“Daffodils have been a symbol of spring and rebirth in many cultures, not just because that is when they flower, but because of their persistence in coming back every year….
“As a spring flower, it is no surprise that daffodils are seen as a symbol of rebirth and new life in many different cultures. In China what are called paperwhites in English (various forms of Narcissus papyraceus) are used to celebrate Spring Festival (New Year), the most important Chinese festival, around late January or early February. Traditionally, bulbs are grown without soil, set out on pebbles in shallow plates with their roots growing down into water in the bottom of the plate….
“In western and central Europe, daffodils are often used to adorn churches as part of celebrations of spring and the resurrection of Christ. In Medieval Christian art, the flower is used as a symbol of paradise, and triumph over death; it is often associated with the Virgin Mary. In the Muslim Middle East it may, somewhat paradoxically, be seen as a symbol of death and planted on graves, because its growth in spring reminds people of the life to come. In classical Arabic poetry, Poeticus daffodils are seen as having ‘eyes’ and therefore of being the eyes of the garden as well as being symbols of love, longing, and desire….”
“The word ‘narcissus’ is linked inexorably with that of the beautiful boy Narcissus in Greek mythology, who was unaware of the intense love for him felt by the wood nymph Echo, who was cursed by being only able to repeat his last words. Eventually she pined away for him to such an extent that she became only a faint voice in the woods. As a revenge and punishment on Narcissus, Venus, the god of love, sent Cupid to cast a spell over him, so that he would fall in love with the first face he saw….
“What happened, of course, is that he leaned over a pool to drink and fell in love with his own image. Like Echo, he began to waste away with unrequited love, but the gods took pity on him, and turned him into a flower — a daffodil, probably Narcissus tazetta, which we know to have been grown in ancient Greece. Not surprisingly, daffodils came to symbolize both unrequited love and egotism in the Victorian language of flowers, and narcissism has come to mean a pathological sense of preening self-worth.”
Well, there you have it: Boy doesn’t meet nymph, dimly falls in love with his own reflection instead, gets bewitched into a flower, and is linked with a pathology for centuries. Keep his fate in mind next time a wood nymph tried to get your attention.
I’m a big fan of the varieties in the first five photos (and in the last five, with black backgrounds). The others, though, have a different sort of charm: each was a single daffodil standing on its own in an odd place, as certain daffodils like to do.
“Daffodils are somehow the quintessential spring flower. The appearance of their distinctive yellow blooms is a sure sign that winter has either ended or is about to soon….
“There are around twenty-seven thousand unique cultivars of daffodil. Unlike other flowers — roses, tulips, orchids, whose numbers of deliberately bred varieties range across great swathes of the spectrum or show off an extravagant range of shapes — daffodils are remarkably alike. All single cultivars have the same basic shape — a cup (also called a corona) and petals (although botanists do not call them petals); even the doubles or the strange ‘split-corona’ varieties easily betray their basic inheritance. Above all there is the colour, more or less every shade of yellow which can be imagined, but very little else: white of course, but then almost every flower has at least one white variant, some flashes of orange, but never very much, and that’s it; there are so-called pink varieties, but they are more of a tan-apricot. One of the fascinating things about daffodils is just how much play we can have with the same basic design and the same colour scheme, about how much breeders, the bulb trade, and we — the customers — keep on coming back for more….”
Every now and then I wonder why I’ve never gotten tired of taking photographs of plants, trees, and flowers. I tend to think about that when I realize that my photos of this year’s daffodils, for example, are not that much different from my photos of last year’s daffodils, or those from the year before… and also as spring and summer unfold and I know I’ll end out photographing plants in my own garden, all specimens I’ve photographed previously (along with a few newcomers and whatever else catches my camera’s eyes).
I seldom go back and look at previous photos in my collections, so often my only recognition of a newer photo’s similarity to a previous photo is in bits of memory, which is I guess where old photos reside anyway. But when I do take a look, there are always fun surprises: even though the textures and colors in nature are constantly changing, I can sometimes pinpoint that a photo taken today was of the same subject I took in the past, in the same approximate location, and maybe even the same time of day. The daffodils in this post appeared here previously in 2020 (see Spring 2020: March is for Daffodils (3 of 4), but I must have missed them in 2021. Just as they did in 2020, this year’s crop was growing behind a concrete wall, creating a nice diversion as their top-heavy blooms curved the stems against the stone for some soft-versus-hard contrast and some dark background drama. They’re the same, yet different: a singular characteristic of photography is that if often feels like you are seeing something for the first time, even when you’re not. Close-up or macro photography seems to intensify that experience: it takes only the slightest change in positioning the camera to create a distinctly alternate view of the same subject. And then, in post-processing, Lightroom’s nearly endless options for adjusting and enhancing colors, textures, and backgrounds seems to turn each photo into an event of its own.
I learned from Noel Kingsbury’s book about daffodils — quoted above — that the flowers featured in this post are a form of double-daffodil, their distinction consisting of a multitude of soft, overlapping petals (reminding me of tissue-paper flowers) and a center cup that’s less apparent than other daffodils (such as trumpet varieties). This particular variety is almost pure white — and, actually, in bright sunlight or from a distance they look like that — but close-up each clump of petals shows off swatches of contrasting light yellow or cream color toward their center.