Monday, 10 January 2011

This insect

This insect and the Lakeland poet
beheld nature's colours fair enhanced;

The rose he gave the girl was black
as black as blood from prick of thorn.

"And the host of golden daffodils
with heads that danced upon his glance?"

Red as primrose in winter's hand; the
hawthorn's flowers are this insect's gold.


We tend to make the mistake of thinking that flowers are there in nature for us to admire their beauty, but of course flowers are really there for the world's insects; and to the insects the colours of the flowers are completely different from what we humans imagine. A flower's pattern may not only be a different colour but in some cases may even be invisible to the human eye. In the above poem, to illustrate the point, I have taken the liberty of lumping Burns together with Wordsworth to create a universal Lakeland poet, although Burns was of course on the other side of Hadrian's Wall. But it's only his "red red rose..." I really take.

As we have recently 'discovered' (using the metaphors of the robin and the squirrel) there are no 'real' colours 'out there' in the natural world, the so-called universe.


  1. As a Scot, I will take 'lumping' Burns in the spirit you mean! Not in the Scots meaning of 'to lump': to beat or thrash eg: "If ye dinna be a wee bit smerter than ye hae been we'll be lumpit."

    Sorry, Gwilym, couldn't resist!

    Great little poem and take on the purpose of flowers. Enjoyed it.

  2. Pat, I think we do well to consider these universal things rather than taking everything at (human) face value. I like poetry because it makes it possible to put one's observations, thoughts, analysis, etc. into a proverbial nutshell. I expect someone has written a 200-page book to say what is said here in a few lines.

    Gordon, Won't be long now. I can see the wee Burns Night dram struggling to open the bottle from the inside. I may curl up with Sam a'Beckett and a 12-year Chivas I got for Xmas. I may even do that now :)

  3. I've never revised 8 lines so many times, but now it feels like it's the end. It must stand or fall.

  4. Love the poem. And the realization that "there are no 'real' colours 'out there' in the natural world, the so-called universe."

  5. Dr Sacks case of the colour blind painter made me rethink the whole business of colour. Briefly, the painter had an accident and his up-the-sequence brain area V4 which selects appropriate colours was damaged but in V1 where the first unretouched lightwaves/particles signal arives from the retina it was ok. The man subsequently lost all memory of colour, because colour was only something manufactured and exisiting in V4.
    V1 saw the untouched original lightwaves/particles as "dirty grey". Now, a friend of mine cannot distinguish between orange and green. He sees both as grey. Is it that he is not modifying the original image in his V4? I imagine that he is seeing the world as it really is. Or at least that part of it involving those two colours.

  6. Revising the poem I was invited to buy haggis online. Enough said? Och aye :)


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