I never used to like tulips. The colours were pretty enough in the park flowerbeds of my childhood, but the neat rows of tight scarlet blooms perched atop rigidly straight stalks reminded me too closely of redcoat soldiers. I was never much of one for the military or for regimented discipline and precision.
Then, some years ago, I read a poem that made me look at tulips afresh and see that they express more personality and attitude than many cut flowers.
At the time I didn’t realise how much of an impression the poem had made, so I didn’t copy it down. Since then, I’ve tried on a number of occasions to locate it online, but with little success although I’m sure I’d recognise it if I read it again. The closest I’ve found is Deaths of Flowers by Edith Joy Scovell.
I had a vase of tulips in the house this week. When I brought them home, although the colours were effusive, the flowers themselves were tight-lipped and prim. They were holding themselves together carefully, keeping close control in response to the insult of being cut and sold in the supermarket.
Soon, though they marshalled their energies, opening their petals wide and craning their necks to get a better view of their new situation.
At that point, the flowers became positively vulgar, indecorously flaunting their hearts and their reproductive organs without any thought for social proprieties: the bright petals peeled back to reveal dark sooty anthers surrounding a waxy three-headed pistil.
The leaves and stalks, meanwhile, were a tangled skein of green, suggesting something primordial and abundant.
Of course these are cut flowers, so this display of apparent fertility is entirely wasted.
There is nothing left for these tulips now, but to writhe and twist as they try in vain to escape captivity, then accept their fate and slowly bow their heads, shedding their petals one by one in the final death throes.