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From: "Alice Turner" <akt@ibm.net>
Subject: (urth) Belated Flowers
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 1999 09:21:31 

This is another post I sent 3 days ago in response to Roy. I just realized
this morning that it didn't go through., so here it is again.

I've dug around and found an old book, a reprint of a Victorian "Language of
Flowers," by "Mrs. L. Burke" to see if I can add anything to Roy's
fascinating analysis.
> From: "Roy C. Lackey" <rclackey@stic.net>
> 1) When Dorcas, Agia, and Sev are being rowed across the Lake of
> Birds (I, XXIV) by Hildegrin, Dorcas plucks a blue water hyacinth from the
> surface of the lake--a place where flowers do not exist--and places it in
> her hair. The water hyacinth is most often associated with "constancy".
> The chapter title "The Flower of Dissolution" refers, of course, to the
> avern he is there to pluck. The water hyacinth is mentioned in the first
> line of the chapter; the avern in the last. The avern represents the
> dissolution of death, obviously, and is presented in contrast to the water
> hyacinth. While Sev is speculating about where the hyacinth came from his
> thoughts turn religious, noting the contrast of life and death, light and
> dark, order and chaos, etc., concluding, to state it simply, that the
> negative halves of these pairs of opposites is where God isn't.

Mrs. Burke was obviously English, and the water hyacinth is a native
American plant, so she doesn't mention it. The water lily, however, stands
for "purity of heart," which also
pertains to Dorcas.The hyacinth itself, a quite different plant, is "sport,
game, play."

> I am aware of the use of the hyacinth in T. S. Eliot's "The Waste
> Land" as a symbol of resurrection, which would fit perfectly in this
> context, and Wolfe well may have had this poem in mind when he wrote this
> scene, but in the sources on florigraphy that I have seen, resurrection is
> not the meaning assigned to the hyacinth. While the language of flowers
> and the symbolic use of flowers certainly overlap, they are not entirely
> congruent, and I make no pretense of being an authority on the subject.
> 2) On the day after the contest at the Sanguinary Field, after
> Sev's visit with Agia and Agilus in the latter's cell, Sev arranges for
> temporary quarters for the night for himself and Dorcas. The couple then
> goes for a walk. (I, XXX) "Dorcas had found a daisy for her hair; but as
> we walked about outside the walls ... it folded its petals in sleep, and
> she plucked instead one of those white, trumpet-shaped blossoms that are
> called moonflowers.". They soon return to their room to make love for the
> first time. It is unclear from the text where Dorcas obtained the daisy
> (yes, it matters), and its color is not specified. The meaning of the
> generic daisy is "innocence"; the same for the white daisy. Since they
> were at a military compound, it seems safe to disregard the garden daisy.
> The wild, or single field daisy, however, means "I will think of it".
> Either of these two meanings could apply to Dorcas. She has a child-like
> innocence and is struggling to recall her past. The change of flowers is
> significant and has a clearer meaning.

Mrs. Burke agrees that the daisy is "innocence," but by that she means the
field daisy. The garden daisy is "I partake your sentiments." The moonflower
is a tropical plant, and unknown to Mrs. B, but the morning glory, to which
it is a sort of cousin, means "affectation" in her book. Something to think
> The moonflower is the common name for a member of the twining or
> creeping plants, such as the morning glory, which are part of the family
> called ipomoea. The meaning given to ipomoea is "attachment; I attach
> myself to you". In context, the meaning is clear enough, both literally
> and figuratively.
> 3) After escaping from the antechamber Sev rejoined the thespian
> group. An interesting side note is that, when he found the group, Dr.
> Talos was striking the heads from flowers with his cane, just as he did
> the night, near the end of SHADOW, when Sev and Dorcas came upon his
> encampment, the same night that the eidolons Malrubius and Triskele
> appeared to him. Make of that what you will. At any rate, after a nap, Sev
> and Dorcas wandered away onto the grounds of the House Absolute to be
> alone and talk. (II, XXII) They passed through a grove of plum trees in
> bloom, and Dorcas put a twig of the white blossoms into her hair. Sev
> draws the distinction between the plum trees he and Jonas passed through
> on the way to the antechamber, which he judged to have been planted for
> ornamentation, and those he and Dorcas passed through, which he thought
> had been planted for the fruit. The distinction would be absolutely
> pointless but for the difference in the meaning attached to them. The wild
> plum tree means "independence", but the generic plum tree (presumably
> domesticated, cultivated for the fruit) means "keep your promise" or
> "genius".

Mrs. B differentiates three kinds of plum blossoms. The Indian plum is
"privation;" the tree plum is "fidelity" (that's the one I would guess
here); the wild plum is "independence."

> Near the bench where they are sitting in a long-forgotten garden
> are a few beds of simple flowers and herbs--"rosemary, angelica, mint,
> basil, and rue", meaning, respectively, "remembrance", "inspiration",
> "virtue", "hatred (or "give me your good wishes")", and "disdain". [N1]

Mrs. B. agrees with the above. But I must admit I am suprised. What does one
make of Keats's "Isabella, or the Pot of Basil?"
> 4) In Thrax, on the morning of the last day of her life with Sev,
> Dorcas cut her hair short and left their rooms after putting a white peony
> in her hair. (III, II) There are several meanings for the white peony:
> "anger", "bashfulness", "shame". Anger and shame are both indicated here.
> The book opens with Dorcas-- who fears and avoids water--recounting
> standing under a waterfall in the women's bath, trying to wash the stench
> of the prison tunnels out of her hair. She is angry with the women she
> heard talking about her, the paramour of a torturer, and the things they
> say about Sev. She is also angry with Sev, because she realizes what the
> women are saying is true. She feels shame for herself for putting up with
> it, for going to bed in a room atop those very tunnels. While listening to
> Dorcas air her feelings (III, I), Sev likens the yellow lights of the city
> below to a jonquil. The jonquil means "I desire a return of affection".
> Tough luck.

Mrs. B. doesn't include "anger" with the peony, only shame and bashfulness
(odd, with such a showy flower). She agrees about the jonquil.
> 5) When Sev last sees Dorcas, it is in the ruins of lower Nessus.
> Traveling up the Gyoll aboard the _Samru_, Sev spies "...a little boat,
> newly built, tied to an ancient pier." What follows is either an
> absolutely astonishing act of intuition or the one instance in the entire
> Urth Cycle when slow-witted Sev is smarter than the reader. He asks to be
> put ashore alongside the boat, and there reveals what else he saw from the
> deck of the ship; "...a wilted scarlet poppy left lying on the single
> seat." (IV, XXXII). By means inexplicable, he finds his way to the
> long-deserted shop where Dorcas had lived with her husband and child.
> "Perhaps it was no more than the perfume of the blossom she wore, because
> when I saw her she had an arum, freckled white and sweet as Dorcas herself
> had always been, thrust into her hair. No doubt she had brought it there
> for that purpose, and had taken out the wilted poppy and cast it down when
> she had tied up her boat." What purpose? As the text reads, it means the
> purpose of guiding him to her in the shop via the scent of the arum. Yet
> there is no way for her to know or even suspect that Sev is anywhere near
> Nessus. He enters the rear of the shop through "a narrow door hidden under
> ivy". The ivy vine means "matrimony, marriage". Inside, with her back to
> him, she is kneeling before a bier on which is the dead body of the old
> boatman, her former husband. Beside her is a basket "not small yet not
> large either".

The scarlet poppy is "fantastic extravagance;" I would tend to think that it
refers to her life with Sev rather than to the boat; wilted, it has been
cast off in favor of the symbols of love and fidelity. The arum is "ardour"
(like Mrs. B., I use Brit spelling). For ivy, she adds "fidelity" to
> The generic meaning of a poppy, or of a red poppy, is
> "consolation", but that of a scarlet poppy is "fantastic extravagance". I
> don't know if Sev can tell the difference between red and scarlet. If
> taken literally, fantastic extravagance may refer to the expense of the
> "newly built" boat, a boat she will have little more use for. The arum has
> two meanings, "ardor" and "ferocity and deceit".[N2] I think the first of
> those meanings can be dismissed, given her circumstances. The spotted arum
> means both "ardor" and "great warmth". As for "ferocity and deceit", that
> depends on exactly what has been going on. There are lingering questions
> about exactly how she came to be in the Lake of Birds, but more and more
> of her memories had been coming back even before she left Sev. She may
> have remembered how she got there, which may relate to the old boatman's
> timely demise. Recall that in the same conversation that Sev and Dorcas
> had in the gardens of the House Absolute that I mentioned above, Dorcas
> objected to Dr. Talos having labeled Sev as Death, that he wasn't really
> like that. Sev called it a metaphor, and Dorcas said it was a bad
> metaphor. In the last paragraph of that chapter Sev wrote: "...it occurred
> to me to wonder whether Dr. Talos's calling Dorcas "Innocence" had not
> been a metaphor of the same kind."

I don't know what to say about the below either, except that these are all
common wild plants. Loosestrife, a significant weed in America, was not
known to Mrs. B; she might have put it with foxglove (another spiky plant),
which means "insincerity."

> [N1] "...twined lupine, purple loosestrife, and white meadow rue." are the
> wildflowers that deck the bowers of Sev and his fellow gods. Lupine (very
> Wolfean) means "voraciousness; inspiration; dejection". Loosestrife
> (lysimachia vulgaris) means "pretension". Lysimachia is Greek for "ending
> strife". Purple loosestrife (lythrum salicaria) derives its color from
> lythrum, a word from the Greek "lythron", meaning "blood". I don't know if
> the qualifiers "white" and "meadow" charge the meaning of white meadow rue
> (thalictrum aquilegiifolium 'album') with any meaning beyond the typical
> meaning for rue of "disdain".
> [N2] Dragonwort is another name for the common arum, as is wake-robin and
> snakeweed. Dragonwort means "horror" (as does mandrake) in the language of
> flowers. It is mentioned in the OED that those who carry the leaves and
> roots of the dragonwort are protected against vipers and serpents. In
> chapter XXVII of CLAW Dorcas likened the stream that she, Sev, and Jolenta
> camped beside to a big snake. Given her fear of water, she may have
> carried the arum in the boat with her down the Gyoll to ameliorate her
> fear of the river.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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