identification and limitation

En route to the station, I pass by these lovely purple flowers:

purple flowers similar to nightshadeThe plant must be well over six foot in height – the flowers tumble over a fence too high for me to look over – and I think it must be growing in the garden of a pub that has been “under offer” for at least the last six months.

small purple star-shaped flowers similar to nightshadeI know three plants that have flowers that look like that – aubergines, potatoes and deadly nightshade – so I’m really quite keen to see what happens when the berries set.

Although there is little real connection, this is as good an excuse as any to re-post this old poem:

night shades

Sounds rise through plaster, wood and dust; they twist
between the ceiling joists, and round ceramic tiles to twine
with moonlight, drifting, woven in dreams, until
they filter into consciousness. Then,
there are no more dreams:

the sounds contract
to words as hard
and tight as fists that punch
into the sobbing night.

I hear the darkness
catch its breath
and a banshee wail
drags the dawn

Last time I posted that piece, almost five years ago, I pondered whether it is important for the reader to understand what a poet had in mind when they wrote specific phrases. I don’t think it is.

Essentially, I believe that the sensation and emotion evoked by the sounds and rhythms of a poem are every bit as important as any identifiable semantic or narrative significance. In fact, by demanding specific explanations, we impose limits, forcing a focus on one single interpretation and denying other possibilities.

At the moment, I can imagine that the plant with the purple flowers is sprouting from a potato the size of a small car, that the garden behind the fence is a mass of deadly nightshades two metres high, or a number of other possibilities. Perhaps I should be satisfied with the fact the flowers are pretty and brighten my day, and not demand that they be specifically identified.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

5 thoughts on “identification and limitation”

  1. I think it might be Solanum crispum, the “Chilean nightshade”, or a cultivated variety of it that’s not had the benefit of being actively cultivated recently, but the stems are perhaps too woody. It’s almost certainly not Solanum ducamara, the “woody nightshade”, which has woody stems but narrower, curlier petals. Perhaps it’s a monstrous hybrid of a nightshade and a triffid.

    Thanks for the opportunity to research nightshades. Thanks also for posting the poem, but I can’t say I like it much. The last few lines are decidedly poor, with the “catch its breath” cliché followed by the mixed metaphor of a wail that drags.


    1. Ah, the Chilean nightshade, also known as the Potato Vine, a semi-evergreen climber described by the Royal Horticultural Society as large and “scrambling.” That sounds about right: thank you.

      The poem is old and I agree it’s not particularly good, but I am fond of it – for the wrong reasons: it reminds me of a flat I lived in in Madrid, the neighbours we didn’t know, and, thinking beyond the poem, back to wakeful nights in late spring, of the nightingale that used to sing in the trees in the cemetery, as well as the less musical noise of bottle banks being emptied at 5am.


      1. There’s nothing wrong with being fond of an inferior poem. F R Leavis might disagree, but I think that the second-rate has an important place in literature. However, in this case I think the poem could be improved.

        As for the Chilean nightshade:

        The problem with Chileans
        Is that some of them have been vileans,
        Including General “Nightshade” Pinochet,
        Who caused many of his opponents to sinodet.

        Apologies to, er, just about everybody, and especially to E Clerihew Bentley.


      2. Who gets to decide what’s second-rate?
        And should I really return to old poems and try and “improve” them?
        I think that if I were to write this piece now, I’d either write exactly the same or start somewhere else entirely – so improving it is probably not the best course of action.

        (I love the clerihew, but am always tempted to pronounce the name pin-o-CHETT, as many Spanish speakers would, which does rather ruin things.)


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