Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Blue Flower

In the middle of the night, I finished TheBlue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald, making good use of a couple of sleepless hours. In the book, the character of Fritz (who will grow up to be Novalis) has begun a story in which a listener is enraptured by a stranger’s story of a blue flower. There is also treasure, in the form of conventional riches, but the narrator longs to see the blue flower and Fritz, the writer, asks, “What is the meaning of the blue flower?”

Stop now, if you don’t want to hear another character’s answer to the question. But usually a symbol in literature can mean many related things; a symbol has great complexity, interpretations that ripple out like circles on a pond. (Wikipedia kindly ripples out the meaning of the blue flower from German Romanticism to the present day.) I’m still pondering the blue flower of the novel and won’t name all the ripples I see, but I do plan to quote “the Bernhard,” one of the children in Fritz’s family, a blond boy also called the angel in the house, who loves water—the river—and is relentlessly curious.

            He had been struck—before he crammed the story back into Fritz’s book-bag—by one thing in particular: the stranger who had spoken at the dinner table about the Blue Flower had been understood by one person and one only. This person must have been singled out as distinct from all the rest of his family. It was a matter of recognising your own fate and greeting it as familiar when it came.

This is what rippled inside me, the “matter of recognising your own fate and greeting it as familiar when it came.” (Spellcheck has automatically recognized and provided the familiar American spelling of Fitzgerald’s “recognising” as I compose….and I have obstinately changed it back in three cases.)

Still awake, the new issue of The Sun at hand, I read the interview with Stephen Harrod Buhner on plant intelligence and natural healing. You should know that Sophie, the betrothed in The Blue Flower, is seriously ill. When Fritz first sees her, age 12, across the room, he is inexplicably drawn to her. Says Buhner, “The ancient Athenians had a word for that moment when some intangible part of ourselves leaves our bodies and touches a living intelligence in the world: aisth─ôsis. There is an exchange of soul essence accompanied by a gasp of recognition, a deep breath, an inspiration.” As Fritz recognized Sophie, I recognized the Bernhard, with a little gasp at his inspiration.

And finally, for now, as I’m sure I’ll keep rippling in the blog, yesterday’s mail brought the current issue of Quiddity, in which I have a very short poem called “Broken Clouds.” You can hear it here, and it has blue in it. The magazine defines itself up front:

quiddity—the real nature or essence of a thing; that which makes it what it is (OED)


SarahJane said...

So glad you read The Blue Flower! Much enjoyed your poem - you read beautifully.

Kathleen said...

Thank you! For compliment and for book recommendation.

jeronimus said...

Penelope Fitzgerald is one of my favorite novelists.
I read "The Beginning of Spring" recently, another historical novel. I don't know how she does it. A lot of research maybe, but it seems so effortless.

Terrible that she lived in poverty for much of her life.

Kathleen said...

Thanks for letting me know! I will look for The Beginning of Spring at the library! Her writing is so rich and so spare simultaneously. I love it!