Welcome to day 5 of 28 Days of Have Heaven, a short month of posts about heaven, paradise, perfection and desire, perfect places, art, theology, gardens, and more, using the Enya song “China Roses” as a jumping off point. Each post will look at these elements in itself, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may only peripherally be related. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted
We’re in the midst of a dozen days or so playing with some of the lyrics and elements in the song “China Roses.” It’s packed with interesting plants and allusions, and since I don’t know what was in lyricist Roma Ryan’s head when she concocted this magic, I feel I can construe the lines as I wish (“who can say the way it should be?,” after all).
Yesterday, the topic was China roses. Today, the topics are Moonlight holly, the Sappho comet, and Angel’s tears.
As I mentioned at the start, taken as a whole, the lyrics span time from dawn through day to evening, night, and moon rise, evoking an exotic Eden, mythic and romantic, scented with heady fragrances, planted with unusual specimens made lush by rain and river, under a swirl of celestial motion. Explicit in the words and implicit in the connotations, histories, and mythologies are repetitions and reverberations of these conjurings, a journey through time in a day, time in an eon, eternity in the cosmos.
Here again are the lyrics:
Who can tell me if we have heaven,
Who can say the way it should be;
Moonlight holly, the Sappho Comet,
Angel’s tears below a tree.
You talk of the break of morning
As you view the new aurora,
Cloud in crimson, the key of heaven,
One love carved in acajou.
One told me of China Roses,
One a thousand nights and one night,
Earth’s last picture, the end of evening:
Hue of indigo and blue.
A new moon leads me to
Woods of dreams and I follow.
A new world waits for me;
My dream, my way.
I know that if I have heaven
There is nothing to desire.
Rain and river, a world of wonder
May be paradise to me.
Moonlight holly: Ilex aquifolium ‘Flavescens’: Earliest reference, 1854. An unusual holly, with a combination of canary-yellow young foliage contrasting with the dark green mature foliage. In winter, the leaves may also be tinged plum purple after a frost. In this colour shifting, it reminds me of the China rose’s changing colours over time. A sort of motif emerging in the song about change, mutability, the work that time does? ‘Flavescens’ is female form only (requires a male holly nearby for fruiting).
Here’s a little video showing what it looks like in the landscape.
A whole flock of waxwings occupied the holly, feasted on the berries,
And as if a single brush stroke, the flock lifted, banked, settled in the
Only to rise, to retrace the curve back to the holly.
Rilke says, “Even
Has a shape in the permanent realm of mutations.”
Even, I wonder, the forgetting of the memory of having forgotten? — Eric Pankey, opening lines to “Small Confessions”
Sappho Comet: It sounds celestial but it’s a hummingbird! Sappho sparganurus (named in 1812) is called the Sappho comet, the red-tailed Comet, the Sappho hummingbird. It’s a neo-tropical hummingbird, living in the central Andes of Bolivia and Argentina, in Chile and in Peru. One of the largest hummingbirds, it’s also one of the most beautiful; males sport a green head, reddish violet back and rump, and “a deeply forked, spectacular, long, iridescent, golden-reddish tail, longer than the length of the body, while the female has a shorter reddish-bronze tail” (Wikipedia) Sappho was a female poet from the Greek island Lesbos, born around 630 BC, known for her homoerotic poetry.
See the hummingbird in action!
Angel’s tears: Angel’s tears can refer to many things, including the tears of an angel, which fits in with the “heaven” theme (angels are supernatural beings in many religions and mythologies), and several videos set to Enya’s “China Roses” depict angels, some crying, some not.
I’m focusing more on the four plants commonly called “Angel’s tears,” which are Brugmansia suaveolens (formerly Datura suaveolens; also called snowy angel’s trumpet), originally from Brazil but thought to be extinct in the wild now, a shrubby plant in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family with large semi-evergreen leaves and fragrant white trumpet-shaped flowers; Billbergia ‘Windii’, a bromeliad whose “magnificent flowers appear overnight (literally!) as a pendulous inflorescence of rosy-pink bracts. Within a few days, long yellow and pink flowers – margined by blue and green – emerge from the tip;” Narcissus triandrus, a bulb with creamy yellow drooping flowers in the Amaryllidaceae family; and Soleirolia soleirolii, a shade-loving green leafy plant in the Urticaceae (nettle) family, sometimes also called Irish moss or baby’s tears. The latter two plants are native to Europe, and both might grow below a tree, so it’s probably to one of these that the lyrics refer, if not to a supernatural angel.
But the Brugmansia suaveolens is what I’ve seen and it’s what I’m going with. It’s a semi-woody shrub with white night-blooming flowers that hang half-closed during the day but awaken in the evening when their sweet fragrance attracts pollinating moths. It would be a lovely addition to a moon garden. All parts are considered poisonous to humans, containing the alkaloids atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine, though shamans and indigenous people may ingest parts of the plant ritually.
(Photos below of Brugmansia shrub and flower, taken at Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2013, planted in the historic district landscape, and of flowers at Longwood Gardens, 2017.)
TOMORROW: The break of morning and the new aurora.
“I recall the wind, the lilacs, the gray, the perfume, the song, and the wind, but I don’t recall what the angel said.” — Alejandra Pizarnik, inscription below her etching, The Galloping Hour: French Poems