I have just taken delivery of the first 100 copies of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, hot off of the proverbial press. I know there have been issues for the publishers as printers let them down but we have the copies for the launch and we’ll take it from there. These past few days have been really stressful, but it is the same for everyone who has a project that is important to them. As the deadline creeps upon us the anxiety increases. So perhaps it is time to take a breather; relax and let the tension go for a while. For me, the best way to relax and unwind is to brew a cup of proper coffee, take a biscuit from the tin and sit with a book of poetry – just flicking through the pages until something strikes me. It might just be a word, or a line. But it takes me out of myself into the world of the imagination. Nothing better.
Today though, I wanted to be a little more specific in my choice of coffee break reading. So I have been looking specifically for poems written about dandelions. Taraxacum officinale. Common and usually thought of as a weed it is actually a remarkably beautiful flower – the bright yellow bloom turning into a perfectly round silver seed head with tufts that scatter – disappearing as they are caught in the slightest breeze.
Would any well-known poets have written about such a common little plant? Well yes, they did. The first two, by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are full of hope for a new spring:
The Dandelion’s pallid tube
by Emily Dickinson
The Dandelion’s pallid tube
Astonishes the Grass,
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas —
The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower, —
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is o’er.
The First Dandelion
by Walt Whitman
Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass–innocent, golden, calm
as the dawn,
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face.
But my favourite is by 19th century poet John Clare, said by biographer Jonathan Bate to be ‘the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self’. John Clare spent many years in mental hospitals – firstly a private establishment in Epping, Essex and then in Northampton General Lunatic Asylum. He was indeed alienated and lost to himself and the world. But in this poem he rescues the humble dandelion from it’s ordinary existence and exalts it as something much grander in the natural world:
From “A Rhapsody” (excerpt)
by John Clare
Tis May; and yet the March flower Dandelion
Is still in bloom among the emerald grass,
Shining like guineas with the sun’s warm eye on–
We almost think they are gold as we pass,
Or fallen stars in a green sea of grass.
They shine in fields, or waste grounds near the town.
They closed like painter’s brush when even was.
At length they turn to nothing else but down,
While the rude winds blow off each shadowy crown
The title of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days come from a piece in the book written by writer Vivienne Tufnell. She too offers a new perspective on unloved plant. From now on, the only time I will have anything bad to say about it is when I am digging down endlessly to free the taproot from where it has seeded itself on our allotment…