Thursday, March 3, 2011

Crocus dawn

"With this the son of Saturn caught his wife in his embrace; whereon the earth sprouted them a cushion of young grass, with dew bespangled lotus, crocus, and hyacinth, so soft and thick that it raised them well above the ground. Here they laid themselves down and overhead they were covered by a fair cloud of gold, from which there fell glittering dew drops."

The Iliad by Homer, XIV 346 translated by Samuel Butler

Just as crocus makes an appearance at the very beginning of Western literature (in a most sexy manner, need I point out?) so do these impossibly bright bulbs signal the very start of the gardening year. Above is a picture of the common Dutch form of Crocus flavus, very possibly the same bulbs Homer might have conjured, since they grow in the Ionian environs where the poet lived.
A vast literature has accrued around these tiny bulbs, and they have cropped up just as liberally in world literature since Homer. Much of the writing is dedicated to saffron, which has such hoary culinary associations (and blooms in late autumn to boot, so we will gloss over it...)

You could do nothing better than visit John Grimshaw's wonderful blog posting where he reviews the latest monograph and reviews the scientific literature...

Best of all, go out and worship your crocuses, which must be showing up now too!

One of my favorite more recent Crocus references in literature is from a Greek folk song that was very popular when I was a teenager when I spent several summers in Crete. A poem by Kostas Varnalis, a great Modern Greek poet was set to brooding music: Brace yourself, this is "rebetiko", Greek blues...and it's well worth hearing it sung well!

In the basement tavern
In the smoke and cusswords
Above, a street organ whining
All of us buddies drinking together last night!
Last night, like every night!
Drowning the poisons down with liquor!....
Squeezing tightly one against the other
Someone spitting on the ground
"Oh what a grief it is to live!
However hard you struggle to imagine
You can't summon a single bright day!"
Oh Sun, and azure sea
And oh, the depth of the skies,
Oh, dawn's crocus-colored gauze
And carnations of the twilight
You shine and dim so far from us
And never enter our hearts!

(Them dad-burned little crocuses pop up everywhere!)

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