Thursday, April 24, 2008

Daffodil, Asphodel, and Persephone

This Monday we visited the Laurel Ridge Foundation in Northfield, Connecticut, where there are thousands and thousands of daffodils in full bloom over ten acres of fields, hills, and woodland. Daffodils even cover an island in the middle of a small lake. The bright flowers are nestled next to stone walls, line a rustic stone staircase, and surround a large engraved version of William Wordsworth's "Daffodils", (naturally), which overlooks the lake. Thank you for the inspiration, Liz and Lil.

Being such a strange sounding word, "daffodil" demanded a trip to the dictionary. The American Heritage Dictionary says it is an alteration of the Middle English affodil, from the Latin asphodelus, asphodel. Confusingly, asphodel refers to a wide variety of plants/flowers. If you look up "asphodel," you discover that it means a plant in the lily family, or more thrillingly, "in Greek poetry and mythology, the flowers of Hades and the dead, sacred to Persephone." In Greek mythology, Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was abducted by Hades, god of the netherworld, but rescued by her mother. Thereafter, she spent six months of the year on earth and six months in the underworld. I love the dictionary's rhythmic description of Hades as "the abode of the shades of the dead." Poetic. Standing on the sunlit crest of the hill, looking down over the countless swaying clusters of yellow and orange and white, one feels released from winter's dark captivity.

In 1891, Frederic Leighton painted his version of "The Return of Persephone." Click on the title of the painting to see Persephone, pale arms lifted toward her mother, being guided by Hermes from the netherworld into the light.

For two very different poems referring to asphodel, read William Carlos Williams' "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" and Alan Ginsberg's "An Asphodel."

Note: Click on photos to enlarge images. Pictures taken 4/21/08.


Pam said...

"It is difficult to get the news" from daffodils too, yet we do die "miserably" without them! Thanks for the photos and WCW poem--I especially love his Asphodel.

Christine said...

Exactly! I like the way you worded your comment. Thanks!