Sunday, August 12, 2012

`With Star-Fluff in Its Fist'

I haven’t seen my favorite flower, the dandelion, in months. Like the best writers, dandelions thrive in adversity, so I suspect our on-again-off-again drought is not the explanation. Their beauty is bound up with their toughness and adaptability,  qualities I admire in literature and human beings. Collected in Nabokov’s Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) is “Dandelions,” which he wrote in English in 1950: 

“Moons on the lawn replace the suns
That mowers happily had missed,
Where age would stoop, a baby will squat
With star-fluff in its fist.”

The Russian dandelion, incidentally, is Taraxacum kok-saghyz, or rubber-root, and was cultivated in the Soviet Union as an alternative source of rubber. The bitter white sap in the stems and roots is sticky, which makes bouquet-picking a messy undertaking. Nabokov’s poem reminded me of the first stanza of the funeral song in Cymbeline:

“Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun.
Nor the furious winter’s rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.”

Nabokov and Shakespeare both see emblems of aging in the dandelion maturing from yellow florets to fluffy white seeds. Shakespeare’s song is deeper and more sublime but I’ll think of “star-fluff” when I finally see another dandelion.

1 comment:

Helen Pinkerton said...

Only Shakespeare can raise a pun to immortality.