse.
And look how when a frantick storme doth teare
A stubborn oake or holme, long growing there,
But lul'd to calmnesse, then succeeds a breeze
That scarcely stirs the nodding leaves of trees;
So when this warre, which tempest-like doth spoil
Our salt, our corne, our honie, wine, and oil,
Falls to a temper, and doth mildly cast
His inconsiderate frenzie off at last,
The gentle dove may, when these turmoils cease,
Bring in her bill, once more, the branch of peace.
The changes from Winter to Spring, and from a time of war to that of peace, are here very happily compared. But in our Flower legends Herrick will be heard to greatest advantage; in grace, fancy, and the most melodious cadences of verse, he is unrivalled, either by old or modern writers. Yet while thus eulogising his really sweet poems, I ought, perhaps, to add, that these shine out but as straggling stars in a clouded sky; and that in the entire collection of his works there is far more to pass over than to pause and admire; a selection of Herrick's poems would form so valuable and delightful a volume, I much wonder such a work has not yet been published.
The gallant and graceful Earl Surrey, the lover of the fair Geraldine, has dedicated one of his sweetest sonnets to "A Description of Spring, in which eche thing renews, save only the lover."
The soote season, that bud and bloome forthe brings,
With grene hath clad the hill, and eke the vale;
The nightingall, with fethers new, she sings,
The turtle to her mate hath told her tale.
Somer is come; for every spray now springs,
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale,
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings,
The fishes flete with new repayred scale.
The adder all her slough away she flings
The swallow swift pursueth the flies smale,
The busy bee, her honey now she mings,
Winter is worne, that was the floure's bale;
And thus I see among these pleasant thynges
Eche care decays, and yet my sorrow sprynges.
Of all the attributes of Spring, Flowers take the precedence; the very mention of "the soote season" brings with it the thought of the "bud and bloom" that form its chiefest beauty, and ere
——— well aparelled April on the heel
Of limping Winter treads,
we are eagerly longing for the time, when
Daisies pied, and violets blue,
And lady smocks all silver white,
And cuckoo buds of yellow hue,
Do paint the meadows with delight.
How gracefully linked together in perfect poesy are the few sweet Spring Flowers which our divine Shakspeare represents the fair Perdita as wishing for to present to her guests—
For the flowers now, that, frighted, thou let'st fall
From Dis's waggon! Daffodils
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty. Violets, dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,
Or Cytherea's breath. Pale primroses,
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bright Phœbus in his strength; a malady
Most incident to maids. Bold oxlips, and
The crown-imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one.
Having culled most of Shakspeare's floral gems for introduction in other parts of the present volume, I will only select one or two more groups of flowers, and then pass on to the fables, &c., connected with those forming the illustrations of Spring.
Ben Jonson—"rare Ben Jonson"—has a most beautiful scene in "Pan's Anniversary," where all the flowers familiarly known are thus lightly yet richly grouped.
Strew, strew the glad and smiling ground
With every flower, yet not confound.
The primrose drop, the Spring's own spouse,
Bright day's eyes, and the lips of cows,
The garden star, the queen of May,
The rose, to crown the holyday.
Drop, drop your violets, change your hues,
Now red, now pale, as lover's use;
And in your death go out as well
As when you lived unto the smell:
That from your odour all may say
This is the shepherd's holyday.
Well done, my pretty ones—rain roses still,
Until the last be dropt; then hence, and fill
Your fragrant prickles for a second shower.
Bring corn-flags, tulips, and Adonis-flower,
Fair ox-eye, goldy-locks, and columbine,
Pinks, goulands, king-cups, and sweet sops-in-wine,
Blue hare-bells, pagles, pansies, calaminth,
Flower-gentle, and the fair-haired hyacinth,
Bring rich carnations, flower-de-luces, lilies,
The chequed and purple-ringed daffodillies,
Bright crown-imperial, kingspear, hollyhocks,
Sweet Venus'-navel, and soft lady-smocks,
Bring too some branches forth of Daphne's hair,
And gladdest myrtle for these posts to wear,
With spikenard weaved, and marjoram between,
And starred with yellow golds, and meadow's queen,
That when the altar, as it ought, is drest,
More odour comes not from the phoenix' nest,
The breath thereof Panchaia may envy,
The colours China, and the light the sky.
Ben Jonson, with most of the old poets, studiously preserved the sense of the name given to each flower: for instance, instead of daisy, a word which at first seems to mean nothing, he says "bright day's-eyes," the flower having received that name from its habit of closing up in rainy weather and at night. Besides "eye of the day," it was also named "marguerite," a pearl, under which title it is celebrated by Chaucer.
In Feverere, whan that it was colde,
Froste, snowe, haile, raine, hath dominacion,
With changable elementes, and windes manifolde,
Which hath of ground, flowre, herbe, jurisdicion,
For to dispose aftir their correcion;
And yet Aprillis, with his plesant showres,
Dissolveth the snow, and bringeth forth his flowres.
Of whose invencion lovirs may be glade,
For they bring in the Kalendis of Maie,
And they, with countenance demure, meke,
Owe worship to the lusty flowres alwaie.
And in special one called iye of the daie,
The daisie, or flowir white and rede,
And in Frenche called La belle Marguerite.
Chaucer's love of the daisy is most fully and beautifully expressed in the "Prologue to the Legende of goode Women," one of the many gems we find in his works. He describes his great fondness for study, and how he delights in reading his "olde bookes," for which he has such faith and credence that no sport nor game can entice him away from them,
Save certainly, whan that the month of Maie
Is comen, and that I hear the foules sing,
And that the floures ginnen for to spring,
Farewell my booke, and my devocion:
Now have I than eke this condicion,
That of all the floures in the mede
Than love I most these flowres white and rede,
Soch that men callen Daisies in our toun,
To hem I have so great affectioun,
As I sayd erst, whan comen is the Maie,
That in my bedde there daweth me no daie,
That I n'am up and walking in the mede
To see this floure ayenst the Sunne sprede;
Whan it up riseth early by the morrow,
That blissful sight softeneth all my sorrow.
So glad am I, whan that I have presence
Of it to done it alle reverence,
As she that is of alle floures the floure,
Fulfilled of all vertue and honoure,
And ever ylike faire, and fresh of hewe,
And ever I love it, and ever ylike newe,
And ever shall, till that mine herte die,
Alle sweare I not, of this I wool not lie.
He then tells how, at evening, he goes to watch,
As soon as ever the Sunne ginneth west
To seen this floure, how it will goe to rest,
For feare of night, so hateth she darknesse,
Her chere is plainly spred in the brightness
Of the Sunne, for there it woll unclose:
He then complains that he has neither rhyme nor prose "suffisaunt this floure to praise aright," and describes his eagerness to go forth into the fields before sunrise, to wait the "resurection" of the days-eye.
And doune on knees anon right I me sette,
And as I could, this freshe floure I grette,
Kneeling alway, till it unclosed was,
Upon the smale, softe, swete gras,
That was with floures swete embrouded all,
Of soch swetenesse, and soch odour all,
That for to speake of gomme, herbe or tree,
Comparison may not ymaked be,
For it surmounteth plainly all odoures,
And of the rich beaute of the floures:
And leaning on my elbow and my side
The longe day I shope me to abide,
For nothing els, and I shall not lie,
But for to looke upon the daisie,
That well by reason men it calle may,
The daisie, or else the iye of the day,
The Emprise, and floure of floures all,
I pray to God that faire mote she fall,
And all that loven floures for her sake:
Whan that the Sunne out of the south gan west,
And that this floure gan close, and gan to rest;
For darkness of the night, the which she dred,
Home to mine house full swiftly I me sped,
To gone to rest, and earely for to rise,
To seene this floure to sprede, as I devise.
The daisy has never received homage like Chaucer's; nor has any flower (Shakspeare's Love-in-idleness alone excepted) become so entirely associated with a poet's fame. How simply, and how lovingly he paints his affection for this darling of the year! Coleridge justly remarked, "how well we seem to know Chaucer;" and in these lovely descriptions of his early and late watchings of his favourite flower, how completely we seem to behold him, "kneeling alway, till it unclosed was;" and at sunset, when its leaves were again folded, we see him hastening home, that he may rise early and watch it again expand. A beautiful portrait of a gentle, happy, and truly poetic mind may be found in Chaucer's passages descriptive of his own habits and fancies; and yet, comparatively, his works are known to but a small portion of readers, and are but little appreciated, chiefly for want of the attention at first required to understand the varying accents and form the correct rhythm in reading them. His poems are so replete with beauties, and so thoroughly English in spirit, that they must, ere long, occupy that place among familiar favourites which they have so long in vain deserved.
Shakspeare very gracefully introduces the daisy in the description of Lucrece sleeping.
Without the bed her other fair hand was,
On the green coverlet; whose perfect white
Showed like an April daisy on the grass.
Her eyes, like marigolds, had sheathed their light,
And, canopied in darkness, sweetly lay,
Till they might open to adorn the day.
To our flower-loving Herrick I must be indebted for the last specimen of daisy eulogy which I shall quote here; it is a sweet melodious little fancy, and, as is usual in such compositions of his day, conveys a very elegant compliment to his mistress.
TO DAISIES, NOT TO SHUT SO SOON.
Shut not so soon; the dull-eyed night
Ha's not as yet begunne
To make a seizure on the light,
Or to seale up the sunne.
No marigolds yet closed are,
No shadowes greate appeare;
Nor doth the early shepheard's starre
Shine like a spangle here.
Stay but till my Julia close
Her life-begetting eye;
And let the whole world then dispose
It selfe to live or dye.
Among the poetic groups of Spring Flowers, culled from the rich parterre of Britain's noble and immortal Bards, I cannot omit the following exquisite description of the vernal season, by Gawain Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld. The epithets in it are often peculiarly happy; but to those of my readers who think Chaucer's language obscure, these truly beautiful lines will seem utterly unintelligible, even with the glossary appended.
And blissful blossoms in the bloomed sward
Submit their heads in the young sun's safe-guard:
Ivy-leaves rank overspread the Barmekyn wall;
The bloomed hawthorn clad his pykis all
Forth of fresh burgeons; the wine-grapis ying
Endlong the twistis did on trestles hing.
The locked buttons on the gemmed trees
leaves of nature's tapestries;
Soft grassy verdure, after balmy showers,
On curland stalkis smiland to their flowers.
them so many divers hue,
Some pers, some pale, some burnet, and some blue,
Some grey, some gules, some purpure, some sanguene,
Blanchet or brown, fauch-yellow many ane.
Some heavenly coloured, in celestial gré,
Some watry-hued, as the haw-waly sea;
And some depaint in freckles red and white,
Some bright as gold, with aureate leavis lite:
The daisie did unbraid her crownal smale,
And every flower un-lapped in the dale.
The flower-de-luce forth spread his heavenly hue,
Flower-damas, and columbo black and blue.
Sere downis smale on dandelion sprung,
The young green bloomed strawberry leaves among:
Gimp gilliflowers their own leaves un-shet;
Fresh primrose, and the purpure violet.
The rose-knobbis tetand forth their head,
Gan chip, and kyth their vernal lippis red;
Crisp scarlet leaves sheddand, baith at anes,
Cast fragrant smell amid from golden grains.
Heavenly lilies, with lockerand toppis white
Opened, and shew their crestis redemite
The balmy vapour from their silver croppis,
Distilland wholesome sugar'd honey-droppis,
So that ilk burgeon, scion, herb, or flower,
Wox all embalmed of the fresh liquoure,
And bathed did in dulce humoures flete,
Whereof the beeis wrought their honey sweet.
Leaving the old Bards, I shall now introduce one of the loveliest flower scenes ever painted by poet's pen, and which has few rivals, even among the bright and beautiful creations of its author. It is a dream of Spring Flowers, by Percy Shelley.
I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way,
Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring,
And gentle odours led my steps astray,
Mixed with a sound of waters murmuring
Along a shelving bank of turf, which lay
Under a copse, and hardly dared to fling
Its green arms round the bosom of the stream,
But kissed it, and then fled, as thou mightest in dream.
There grew pied wind-flowers and violets,
Daisies, those pearled Arcturi of the earth,
The constellated flower that never sets;
Faint oxlips; tender blue-bells, at whose birth
The sod scarce heaved; and that tall flower that wets
Its mother's face with heaven-collected tears,
When the low wind, its playmate's voice, it hears.
And in the warm hedge grew lush eglantine,
Green cow-bind, and the moonlight-coloured May,
And cherry blossoms, and white cups, whose wine
Was the bright dew yet drained not by the day;
And wild roses, and ivy serpentine,
With its dark buds and leaves wandering astray;
And flowers azure, black and streaked with gold,
Fairer than any wakened eyes behold.
We find Shelley, too, lavishing words of praise and fondness on the daisy. How exquisitely descriptive is the epithet "pearled Arcturi of the earth, the constellated flower that never sets;" the association of true and beautiful ideas is the happiest that can be conceived in so few words. The pearl-like whiteness of the flower; the name "Arcturi," from the star Arcturus, which is always visible to our hemisphere, as the daisy is ever in bloom; and the term "constellated flower," so beautifully realizing the starry groups in which they are seen clustering together, are ideas as truly as they are poetically emblematical of the subject.
Primroses and cowslips have ever been in high favour with the sovereigns of song. The Swedish name of the former, majnycklar, or the key of May, is very characteristic of the sudden arrival of Summer in high latitudes. The primrose comes, and, as if it unlocked the treasure-house of earth, all the other bright gifts of the season follow close upon it. In Beaumont and Fletcher's Bridal Song of Theseus and Hippolita, we find among "Natures children sweet,"
Primrose, first-born child of Ver,
Merry Spring-time's harbinger,
With her bells dim.
And Herrick celebrates their meek, young beauty in one of his most musical, melancholy strains:
TO PRIMROSES FILLED WITH MORNING DEW.
Why doe ye weep, sweet babes? can teares
Speak griefe in you,
Who were but borne
Just as the modest morn
Teemed her refreshing dew?
Alas! you have not known that shower
That marres a flower;
Nor felt th' unkind
Breath of a blasting wind:
Nor are ye worne with yeares,
Or warpt as we,
Who think it strange to see
Such pretty flowers, like to orphans young,
To speak by teares before ye have a tongue.
Speak, whimpering younglings, and make known
The reason why
Ye droop and weep,
Is it for want of sleep,
Or childish lullaby?
Or that ye have not seen as yet
Or broughte a kisse
From that sweetheart to this?
No, no, this sorrow shown
By your teares shed,
Wo'd have this lecture read;
That things of greatest, so of meanest worth,
Conceived with griefe are, and with tears brought forth
The cowslip bells are generally named by poets as the resort of fairies; Shakspeare's "dainty Ariel" sings—
Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
In a cowslip's bell I lie:
There I couch when owls do cry.
And the Fairy, talking to Puck, in the "Midsummer-night's Dream"—that "paradise of dainty devices"—says, in speaking of Titania—
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats' spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
Herrick alludes to the cowslip gatherers in his sweet verses
Ye have been fresh and green,
Ye have been filled with flowres,
And ye the walks have been
Where maids have spent their houres.
Ye have beheld how they
With wicker arks did come,
To kisse and beare away
The richer cowslips home.
Y'ave heard them sweetly sing,
And seen them in a round:
Each virgin, like a spring,
With honysuccles crown'd.
But now, we see none here,
Whose silverie feet did tread,
And with dishevell'd haire
Adorned this smoother mead.
Like unthrifts, having spent
Your stock, and needy grown,
Y'are left here to lament
Your poor estates alone.
Another lovely Spring Flower, which is very familiar to us, and often found in company with the primrose, is the blue-bell, or wild hyacinth,—scilla nutans. The soft delicate blue of the bells hanging gracefully from the tall stem, and its waving leaves of bright green, which grow in great profusion, render it conspicuously beautiful; nor is its odour unworthy of its appearance. I intended to introduce portraits of the primrose and blue-bell, grouped, among the illustrations of Spring; but having exceeded the number of plates, that drawing, among others, is omitted. It is remarkable that two flowers, so distinct from each other as the Spring blue-bell and the fragile harebell of Autumn, should be so frequently described as one and the same flower. No one thinks of mistaking a snowdrop for a lily, and yet these two blue-bells are more unlike.
Two more popular favourites among Spring's rainbowed children are the celandine and buttercup; and their bright golden faces tell us many a tale of infancy and happiness,—of the time "when daisies and buttercups gladdened our sight like treasures of silver and gold." There is the arum, too, with its curious sheaths, enfolding the singular spire of yellow, purple, or pink, which children call "cows and calves;" a title which my floral etymology has not yet enabled me to make any sense of: but I well remember the pleasure of seeking and gathering the plant; and now the sight of the arum's broad shining barbed leaves in a hedge or on a bank, is an irresistible attraction to peep for the well-known treasure. The modest "tender-hued wood-sorrel" gives to the lane its "neat enamelling," with its triple crimson-lined leaves and soft blossoms. And how delicately do the light blossoms of the wild strawberry gem the banks with their small silvery stars! while above them the hawthorn gently waves its branches in the soft breeze, enwreathed and loaded with clustering swarms of flowers,
Speaking their perfume to the tell-tale air,
Who, gently whispering, will gaily go,
And all around the fragrant message bear.
Come, let us rest this hawthorn-tree below,
And breathe its luscious fragrance ere it flies,
And watch the tiny petals as they fall,
Circling and winnowing down our sylvan hall,
Shook from the full-flowered spray by quiv'ring wing
Of some gay bird, up-rushing to the skies
Its wild out-pouring melody to sing,
Exulting in its joy.
The pink hawthorn is an elegant and brilliant ornament to the lawn or shrubbery, and forms a beautiful kind of raspberry-and-cream contrast to the white; but our affection is for the hedge-row hawthorn, the true "May," whose lavish wealth of flowers and fragrance in Spring adds to our lovely scenery a charm peculiarly English.
All our true poets love this generous wayside friend; Shakspeare, in Henry IV., says—
Gives not the hawthorn-bush a sweeter shade
To shepherds looking on their silly sheep
Than doth a rich embroider'd canopy
To kings, that fear their subjects' treachery?
Chaucer thus alludes to the good and pleasant old custom of going a Maying, in his "Court of Love:"
And forthe goeth alle the Courte, both moste and leste,
To fetch the flowirs freshe, and braunche and bloome,
And namely hawthome brought both page and groome,
With freshe garlantis partly blew and white.
Spenser makes frequent mention of this fragrant Spring flower, both in his "Faëry Queen," and his poems of this world. The allusion I think most appropriate and beautiful, is this opening dialogue of the fifth "Æglogue," in his "Shepheard's Calender:"—
|Palinode.||Is not thilke the mery moneth of May,|
When love lads maskee in fresh aray?
How falles it then, wee no merrier beene,
Ylike as others, girt in gawdy greene?
Our bloncket liveries bene all to sadde
For thilke same season, when all is ycladde
With pleasaunce; the ground with grasse, the woods
With greene leaves, the bushes with bloosming buds.
Youngthes folke now flocken in everie where
To gather May buskets and smelling brere;
And home they hasten the postes to dight,
And all the kirk pillours eare day-light,
With hawthorne-buds, and sweete eglantine,
And girlonds of roses, and soppes in wine.
Such merrimake holy Saints doth queme,
But wee here sitten as drownde in dreme.
|Piers.||For younkers, Palinode, such follies fitte,|
But wee tway bene men of elder witte.
|Palinode.||Sicker this morrow, no lenger agoe,|
I sawe a shole of shepheardes outgoe,
With singing and shouting, and iolly chere:
Before them yode a lustie tabrere,
That to the many a horn-pype playd,
Whereto they dauncen eche one with his mayd.
To see those folks make such iovysaunce,
Made my heart after the pype to daunce:
Tho to the greene wood they speeden hem all
To fetchen home May with their musicall;
And one they bringen in a royale throne,
Crowned as king; and his queene attone
Was Lady Flora, on whom did attend
A fayre flocke of faeries, and a fresh bend
Of lovely nymphes. O that I were there
To helpen the ladies their May-bush beare!
Though I have devoted so large a space to eulogies of the hawthorn, I cannot quit the subject without quoting a stanza from my graceful favourite, Herrick, also commemorating the ceremonies used in the merry olden-time on May-day. Much do I regret that such good and poetical festivities have become nearly obselete. Many of the sports and pastimes of our ancestors would now be unsuited to their more cultivated descendants; but such as bring us into close communion with Nature's loveliness and glory must, of necessity, be yet more highly enjoyed as our minds become more elevated and capable of comprehending, appreciating, and, above all, heartily feeling the delightful influence of the harmony and beauty of creation.
But let us hear Herrick.
TO CORINNA, GOING A MAYING.
Get up, get up, for shame, the blooming morne
Upon her wings presesents the god unshoroe.
See how Aurora throws her faire
Fresh-quilted colours through the aire;
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herbe and tree;
Each flower has wept, and bow'd towards the east
Above an hour since, yet you are not drest:
Nay! not so much as out of bed,
When all the birds have mattens seyd,
And sung their thankful hymnes; 'tis sin,
Nay, profanation, to keep in,
When as a thousand virgins on this day
Spring sooner than the lark to fetch in May.
Rise, and put on your foliage; and be seene
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and greene,
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gowne or haire;
Feare not, the leaves will strew
Gemmes in abundance upon you;
Besides, the childhood of the day hath kept
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept.
Come, and receive them, while the light
Hangs on the dew-locks of the night;
And Titan on the eastern hill
Retires himself, or else stands still,
Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be brief in praying;
Few beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.
Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, mark
How eche field turns a street, eche street a parke,
Made greene, and trimmed with trees; see how
Devotion gives each house a bough,
Or branch; each porch, each doore, ere this
An arke, a tabernacle is,
Maide up of whitethorn neatly interwove,
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
Can such delights be in the street
And open fields; and we not see't?
Come, we'll abroad, and let's obay
The proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But, my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.
Is not this exquisitely beautiful? I know of nothing, on a similar subject, which may bear a comparison with the sweetness, fancy, and delicate elegance of these lines. They are soft and musical enough to have been breathed out in the chime of Lily-bells. The melody of Herrick's true poetry is, to my mind, almost unequalled—Shelly alone rivals him; and, as Shelley's poetry is of a far loftier character, a comparison may not well be drawn between them.
Next to the hawthorn-bloom, the lilac and laburnum contribute most to the adornment of the glad earth at this festive season; and right gaily do they deck her out, with their countless clusters of ameythst and showers of gold.
One might invent a fable, or at least improve one, and represent Jupiter visiting Danæ in the form of a laburnum-tree in bloom, far more gracefully than in a fall of heavy clinking metal; though if the fair ladyes of those classic days loved parties and pin-money as well as modern beauties seem to do, methinks the celestial wooer would have sped but poorly in his courtship; for, verily, and indeed, Plutus is far more in request than the blooming Flora; and the exhibition of a diamond necklace in a close and heated midnight ball-room is a matter of higher importance, and, as they would fain persuade us, productive of more pleasure (though this I will not do them the wrong of believing) than a health-giving ramble in the blessed country, and the acquisition of a cluster of bright wild flowers, glittering with nature's gems of dew.
Spring is the season of England's greatest beauty. The vine-wreathed Autumn of southern climes may, and must be, rich and rare; but we will not envy them while our own dear Land has her fairy-like realm of orchards in blossom, and in loveliness, as in fame, is a queen indeed. What can be more luxuriantly picturesque than the appearance of the world of Flowers which our cider counties display at this season? Indeed, the small garden orchards attached to road-side cottages all over England are gems of beauty. The various tints and texture of the blossoms, from the pure white of the pear and cherry to the deep rose-coloured buds of the apple and crab, and the young delicate green of the just opening leaves, do truly seem like a festal robe worn by the joyous earth in honour of the Spring-time. The Broom too, "the bonny, bonny Broom," waves it slender sprays in the soft breeze, and we look from the gay, gold-coloured butterfly-blossoms it bears on the walls, to the small and more delicate white ones of the gardens, and know not which are most beautiful. The Guelder Rose trees look as if overburthened with their globes of silvery flowers; and the aromatic Syringo breathes afar off her delicious perfume, which emulates in sweetness, as her flowers do in beauty, the famed orange blossoms of southern lands.
It was during a delightful journey through scenes like this, when
Zephirus and Flora gentelly
Yave to the flowers soft and tenderly
Hir sote brethe, and made hem for to sprede,
As God and Goddesse of the flourie mede,
In which, methoughte, I mighte daie by daie
Dwellen alway, the jolly month of Maie,
that the following "May Meditations" suggested themselves.
She came—the bright, beautiful, gladsome Spring!
She hath waved o'er the earth her glittering wing;
With her sunny smile, and her joyous voice,
She hath bid the chilled, weary earth rejoice;
Doff her wintry garb, and with flow'rets gay
Richly embroider her verdant array.
The Spring came forth; with her glance so bright,
Her song of glee, and her wing of light,
She hath flitted along o'er vale and hill
That in Winter's deep sleep lay dark and still;
She hath warbled her cheerful, arousing strain,
And they burst from their slumbers to life again.
She waved o'er the forests her magic wand,
And the leaves sprang forth 'neath her fairy hand.
The luxuriant lilac's bloom is there,
And laburnums waving their yellow hair;
The blossoms of snow on each clustered spray
Their light petals spread on her flower-gemmed way,—
Some purest white, and some with a streak
Like the fluttering blush on a maiden's cheek.
O'er field and hedge-row, by bank and stream,
Her path we trace in the rainbow gleam
Of the myriad flowers, that now unfold
Their treasures of silver and burnished gold;
And, queen of wild buds, the hyacinth blue
Rivals the skies with as bright a hue;
And the hedge-geranium, fair and brief,
Twines 'mid each gay group her fragrant leaf,
And star-like blossoms, that blushing, peep
Down sheltered lane and o'er rocky steep.
List!—'twas the nightingale's note ye heard:
To the fairest flower sings the sweetest bird,
For the earliest rose has opened, to fling
Her fragrant breath on the breeze of Spring.
Few trees are so magnificent in foliage as the horse-chesnut, with its large fan-like leaves, far more resembling those of some tropical plant than the garb of a forest tree in climes like ours; but when these are crowned with its pyramids of flowers, so splendid in their distant effect, and so exquisitely modelled and pencilled when we gather and examine their fair forms—is it not then the pride of the landscape? If the oak—the true British oak—be the forest king, let us give him at least a partner in his majesty; and let the chesnut, whose noble head is crowned by the hand of Spring with a regal diadem, gemmed with myramids of pearly, and golden, and ruby flowers—let her be queen of the woods in bonny England: and while we listen to the musical hum of the bees, as they load themselves with her wealth of honey, we will fancy they are congratulating their noble and generous friend on her new honours.
I am perhaps growing somewhat too excursive under the influence of these sweet Spring memories; and it may be thought, that in a work ostensibly devoted to flowers, I have no right to trespass upon the forest; but wherever I find such favoured children of Flora as the one last mentioned, be it in garden, grove, forest, or stream, I claim for them right of introduction among their fair and fragrant kindred.
The flowers which have been selected in illustration of Spring now demand a brief notice, especially as several of them are of very classic origin, according to the poets, whose graceful imaginings will well relieve my matter-of-fact prose.
It appears rather singular that the Snowdrop, which is considered an indigenous plant, is never, to my knowledge, mentioned by the old poets; this circumstance would seem to infer a comparatively recent introduction of the lovely flower, and I have found it growing wild in several situations (such as the site of a moated house, long since destroyed, where it flourishes in profusion) where it may originally have been planted as a garden flower. Had it been equally abundant in Chaucer's time, we may be tolerably sure so gentle and beautiful a thing, braving the bleakest season of the year, and excelling even the Daisy in lowly modesty, would not have remained unsung. Nor is it found either in the graceful chaplets of Shakspeare, the songs of Beaumont and Fletcher, or in the rich and many-hued clusters of Ben Jonson or Spenser; but I must leave this enigma to be solved by abler minds than mine.
The Snowdrop is hailed year after year with unchanged delight, as our earliest of
Spring's voluptuous paintings, when she breathes
Her first sweet kisses,
and, as a native of our soil, "The fair maid of February" (for by that sweet name is she sometimes known) has an undisputed claim to a chief place in our list of floral friends. In real unpoetical truth, I believe the yellow aconite is "the ae first flower springs either in moor or dale;" but to acknowledge such precedence in any but a solely botanical work, would seem like robbing the heiress of her birthright; and poetry cannot suffer Spring's fair and virgin queen to be deposed in favour of any less qualified representative, or the Christmas Rose, which gladdens even a drearier season, might justly lay claim to more celebration than she now gains. It would thus appear that simple Audreys suspicions of "our craft" are somewhat too well founded, when she enquires of Touchstone, if "poetical means honest in word and deed?"
The Crocus is fancied by Prior as the bridegroom of the Lady Snowdrop. It is a graceful conceit, for they are a most faithful couple; rarely severed during their short lives. Together they rise from the snow—together bide the storm, or bask in the sunshine—and when one droops and dies, we know that both are leaving us.
Dainty young thing
Of life!—thou venturous flower
Who growest through the hard cold bower
Of wintry spring.
Thou various hued,
Soft, voiceless bell, whose spire
Rocks in the grassy leaves like wire
Like patience, thou
Art quiet in thy earth,
Instructing Hope that virtue's birth
Is feeling's vow.
Thy fancied bride,
The delicate Snowdrop, keeps
Her home with thee; she wakes and sleeps
Near thy true side.
Will man but hear!
A simple flower can tell
What beauties in his mind should dwell
Through passion's sphere.
The brilliant colours and woody growth of the Pyrus Japonica, make it contrast strikingly with the pale and fragile snow-drop, near whose modest bells this superb native of Japan may often be seen, exhibiting the singular appearance I have described in the illustrative lines. The buds and flowers of brightest crimson, with their golden-coloured anthers, come peering out through the snow wreaths, that lie lightly upon their trained stems; and, to a far less fanciful eye than mine, might well seem to have melted their way, dissolving their glittering veil to come blushing again into sunshine. The white and pink varieties of the Pyrus Japonica are also very beautiful, but have not the rich and glowing splendour of my fairy favourite, which, through the months of late Autumn, Winter, and early Spring, when so few of our garden darlings venture to look upon the dreary earth, clothes the supporting wall or trellis with its cheering and vivid beauty, being, in this respect, more worthy our esteem than most of our foreign acquisitions, which generally require the additional warmth and shelter of the stove or conservatory.
The next gem of my floral chaplet is one of classic fame; one of the many fair flowers around which mythological fable has thrown its quaint legendary garb: even its botanical name brings a dream of romance with it—Narcissus Poeticus. Our own merry, dancing daffodil claims kindred with the Narcissi; and who does not love the daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty?
What a mine of wealth a bank sprinkled thickly with their bright golden crests and waving leaves seemed to us in childhood! And, if only precious as the memories of such innocent delight, we must love them still. Of modern Bards, however great, I have forbidden myself to speak, but what can be more beautiful, in thought, expression, and melody, than these sweet verses of Robert Herrick's?
Faire daffodills, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early rising sun
Has not attained his noon.
Untill the hasting day
But to the even song;
And, having prayed together, we
Will goe with you along.
We have short time to stay as you,
We have as short a Spring:
As quick a growth to meet decay
As you, or any thing.
As your hours doe, and drie
Like to the Summer's raine,
Or as the pearles of morning's dew,
Ne'er to be found againe.
The Narcissus is celebrated by many of our old Poets, to whom the story of the beautiful youth growing enamoured of his own reflected form as he gazed into a fountain, and pining in hopeless love till transformed into the Flower bearing his name, was a most tempting subject for their quaint and fanciful muses. The bending heads of all the Narcissi favour the fable, which is certainly a very graceful one; and we do well to bear such in our memory, for they greatly enchance and refine the enjoyment we receive from Flowers, in thus making mental tablets of their delicate and pencilled leaves. The Narcissus is one of the flowers spoken of by Emilia and her maid, in the beautiful garden scene in "The Two Noble Kinsmen," by Beaumont and Fletcher.
|Emilia.||This garden bath a world of pleasures in't.|
What flower is this?
|Servant.||'Tis called Narcissus, Madam.|
|Emilia.||That was a fair boy certain, but a fool|
To love himself; were there not maids enough?
Or were they all hard-hearted?
|Servant.||They could not be, to one so fair.|
|Emilia.||Thou would'st not?|
|Servant.||I think I should not, Madam.|
|Emilia.||That is a good wench!|
Canst thou not work such flowers in silk, wench?
I'll have a gown full of 'em; and of these,
This a pretty colour: will't not do
Rarely upon a skirt, wench?
The most deeply and entirely poetical allusion to the fate of Narcissus is the following splendid passage by Ben Jonson. The love of Echo, and her half reproachful grief, give a real and touching pathos to what in other hands is a mere fable.
|Echo.||His name revives and lifts me up from earth—|
See, see, the mourning fount, whose springs weep yet
Th' untimely fate of that too beauteous boy,
That trophy of self-love, and spoil of nature,
Who, now transformed into this drooping flower,
Hangs the repentant head back from the stream;
As if it wished—"would I had never looked
Into such a flattering mirror!" O Narcissus!
Thou that wast once (and yet art) my Narcissus,
Had Echo but been private with thy thoughts,
She would have dropped away herself in tears,
Till she had all turned water, that in her
(As in a truer glass) thou might'st have gazed,
And seen thy beauties by more kind reflection.
But self-love never yet could look on truth
But with bleared beams; slick Flattery and she
Are twin-born sisters, and do mix their eyes,
As, if you sever one, the other dies.
Why did the Gods give thee a heavenly form
And earthly thoughts to make thee proud of it?
Why, do I ask?—'Tis now the known disease
That Beauty hath, to bear too deep a sense
Of her own self-conceived excellence.
Oh! hadst thou known the worth of Heaven's rich gift,
Thou wouldst have turned it to a truer use,
And not (with starved and covetous ignorance)
Pined in continual eyeing that bright gem,
The glance whereof to others had been more,
Than to thy famished mind the wide world's store.
Shelley, in the exquisite description of flowers in his Poem of the "Sensitive Plant," calls
Narcissi, the fairest among them all,
Who gaze on their eyes in the stream's recess,
Till they die of their own dear loveliness.
The scent of the Narcissus, too, is extremely fragrant, and when adorning our windows in wintry weather, how delightfully does the perfumed air of the snug, fire-enlivened study seem to whisper, or at least breathe, of Summer's sweet children and merry blue sky! Yes, the Narcissus is sweet, but it yields the palm of fragrance to its modest neighbour in the wreath. Who does not know that
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,
Or Cytherea's breath,
have their humble dwelling-places in our English lanes? Who has not seen them on many a sunny bank, in early Spring, clustering together, the purple and the white, hiding among their broad heart-shaped leaves, and, timidly unclosing their soft petals, filling the air with the sweetest of all sweet odours?
William Habington, in his poems to Castara, thus prettily alludes to the retiring modesty of this oft-praised flower.
Like the Violet, which alone
Prospers in some happy shade,
My Castara lives unknown,
To no looser eye betraid,
For she's to herself untrue
Who delights i' the public view.
Sir Henry Wotton in his most elegant compliments to the Queen of Bohemia, says
Ye Violets that first appeare
By your pure purple mantles known,
Like the proud virgins of the yeare,
As if the Spring were all your own;
What are ye, when the rose is blown?
To these lines, which, beautiful as they are, seem like a depreciation of our gentle friend we have a most complete and flattering contradiction from the melodious lyre of Herrick. We find him, in the following lines, allowing the Violet precedence of the rose:—
Welcome, maids of honour,
You doe bring
In the Spring;
And wait upon her.
She has virgins many,
Freshe and faire;
Yet you are
More sweet than any.
Y'are the maiden posies,
And so grac't,
To be plac't
'Fore damask roses.
Yet, though thus respected,
By and by
Ye doe lie,
Poore Girles, neglected.
In these our records of the Romance of Flowers, far be it from us to forget the graceful fables in which the Violet plays her part. Some relate, that the delicate and fragrant blossom was first produced by the earth at the bidding of Jupiter, to be food for Iö during her metamorphosis: others say that Venus, hastening to meet Adonis, trod on a thorn, and that the blood from her celestial foot dyed the flower, which was then white, with its present dim purple.
Herrick tells a story different from both these; and though evidently the coinage of his own prolific Drain, rather than a versification of any popular notion, it is too fanciful to be overlooked.
HOW VIOLETS CAME BLEW.
Love on a day, wise poets tell,
Some time in wrangling spent.
Whether the violet should excell,
Or she, in sweetest scent.
But Venus having lost the day,
Poore girles, she fell on you,
And beat ye so, as some dare say
Her blows did make ye blew.
Our divine Shakspeare, in his loftiest flights of thought and imagination, frequently pauses to cull the lowly Violet; and never does her soft hue and sweet perfume greet us in such power, and grace, and beauty, as when wrought into some spirit-stirring picture or mighty "fabric of a dream" among his wondrous works. How beautiful, in "Twelfth Night," is the comparison of soft music to the breath of wind upon the Violet!
That song again—it had a dying fall.
O! it came o'er my ear like the sweet south
That breathes upon a bank of Violets,
Stealing and giving odour.
The Violets from which the illustrative drawing was made, were the late-flowering variety, the leaves of which are somewhat larger than the wild Spring ones; those having bloomed and passed away while the author's hand was powerless, and her pencil idle, during illness.
The occupant of the following plate must be equally well known with its more gentle companions, for, as the almost unfailing inhabitant of wild moor, mountain, and waste land, the yellow Gorse is one of our familiar road-side acquaintances; and rough though it be, there is a kind cheeriness in its bright golden face, that makes us ever greet its seeming smile with pleasure—I should say affection. The Gorse appears the emblem, indeed the portrait, of many a kindly being, whose rough and even repulsive exterior so overshadows their better and brighter parts, that the careless and superficial observer would declare "all barren:" while they who look beyond the surface, find qualities and beauties in the friend's mind and the flower's scent, that prove, though "all is not gold that glitters," the true treasure must often be sought in the hardest rock.
My reason for bringing my rough friend into such polished society as he here meets, was the wish to illustrate an old rustic proverb, which says, "When Gorse is out of blossom, kissing is out of season," very adroitly choosing the Gorse as the test, from its never being wholly destitute of blossoms.
The Anemone, "blushing with faint crimson," is another of our Spring Flowers invested with mythological fable. It first sprang, say the poets, from the blood of Adonis; and, in memory of its so imagined origin, Ben Jonson and many others name it Adonis-flower: in "Pan's Anniversary," he says—
Well done, my pretty ones—rain roses still,
Until the last be dropt, then hence, and fill
Your fragrant prickles for a second shower.
Bring corn-flags, tulips, and Adonis-flower.
Shakspeare, in his "Venus and Adonis," has the following beautiful passage descriptive of the Flower's birth:
By this the boy that by her side lay killed,
Was melted like a vapour from her sight,
And in his blood that on the ground lay spilled,
A purple flower sprung up, chequer'd with white:
Resembling well his pale cheeks, and the blood
Which in round drops upon their whiteness stood.
She bows her head, the new sprung flower to smell,
Comparing it to her Adonis' breath;
And says, within her bosom it shall dwell,
Since he himself is reft from her by death:
She crops the stalk, and in the breach appears
Green dropping sap, which she compares to tears.
Poor flower, quoth she, this was thy father's guise,
(Sweet issue of a more sweet-smelling sire)
For every little grief to wet his eyes:
To grow unto himself was his desire,
And so 'tis thine; but know, it is as good
To wither in my breast, as in his blood.
Here was thy father's bed, here in my breast;
Thou art the next of blood, and 'tis thy right:
Lo! in this hollow cradle take thy rest,
My throbbing heart shall rock thee day and night:
There shall not be one minute of an hour
Wherein I will not kiss my sweet Love's flower.
The Anemone is also called Pasque-flower, from its blossoming about Easter; and Wind-flower, from being formerly supposed to open only when the wind blew. Hence its name Anemone, from the Greek word ἀνεμος, anemos, wind. The wild wood Anemone, being a well-known and indigenous plant and most delicately beautiful too, would seem preferable, as an illustration of the Flower; but the deeper colours of the cultivated kinds suit better the romance and the allusions of the poets.
The Lily of the Vale (for, despite the decision of botanists, that our modest little darling cannot claim kindred with the illustrious Lily family, a Lily—the Lily, we still fondly call it) is a native of our own fair plains and bosky dells; indeed, from the chill air of Lapland to the genial sunshine of bright beaming Italy, the fragile and fragrant Lily of the Valley may be found. In the woods of Eileriede, near Hanover, they grow in the most luxuriant profusion, and quite a festival is held during their time of flowering. Every house has a bouquet of
"The small-leaved, lesser Lilies,
Shading, like detected light,
Their little green-tipt lamps of white;"
and the woods are crowded with parties celebrating this floral anniversary.
We might almost believe the Lilies must sometimes blush in surprise and anger (if such gentle creatures could be imagined guilty of human feelings) at some of the quaint and extravagant comparisons which Poets of the olden time used to draw between the charms of their demi-goddesss ladye loves, and this fairest of all fair flowers, Hear the following affirmation of an anonymous gentleman, who wrote in the year 1658, "to his Mistresse:"—
I'll tell you whence the rose did first grow red,
And whence the Lilly whiteness borrowed.
You blushed; and then the rose with red was dight,
The Lilly kiss't your hands, and so came white.
Before that time the rose was but a stain,
The Lilly naught but paleness did contain;
You have the native colour;—these, they die,
And only florish in your livery!
How exquisitely graceful and melodious is this, yet straining even the wide licence of a poet's fancy.
The Pansy boasts a greater variety of aliases than most flowers; it is known as the Heartsease, Love-in-idleness, La Pensée, from which significant name we derive the word Pansy; and has also many rustic appellations, such as "a Kiss at the Garden Gate," "Pink o' my John," &c.
Although every flower which our divine Shakspeare has mentioned claims from us an immortality of love, yet the Pansy seems especially dedicated to him. Other Bards have written most sweet and dainty conceits about the blushing rose, and the fair lily, and the blue violet, and many another gentle bud and gorgeous blossom; but none have so entirely appropriated any to themselves as Shakspeare has "the Pansy freaked with jet." He has given the fable to the Flower; and a passage of more perfect poetical beauty cannot exist, than the scene where Oberon directs Puck to "fetch him this herb; but as it precedes my illustrative poem, I shall omit it here. How touchingly poor Ophelia mingles the Pansy in her gifts of token flowers: "There's Pansies—that's for thoughts!"
Herrick, in his usual quaint, fanciful way, gives a different account,
HOW PANSIES OR HART'S-EASE CAME FIRST.
Frolick virgins once these were,
Overloving, living here;
Being here their ends deny'd,
Ran for sweethearts mad, and dy'd.
Love, in pitie of their teares,
And their losse in blooming yeares,
For their restlesse here-spent houres,
Grave them hart's-ease turned to floures.
Thus the Heartsease is made the emblem-flower of those coquettish fair ones, whose youthful smiles and blandishments have failed in attaining the end so devoutly wished; though, for my own part, I am much inclined to dispute the justice of Master Herrick's decision, inasmuch as coquetry, or, to use a more modern term, flirtation, in youth, cannot possibly procure hearts' ease in old age.
To attempt any thing like an original illustration of a flower so invested with poetry by our sovereign of song, would be, if not "to gild refined gold," at least to place the counterfeit beside the true metal, as if to betray itself. I have only endeavoured, by introducing some young and popular descendants of the Shakspearian favourite, to render the quoted passages yet more familiar, and the emblems more evident and varied. If my introduction of these modern beauties, as candidates for participation in the honours awarded to their ancient, but far less brilliant namesakes, should induce any Pansy fancier to acknowledge the poetical, as well as the scientific and fashionable claims of the fair token-flowers, my sketches, both of pen and pencil, may happily prove something more than a matter of "love and idleness."
Here the author may be supposed to curtsey her adieu, for a season, to the kind readers who have companioned her in her prosaic ramble among the Flowers selected as Illustrations of Spring. Like an actress who performs several parts in one play, she must now change her character, and pray a "continuance of patronage in the poetic and pictorial line," until the next sweet Season, with its bright Flowers and fanciful fables, asks a similar introduction from her prosaic pen.
- I may here be charged with purloining an idea from the lines of my motto. I can only say such charge were unjust, as "The Fairies' Fire" had been written many months, when in reading some old poems, the lines in Edwards struck me as appropriate to the subject.
- "When gorse is out of blossom, kissing is out of fashion"—gorse being in bloom all the year.
- Since writing these lines I have found that the name of the Pansy, thus described as a courtier, singularly coincides with my own fancy; it is the "George the Fourth."
- "Choice fruits from Herrick's Hesperides" will shortly appear, edited by the Author of this volume.
- Barmekyn—old mound, barbican.
- Pers—light blue.
- Fauch-yellow—fawn-coloured yellow.
- Celestial gré—sky blue.
- Flower-damas—damask rose.
- Unshet—unshut, opened.
- Rose-knobis tetand—rose-buds peeping.
- Lockerand—curling like locks of hair.
- From an unpublished Poem by the Author.