Monday 11 March 2019

A post about snowdrops

That's the translation of its part-Greek, part-Latin scientific name, Galanthus nivalis.

Fair enough, but its more traditional nickname, 'the flower of hope', gets closer to why it means so much to me.

First seeing their bobbing white blooms always cheers me up, and I've long looked out for them at the beginning of each year - this year even more than ever.

And I first spotted them next to a busy Morecambe road less than a week after New Year's Day, and have been obsessing about them ever since.

(Obsessing even more than about BBC bias? Probably not). 

As the BBC would be the first to tell you though, the snowdrop isn't an English native (it was first recorded as naturalised in the UK in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire in 1770), and if you eat it you could end up spending a huge amount of time fearing to stray too far from your toilet lest its consequences manifest themselves in unfortunate eruptions from your stomach via either your upper mouth or your much lower rear mouth, so to speak.

But aren't they beautiful? And now, alas, they're leaving us for another year.

The deeply unfashionable (though beloved of In Our Time's Lord Wig of Braggton) poet William Wordsworth wrote a poem about them. (Yes, WW wasn't just some pro-daffodil bigot, whatever David Lammy MP might say about him):
LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend:
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring
And pensive monitor of fleeting years!
The late Miles Kington once compared them to a demented little white corps de ballet that dances out along the roadside, through fences, coyly back into woods, everywhere you go.

Cue Tchaikovsky, who made them represent April in his The Seasons. 

Eat your heart out, Sarah Sands of Today!


  1. Went out to look for snowdrops on 9 Feb this year and couldn't find any in their usual place. It would be quite a blow for February to pass without seeing a snowdrop. Fortunately we came across some in another place.
    Wordsworth also wrote one called On Seeing a Tuft of Snowdrops in a Storm.

    1. Ah yes...

      On Seeing a Tuft of Snowdrops in a Storm

      When haughty expectations prostrate lie,
      And grandeur crouches like a guilty thing,
      Oft shall the lowly weak, till nature bring
      Mature release, in fair society
      Survive, and Fortune’s utmost anger try;
      Like these frail snow-drops that together cling,
      And nod their helmets smitten by the wing
      Of many a furious whirlblast sweeping by.
      Observe the faithful flowers! if small to great
      May lead the thoughts, thus struggling used to stand
      The Emathian phalanx, nobly obstinate;
      And so the bright immortal Theban band,
      Whom onset, fiercely urged at Jove’s command,
      Might overwhelm, but could not separate!

      By Jove, I've learned a new word there - "Emathian".

      Emathia (Greek: Ἠμαθία), the plain opposite the Thermaic Gulf when the kingdom of Macedon was formed.

      I may have to use that more - e.g. "The BBC Complaints department operates with the obstinacy, but without the nobility, of an Emathian phalanx".

    2. An Emathian phalanx doesn't exactly come to mind at the sight of a snowdrop. I've gone off Wordsworth a bit. I've looked around quite a lot and never found a favourite: there doesn't seem to be a snowdrop poem by anyone, like say, the daffodils, that everyone knows and loves (although maybe not precisely everyone!)or even as good as several poems about spring. Michael Longley's The Snowdrops is unusual and sombre, remembering the war dead at a burial place in Scotland:

      Inauspicious between headstones
      On Angel Hill, wintry love
      Tokens for Murdo, Alistair,
      Duncan, home from the trenches,
      Back in Balmacara and Kyle,
      Cameronians, Gordon Highlanders
      Clambering on hands and knees
      Up the steep path to this graveyard
      The snowdrops whiten, green-
      Hemmed frost-piercers, buttonhole
      Or posy, Candlemas bells
      For soldiers who come here on leave
      And rest against rusty railings
      Like out-of-breath pallbearers.

      Interesting to see the old name Candlemas bells.


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