Follow Harriet on Twitter
The shut bud is blackish, dense, thumb-sized, upwards-thrusting all elegant on tall hollow stem from a low radiant whorl of narrow leaves. It smells like nothing at all. It’s only after my walk, when I see on Facebook that Elisabeth Workman has posted its portrait, that I learn the name of the flower that’s filling the newly thinned copse. Asphodel. Like anyone would, I think immediately of Williams. I have a cassette recording of him, very old, reading this poem in shaking voice—I don’t remember where it came from but it’s still stored in a shoe box with assorted mix-tapes from the eighties. Williams must be sharing that particular cassette-dust with The Raincoats, The Slits and the Modern Lovers.
I’m thinking about flowers because they’re everywhere now, new ones daily, and new songs too. Last night I heard the first nightingale of the season and this morning the first cuckoo. As I do compulsively each spring, I return to Lucretius and I circle the opening hymn to Venus, not quite daring to begin to reread. Is there something I must do to prepare myself? This morning when I wake up I reread Starobinski on Saussure’s anagrams as I drink my tea. Saussure also used the word hypogram for the scattering of the names of gods through the repeating phonemes of the poem. Hypogram, he said was a “special and widely-used word meaning to emphasize with cosmetics the features of a face.” Cosmetics are rhetoric! Now I want to watch for the word daedala in the Latin text, watch for it the way that on my walk I watch carefully for violets, but I can’t yet permit myself the pleasure. Daedala is the word Lucretius uses to describe the sudden intricacy of April flowers. I can’t really read Latin but I watch for certain patterns as I move over it. Daedala means something like pattern. “tibi suavis daedala tellus summittit flores”
For thee the wonder-working earth puts forth sweet flowers
For thee the fragrant earth spreads various flowers
For thee the earth lays forth its flowers
For thee the Land in fragrant Flowr’s is drest
Deft earth scatters her gentle flowers
This last is Bunting. Deftness gets it, I think. Daedalus was the craftsman who built the labyrinth.
I’m getting the feeling that Lucretius’s invocation is a blazon. The body of Venus is scattered, spread, laid forth, cosmetic, a labyrinth. Asphodel (no odor/ save to the/imagination) names one part.