Daffodils and the Rebirth of Spring

“But as we went along there were more and yet more [daffodils] and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing.”

–Dorothy Wordsworth, Grasmere Journal, April 15, 1802

Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth: The Alfoxden Journal 1798, The Grasmere Journals 1800-1803, ed. Mary Moorman (New York: Oxford UP, 1971), 109-110.

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I think winter has finally been banished from South Jersey. The snow and the sleet and the grey skies are gone. Just before dawn each day, I now hear a choir of birds. I don’t know what type of birds they are, but I know I did not hear them during the winter months, which seemed this year to last forever. But now daffodils are blooming everywhere. I love daffodils. At the start of spring, just after the shy crocuses and snowbells peek out from the still frost-tipped ground, the daffodils appear, beautiful and confident. They do seem to exude joy and laughter, or perhaps seeing them simply makes me happy. Dorothy Wordsworth’s wonderfully evocative passage above describes the “host” of “golden daffodils” that her more famous brother William later wrote of in his famous poem, “Daffodils.” She describes the daffodils as dancing; he expresses the pleasure of thinking about them later, a thought that makes his heart “dance”:

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”

But Dorothy and William both express the way I feel: the daffodils dance, and they make my heart dance.

Tulips will begin to bloom soon. They were exotic flowers to the Europeans who encountered them in the sixteenth century. The Turks cultivated tulips as early as 1000 CE, but tulips spread throughout the Ottoman Empire over the centuries. As Europeans traveled and explored more widely in the sixteenth-century in the search for gold, knowledge, and adventure, they came across the exotic blooms. This period of European exploration also coincided with an interest in botany (and other sciences). Botanical drawings of tulips spread throughout Europe and sparked great interest. In Holland, Carolus Clusius, the head of the first botanical garden there, obtained some tulip bulbs from a connection to the Ottoman Empire. By 1594, he had tulips blooming in the Netherlands. Tulips began to be cultivated elsewhere in Holland, but they were still rare and exotic. Before long, they were being traded, and a financial tulip-trading market appeared. Traders and speculators went crazy. In 1624, one type of rare tulip bulb was selling for what would now be over $1000; some went for even more. The financial bubble became known as “Tulipomania,” and eventually the bubble burst in 1637.

            Tulips, though undeniably beautiful, seem a bit haughty to me. If tulips and daffodils were Downton Abbey characters, tulips would have the personality of Maggie Smith’s character, Violet Crawley the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Daffodils are more like the free-spirited Lady Sybil, who is also beautiful, kind, and loved by all.

Spring is the season of rebirth. Both Passover and Easter celebrate this theme. Birth and death; the cycles of nature, the cycles of life. The spring flowers that appear in bright shades of yellow, pink, blue, and red, chase the gray of winter cold and gloom away, and we can rejoice. And dance– especially after all that Passover Seder wine. By the time, my family gathers for our Passover Seder, the daffodils at our house probably will have faded and their blooms vanished. But that’s OK. Because I know that next year, along with the birds of spring, the daffodils will return to brighten my thoughts and my days after the long, cold winter.

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