Wednesday Vignette: Heavenly Folly Made This World So Bright

With daffodils mad footnotes for the spring,
And asters purple asterisks for autumn —

– Conrad Aiken, Preludes for Memnon, 1931

22 April 2018
7 Nov 2018

Photos from my garden in New Hampshire, taken 199 days apart.

I love asters as asterisks: stars (Greek ἀστήρ, aster) here on earth and on the printed page.

Aiken’s Preludes for Memnon is a very long poem (112 pp) in 63 parts. The quote above is from section 59:


This biped botanist, this man of eyes,
This microscope with legs, who turns the seasons
Under his lens, one grassblade to another,
Pursuing god from leaf to spore, and seed
To calyx, all his world become a world
Of chlorophil as green as any greenfly —

With daffodils mad footnotes for the spring,
And asters purple asterisks for autumn —
Reads the vast page of idems and quem vides,
Confers, collects, collates, compares, concludes;
And one day walks, his pocket full of seeds,
Into the forcing-bed prepared for him.

Where, like a bulb, he swells, and grows, and thrusts
Inquiry upward, and inquiry downward,
To find if light is lighter than the dark,
Or dark less dark than light; to watch the worm
Crawl on small hands and knees between the rootlets;
Or see the sun unfold his flower at dawn.

O peeping god, what secret would you have?
Here on spring’s margin sings the daffodil,
Such precious nonsense as no god foresaw.
Pick it, dissect and analyze its root:
It is your heart; then laugh, with fool’s delight,
That heavenly folly made this world so bright.

Note that there are typos in the above linked page (Preludes for Memnon), but it’s the only full version of the poem I could find online.

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One comment

  1. Sweet! I never reflected over the word Aster as being the root of asterisk, but of course… it makes total sense! Now I will never see them the same way again! 😀

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