‘Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.’
Is there a way to save seemingly fragile beauty in the face of impermanence? How poignant it is, that because of his own mortality the author would never know whether his miracle held true.
A tree can rise for hundreds of years only to be felled by a storm or an axe in a matter of hours. It might seem that the storm or the axe has the upper hand. But then, look longer. The noise disappears and the forest, with the knowledge of that tree within its roots, is still standing. That was how Nature, and the Human within Nature, worked. Now, with our Machines of Death unleashing unnatural violence—too much, too fast—the balance is breaking.
In Mayan times, the flower was used as a symbol of life and fertility. What better contrast could there be to wanton destruction? In an image entitled ‘The Ultimate Confrontation: the flower and the bayonet’, a woman holds a
chrysanthemum up to an approaching wall of gun-clad soldiers, and we clearly see which is the true force. When a light is shone, darkness has to fade. Flower-power, instigated by a poet in 1965 as an antidote to violence, might not have stopped the Vietnam war; but decades after that particular battle has gone, a voice still rings out over the airways: ‘All you need is love.’ Love, like the flower, endures.
Take Physic, Pomp!
Image source: The Folger Library, from the Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608. Pattern: borage; roses; honeysuckle.