Monday, August 06, 2012

Gentian Blue

Gentiana asclepiadea, August 5, 2012

In the late 80s I traveled to England on a literary tour that included Eastwood where D.H. Lawrence was born. I went into his house. It was a very cold but sunny day and in Lawrence’s room where he had lived as a young boy I suddenly felt extremely depressed. Lawrence is one of my favourite writers but every time I read him I feel that melancholy. Perhaps I equate him to my Buenos Aires born but very English father. Both were alcoholics.

About 12 years ago my Argentine artist friend Juan Manuel Sánchez, gave me a Spanish translation (a Chilean edition) of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and commanded me to read it. I must say that Sánchez was right and to this day it is one of the most wonderful novels I have ever read. What particularly delighted me was to read Mann’s description of the surroundings of the Davos, Switzerland sanatorium. His protagonist Hans Castorp goes to visit his tuberculose cousin Joachim Ziemssen. It is here where Mann mentions the gentians. Suddenly my garden gentians had a place outside the garden.

Rosemary and I have the easiest gentian to cultivate, Gentiana asclepiadea. It is blooming right now and it will do so until the end of August. Since this gentian grows in Europe I am almost sure it might be Mann’s gentian.

The blue, a very pure blue, is striking in this gentian.  Perhaps mores so because one of our larger plants grows in almost deep shade and the ultra violet light present in shade enhances the purity of the blue. Our roses are resting before their next re-bloom. The gentians may not be fragrant or compete in variety of colour, but nonetheless I am warming to their cool colour.

My on line diccionario de la Real Academia Española informs me that the meaning of asclepiadea is in relation to plants that have alternating and narrow leaves with flowers in racemes. This is exactly what a Gentiana asclepiadea looks like. But while I have no proof of the etymology I like to think that willow gentians (Gentiana asclepiadea) might have something to do with the healing power of willows (the source of aspirin) and that the name may be a derivation of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. The definition below is from Wikipedia.

sclepius ( /æsˈkliːpiəs/; Greek: Ἀσκληπιός Asklēpiós [asklɛːpiós]; Latin Aesculapius) is the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek religion. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia ("Hygiene", the goddess/personification of health, cleanliness, and sanitation), Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness), Aceso (the goddess of the healing process), Aglæa/Ægle (the goddess of beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, and adornment), and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy). He was associated with the Roman/Etruscan god Vediovis. He was one of Apollo's sons, sharing with Apollo the epithet Paean ("the Healer").[2] The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today.

I want to imagine that the purity of my gentian’s blue helps to purify my soul and ease the pain of stress. And if that were not enough I know that later in his life D.H. Lawrence wrote a poem about Bavarian Gentians. I do not want to believe that they may be much different from Mann’s Davos gentians or the ones that thrive n my garden with no care at all.

Bavarian Gentians
D. H. Lawrence

Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto’s

ribbed and torchlike, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps give off
lead me then, lead me the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness.
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness was awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on the
lost bride and groom.