Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
It’s a funny old life being an IT consultant. It’s a life that I’ve chosen because it gives me lots of flexibility (which I need to write, and to spend time with Mum and Dad), but, as my husband says, it can be rather ‘bumpy’. I can spend weeks sailing along working a couple of hours a week and wondering where the next crumb is coming from, only to suddenly have the gift of an impossible deadline, a mountain of work, and the possibility of being solvent again.
Such, dear readers, is my life at the moment. I have 50 huge complicated reports to convert in the next five days, and there is at least ten days of work.
So, I was not going to go far to find a Wednesday Weed, because I didn’t have time – I feel rather like a koi carp coming up for a gulp of air and then heading back to the depths of the silty pond. But look what I found!
Yes, growing in a corner of the garden by the hosepipe, there is a forget-me-not. As this is a plant that prefers damp places, I suspect that its location is no accident. I confess to never having really looked at one before, and what an oversight. I love the egg-yolk yellow middle, and the way that the edges of the petals form a kind of sunray pattern around it. It’s a member of the Borage family (yet again), and so the tiny buds bear that characteristically different colour from the open flower. And now I’ve noticed it in the garden I see it everywhere, popping up along the edges of paths and self-seeding in the flowerbeds.
The original name for forget-me-not was scorpion grass, apparently because of the curled nature of the flowerheads. I suppose I can see what they’re on about, though they look rather more pangolin-y than scorpion-y to me.
Richard Mabey argues that the name ‘forget me not’ is not as old as you might think: the name doesn’t crop up in Shakespeare, or in Chaucer, and first pops up in a poem by Coleridge, ‘The Keepsake’. On the other hand, that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, mentions that it is first used in English in 1398 by King Henry IV, and is a literal translation of the German word for the flower, Vergissmeinnicht. In the course of my investigations, I have discovered that to translate word for word from one language to another has its own verb, ‚’to calque‘. So there we go, another new word (to me at least).
There are many legends about how the forget me not got its name, most of them revolving around a creation legend in which God/a god is naming all the creatures and plants that he’s brought into being. A little blue flower cries out the equivalent of ‘Oi mate, howsabout me? Forget me not please!‘ and so the name has stuck. In a variation, God was giving the flowers their colours, and did forget about the forget me not, so had to give it a tiny piece of sky to make up for it. In medieval times the plant was a symbol of constancy and good faith, and this suits it, I think: there is something so humble and yet so bright about this inconspicuous little plant.
Forget me nots come from two places: Western Eurasia and New Zealand. How interesting that the two groups of species should come from such geographically distant areas! The plants have since spread to more or less everywhere: there are 74 recognised species, but over 500 variations on a theme, and the plant hybridises quite happily. There are over a dozen species in the UK, and this one is I think the commonest variety, the wood forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica).
You can buy packets of forget me nots and scatter them hither and thither in the garden, but to me they seem to be the quintessential wildflower, growing where they fancy in drifts of azure. They are an unexpected and often undeserved gift. I think Christina Georgina Rossetti had in about right in her poem ‘A Bed of Forget Me Nots’:
Is love so prone to change and rot
We are fain to rear forget-me-not
By measure in a garden plot? —
I love its growth at large and free
By untrod path and unlopped tree,
Or nodding by the unpruned hedge,
Or on the water’s dangerous edge
Where flags and meadowsweet blow rank
With rushes on the quaking bank.
Love is not taught in learning’s school,
Love is not parcelled out by rule;
Hath curb or call an answer got? —
So free must be forget-me-not.
Give me the flame no dampness dulls,
The passion of the instinctive pulse,
Love steadfast as a fixed star,
Tender as doves with nestlings are,
More large than time, more strong than death:
This all creation travails of —
She groans not for a passing breath —
This is forget-me-not and love.
But, dear readers, before I descend into the depths of Excel once more, I had to share with you a second poem, by none other than the man described as ‘the world’s worst published poet’, Mr William McGonagall of ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ (and you can read that masterwork here). I shall leave it to you to decide if this tale of love is even better. To get the full effect of the irregular metre, you might want to read it out loud. But let it be said that I am a great admirer of McGonagall, for all his poetical disadvantages. I love his confidence, and his self-belief, and his preparedness to put his work in the public domain even if he wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. He apparently had no concerns with the critics’ opinion of his work, and he inspired the wonderful Spike Milligan. And in addition, his middle name was Topaz. I’m sure, if he was alive today, he would write a very splendid blog, though I fear that the 140 characters of Twitter would have defeated him completely.
A gallant knight and his betroth’d bride,
Were walking one day by a river side,
They talk’d of love, and they talk’d of war,
And how very foolish lovers are.
At length the bride to the knight did say,
‘There have been many young ladies led astray
By believing in all their lovers said,
And you are false to me I am afraid.’
‘No, Ellen, I was never false to thee,
I never gave thee cause to doubt me;
I have always lov’d thee and do still,
And no other woman your place shall fill.’
‘Dear Edwin, it may be true, but I am in doubt,
But there’s some beautiful flowers here about,
Growing on the other side of the river,
But how to get one, I cannot discover.’
‘Dear Ellen, they seem beautiful indeed,
But of them, dear, take no heed;
Because they are on the other side,
Besides, the river is deep and wide.’
‘Dear Edwin, as I doubt your love to be untrue,
I ask one favour now from you:
Go! fetch me a flower from across the river,
Which will prove you love me more than ever.’
‘Dear Ellen! I will try and fetch you a flower
If it lies within my power
To prove that I am true to you,
And what more can your Edwin do?’
So he leap’d into the river wide,
And swam across to the other side,
To fetch a flower for his young bride,
Who watched him eagerly on the other side.
So he pluck’d a flower right merrily
Which seemed to fill his heart with glee,
That it would please his lovely bride;
But, alas! he never got to the other side.
For when he tried to swim across,
All power of his body he did loss,
But before he sank in the river wide,
He flung the flowers to his lovely bride.
And he cried, ‘Oh, heaven! hard is my lot,
My dearest Ellen! Forget me not:
For I was ever true to you,
My dearest Ellen! I bid thee adieu!’
Then she wrung her hands in wild despair,
Until her cries did rend the air;
And she cried, ‘Edwin, dear, hard is out lot,
But I’ll name this flower Forget-me-not.
‘And I’ll remember thee while I live,
And to no other man my hand I’ll give,
And I will place my affection on this little flower,
And it will solace me in a lonely hour.’
Adieu, Gentle Readers, until I surface on the other side of my reports, refreshed and rather more financially well-off.
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well solaced, gentle and or hard-nosed, writer…
Beautiful post. As always.
Oh thank you, Connie, much appreciated.
‘More large than time, more strong than death’ … wonderful. I like your second poem, too, but why doesn’t Ellen hoist up her skirts and jump in to save him? Maybe she really couldn’t stand the feller.
I had a strong vision of the knight being in armour and clanking around like an upturned beetle, but maybe that’s just me :-). Yes, Ellen is even wetter than the knight.
I have, just last week, spotted Forget-me-not in my garden again. I tried, for years, to grow some from seed but it never worked. Eventually I stopped wasting my money and, within two years, had a healthy, annual crop of the gorgeous blue sweetness. My Borage seems to have had a hissy-fit and my Honesty is a tiny single-stemmed plant this year. The Choisya Ternata [that has not been pruned for four years] has decided to grace me with many blooms and a delicious perfume this year – wilful creature!
Lovely post again, thank you so much.
I love that the forget me nots came when you gave up! So many things in life are like that, I find.