Thursday, February 08, 2007
The Sign of Spring: Snowdrops
Deep sleeps the winter,
Cold, wet, and grey;
Surely all the world is dead;
Spring is far away.
Wait! The world shall waken;
It is not dead, for lo,
The fair maids of February
Stand in the snow!
In my neighborhood, the snowdrops are finally blooming (they're actually a bit late this year). I found a patch outside the Daphne Apartments, down the block from my house. On Saturday, February 3, they were still closed up tight. I took this picture of them.
Two days later, when I picked one on my way to work so I could draw it, they were opening. And the snowdrop I carried in my pocket to a cafe at lunch, was wide open when I drew it. If you have never looked closely at a snowdrop, you should. The inside petals have beautiful green stripes.
The Latin name for the snow drop is Galanthus, which means "milk flower" in Greek. I like the milky connotation for the flower of Candlemas. The species name, Nivalis, is also Greek and means "near the snow line." The snow drop, is also known as perce-neige (French for "piercing the snow"), Candlemas Bells and Mary's Tapers, the latter due to its arrival around Candlemas.
According to Laura Martin, some British churches remove the statue of Mary in early spring and scatter snowdrop blossoms in its place, a pretty conceit that might make a pagan scholar suspect that Mary is here standing in for Kore who emerges from the Underworld as the blossoms of spring.
The association of the snowdrop with Candlemas is quite old. A poem from An Early Calendar of English Flowers begins:
The Snowdrop, in purest white array,
First rears her head on Candlemas day.
In the language of the flowers, the snowdrop represents hope.
In some English counties, it is considered bad luck to bring snow drop blossoms into the house when they first begin to bloom (the same taboo applies to primroses and violets) as the snow drop was seen as a death token.
Martin, Laura, Garden Flower Folklore, Globe Pequot Press 1987