Last Tuesday I picked up some gorgeous daffodils which were just about to open at my thesis advisor’s house. They opened over the next few days and filled the room with that ethereal jonquil smell—green, powdery, and very light. They looked positively luminous on our dining table, and I enjoyed every second of their presence in my home. Now, 6 days later, they look like this. I guess because I’m a literary type, I read this as a symbol, a reminder of the brevity of all beauty in our lives, and as a reminder to enjoy what we have while we have it. Fragrance functions as just such a reminder, a memento mori, for me every day. In its ever so brief lifespan, a fragrance is born, flowers, and decays, over a length of time comparable to the lifespan of a mayfly.
Nothing Gold can Stay, by Robert Frost:
Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Or consider exhibit B, the delightful yet ephemeral nursery rhyme Daffydowndilly, whose protagonist will only be in town for a few brief days (she is ilustrated here by Frederick Richardson for the original Mother Goose:
has come to town
in a yellow petticoat
and a pretty green gown
Then think of your favorite floral perfumes; some of the best, the most delicate of all, will last for the briefest of moments before slipping away, lost until the next time you spray them on, or until, finally, the discontinued bottle runs out.
The question is: what do we do in the face of the inevitable death of all we hold beautiful? DO we stop caring because it hurts too much to let it go in the end, or do we embrace the ephemerality of life, love, and art, and enjoy our time here on earth as much as possible? I’m sure you can guess where I stand on this issue. But William Wordsworth can push my point home much more effectively than I can, so I will include his spring poem here, to help us all recieve consolation for the inevitable death of spring’s most cheerful flower:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.