The Flower and the Meaning of Life


A glance into “the very coronary heart of nature’s double nature.”


The Flower and the Meaning of Life

“To be a flower,” Emily Dickinson wrote in her pre-ecological poem about ecology, “is profound Accountability.”

A century later, in some of the poetic and existentially ravishing kids’s* books of all time, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry made his hero’s central preoccupation the accountability for a single flower — the Little Prince’s beloved rose: fragile and self-concerned, ferociously hungry for love, able to such tenderness and such cruelty, so ephemeral and so cussed, a lot a miniature of the contradictory animating forces that make us human.

Artwork by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from the unique 1943 version of The Little Prince.

Within the following century, as all shops in Los Angeles have been pressured to shut on the mortal peak of a world pandemic, my photographer good friend Elena Dorfman made her solution to the town’s final open flower market, gathered dozens of flowers, and commenced documenting their sluggish entropic unblossoming as the times unspooled into weeks — images that turned an arresting metaphor for a mortal world all of the sudden fathoming its fragility and resilience in a brand new manner, all of the sudden awake to the profound accountability of staying alive.

Elena Dorfman. Flores Vitae / Flores Mortes. 2020.

For so long as people have been alive and awake to our bittersweet cosmic inheritance as transient constellations of atoms able to transcendent magnificence, we’ve got present in flowers fashions of ethical knowledge, emblems of freedom, nonbinary pioneers, portals to paying consideration. Over the epochs of time and thought, flowers have rivaled bushes as mirrors for the which means of our human lives.

Honeysuckle by Rebecca Hey from The Ethical of Flowers, 1833. (Accessible as a print.)

That’s what Michael Pollan explores in some pretty passages from The Botany of Want (public library) — the trendy traditional that gave us the unconventional roots of the flying-witch legend and the story of how a virus made the world’s most prized flower.

In consonance with Borges’s conviction that point is the substance we’re product of, Pollan considers time because the tendril by which flowers exert their existential pull on us:

Our expertise of flowers is so deeply drenched in our sense of time. Possibly there’s a great motive we discover their fleetingness so piercing, can scarcely take a look at a flower in bloom with out considering forward, whether or not in hope or remorse. We’d share with sure bugs a tropism inclining us towards flowers, however presumably bugs can take a look at a blossom with out entertaining ideas of the previous and future — sophisticated human ideas that will as soon as have been something however idle. Flowers have all the time had necessary issues to show us about time.

Specimens from the teenage Emily Dickinson’s herbarium.

Time, in fact, is itself a creature of paradoxes — directly the relentless ahead momentum of our mortality and the best antidote to the nervousness of aliveness. “While you notice you’re mortal you additionally notice the tremendousness of the long run,” wrote the poet, painter, and thinker Etel Adnan in her beautiful meditation on impermanence and transcendence. “You fall in love with a Time you’ll by no means understand.”

It might be, Pollan intimates, that flowers betoken exactly this elemental duality and thru it solid their enchantment upon us. After contouring their astonishing evolutionary historical past — so astonishing that the baffled Darwin referred to as it “an abominable thriller” — he writes:

Look right into a flower, and what do you see? Into the very coronary heart of nature’s double nature — that’s, the contending energies of creation and dissolution, the spiring towards advanced kind and the tidal draw back from it. Apollo and Dionysus have been names the Greeks gave to those two faces of nature, and nowhere in nature is their contest as plain or as poignant as it’s in the great thing about a flower and its fast passing. There, the achievement of order in opposition to all odds and its blithe abandonment. There, the perfection of artwork and the blind flux of nature. There, by some means, each transcendence and necessity. May that be it — proper there, in a flower — the which means of life?

Artwork by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from The Little Prince, 1943.

Complement with Rachel Carson on the ocean as a lens on the which means of life and Rebecca Solnit on bushes and the form of time — for any fragment of nature contemplated intently and sensitively sufficient turns into a lens on human nature and our seek for which means, as Rockwell Kent so keenly felt amid the wild Alaskan solitude, observing that nature is “a form of dwelling mirror that offers again as its personal all and solely all that the creativeness… brings to it.”


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