Sunday, July 13, 2008

Daphne


I've been teaching for a long time, and I think I've had only one student in class named Daphne. It's one of those great names that have gone out of fashion in the U.S., it seems. I put it in a category with Dolores, Edna, Olive, Inez, Agatha, and so on. These names probably sound bizarre to most people under a certain age, and they may even seem risible. Hunt Hawkins has a fabulous poem about "lost" women's names.

Daphne happens to be the name of a shrub, too. It's a low-growing shrub with thick dark leaves and pliable, slender branches. It "volunteered" in a yard we once had. It is spread in a classic way. Birds eat its berries, the seeds pass through the birds (along with natural nitrogen fertilizer), and there you go. Interestingly, Daphne basically refuses to be transplanted. It dies if you try to move it. Is it even available in nurseries? I've never seen it. Maybe you have to grow it from seen, like California poppies, which also die if transplanted. On the other hand, there are many different kinds of Daphne, so maybe the kind we had is especially stubborn about being moved. There are probably more agreeable kinds in nurseries. Allegedly, all types of Daphne are poisonous to humans--leaf, berry, and flower.

If I have the myth behind the name right, Apollo wanted Daphne but she didn't want him, so he turned her into a shrub. Anyway, I wrote a poem about Daphne.

Daphne


The shrub, Daphne, volunteers to grow
After birds, for example, defecate its purple berries
Onto soil. Daphne refuses to be transplanted.
Moved, it dies. The original Daphne became a tree

Because Apollo wouldn’t leave her alone. To me,
This sounds awfully much like Apollo’s version
Of events—concocted to save sunny face
When he came back without the girl.

Sunboy probably hauled a shrub back
With him, had it planted, watched it die,
And then said, “That used to be a girl,
And I warned her—if she didn’t blossom

Toward my will, she’d end up as dead
Foliage.” Whatever. Meanwhile, staying
With friends incommunicado,
Daphne told how she gave the big oaf

The slip, said why she’d live here,
Thank-you-very-much, not there.

Hans Ostrom


Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

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