The Lived Flower
If you know me then you've probably read the passage in The Stream of Life / Agua Viva (depending on the translation) by Clarice Lispector about flowers, which begins: “Now I’m going to speak of the sadness of flowers in order to feel more fully the order of what exists.” How that passage has sustained me, how it has made me feel alive!
Clarice’s flowers will bring you to Hélène Cixous’ flowers. They have to. That is also one of the secrets of flowers – they send us on the pollen path. We are led. In her book, Coming to Writing Cixous says:
“Knowing how to see flowers: knowing how to live them. It was a bouquet of known flowers that shone, on my table, on my books, on the sheets of paper, and suddenly I understood that I was reading by the light of flowers.”
“…for we have always known that flowers are women, we have all lived one or two flowers.”
What flowers have you lived? It’s enough to ask yourself that some mornings. To think about the geraniums, overwintered, their tough and craggy limbs, all the slips taken from them, their proliferation, their red exclamations. And maybe it’s in the morning that we feel the lives of the flowers most fully, and when they can bring us back, down into ourselves, into that wedge-shaped core.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh says, “Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day - like writing a poem or saying a prayer.” We breathe in their scent, we give them our attention, and they take us both out of ourselves, and deeper within. May Sarton wrote, “On my desk, small pink roses…When I am alone the flowers are really seen; I can pay attention to them. They are felt as presences. Without them I would die.”
The artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who also painted large, abstracted flowers, said this: “you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for a moment.” I suppose there are many ways to think about existence, but the contemplation of a flower is one place to begin.
In a poem titled, “Thanks to Flowers” Kath Farell says:
The word flower thrives in every language,
adorning what everyone says and imagines
with the beautiful thought of flowers
which teach by timeless example
that life goes by anyway; you might as well
And it’s true that the word flower thrives, even in iciest winter, for which I give profound thanks. And it’s true that you might as well flower.
In our house we tend to keep flowers long past their prime, finding it hard to give them up, no matter how they droop, fade. It is near the end perhaps, that we look upon them with the most tenderness. And maybe this is the flower I want to live, the one at the ends. Robert Bly says, “I am proud only of those days that pass in undivided tenderness.” Which reminds me also of the line by Galway Kinnell : “The title of every good poem could be ‘Tenderness’.”
I only know that, like May Sarton, without flowers I would die. And that I want to spend my days in undivided tenderness. And also, that I would like to write good books, I would like to flower. I want to live.