Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The foaming meadow


Yesterday morning, as I emerged from the woods on my first autumnal walk to college, the meadow was thick with Queen Anne's lace, more than ever before. Many of the blossoms were curled into a cup, past their prime, but others spread their umbrels like so many Spanish mantillas.

Wild carrot is the plant's prosaic name, but we prefer the more romantic appellation. At the center of some of the snowy disks is a single deep purple flower, colored by anthocyanin, evolved, presumably, to attract insects, although why the plant is so sparing of advertisement is a mystery. In our imaginations we see a drop of blood where Queen Anne pricked herself while making lace.

Adrienne Rich has a cryptic poem called The Knot, that begins: "In the heart of the queen anne's lace, a knot of blood.
For years I never saw it..." What a tumble of metaphors! A "foaming meadow," a "Milky Way", a "bridal web." And there, all along, the "tiny dark-red spider," the "knifepoint," the dark stain spreading in the "white apparancies." I would quote the poem in its entirety, but authorly solidarity forbids me. You can find it on the net.

In former times, every plant and animal found its place in the world by relation to the human species. Earlier this year I posted a bit of wooing between Aileran and Melisande from In the Falcon's Claw. The two lovers would have been familiar with the medieval bestiaries that assigned to each creature a human meaning. As readers of that book will know, Melisande knew her herbal too. With Linnaeus, all of that went out the window. Queen Anne's lace became Daucus carota; the plant found its place in the botanical scheme of things, botany flourished as a science, but the prick of the metaphorical needle was no longer quite as sharp.

Still, I can't walk into a meadow of Daucus carota without Adrienne Rich's poem coming to mind. Metaphors have a way of exploding the bounds of perception. We live in a sea of apparancies. To be human is to see through a mist of blood.