It’s that time of year in South Dakota when we’re seeing signs of the end of winter, but spring and its flowers are still a ways off. I’ve heard birds chirping again. I think I’ve seen robins. I hunger for colors other than white (snow) or brown (dirty snow or dormant grass).
It’s that time of the year when I want to buy spring flowers, especially the sunny, bright daffodils.
Daffodil is the common name for any flowers in the narcissus (Latin/scientific name) genus. Daffodils are sometimes called jonquils, but jonquils are one species of daffodil.
Daffodils come from regions around the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East. The Ancient Greeks and Romans loved the flowers. In fact, Romans brought daffodils with them to Britain. They thought the flowers had medicinal benefits. Turns out, they were right.
Now farmers in Wales are growing fields of daffodils for a specific plant extract, galantamine, that is used to slow the progression of dementia.
Daffodils also have a couple big connections to literature. The first is to the Greek myth of Narcissus, a man given good looks and immortality by the gods. The wood nymph named Echo fell in love with him, he rejected her, and she grieved until nothing was left but her voice. One of the goddesses, Nemesis, punished Narcissus by causing him to see his reflection in a pool of water. He fell in love with his appearance and would not look away from his reflection. Eventually, he disappeared and a flower was left.
The daffodil may or may not be the actual flower the Greeks associated with the myth. But the scientist Linneas picked a certain wild daffodil species he thought was “the one.” He named it Narcissus poeticus (Poet’s Daffodil).
The other major daffodil-literature connection is William Wordsworth’s famous poem, Daffodils (written in 1804 and inspired by a journal entry of his sister, Dorothy). The poem begins with the line, “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” and ends, “And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.”
In another serendipitous connection, in the video below, Gary Glazner is reciting the last two lines of Daffodils with a class of preschoolers. The really wonderful thing is he uses poetry (and started the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project) to interact with dementia sufferers.
Dementia has, and continues, to affect my family. So, I love it that my favorite spring flower helps, in more ways than one, those who suffer from dementia.
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What other literary-daffodil connections are there? Especially with stories for children? What is your experience reciting poetry with children? Elderly? Dementia patients?