When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
by Walt Whitman
This is the first section of this poem, which is apparently about the death of Abraham Lincoln (I remember reading the poem, but I don’t remember ever knowing it was about Lincoln).
According to Price and Folsom, Whitman’s encounter with the lilacs in bloom in his mother’s yard caused the flowers to become “viscerally bound to the memory of Lincoln’s death”.
According to Gregory Eiselein:
Lilacs represent love, spring, life, the earthly realm, rebirth, cyclical time, a Christ figure (and thus consolation, redemption, and spiritual rebirth), a father figure, the cause of grief, and an instrument of sensual consolation. The lilacs can represent all of these meanings or none of them. They could just be lilacs.
Lilacs are another of my favorite spring flowers. They haven’t bloomed yet here in Chicago. But when I think of them, I think not only of their gorgeous flowers, but of their scent and the softness of the blooms.
From a distance, lilacs look to be all one color, but upon closer inspection, they have lots of subtle–or not–variations in color. And they make the world smell sweet for the short time that they bloom.
In my old house, we had a big, old lilac bush with pale purple blooms. It filled up the back corner, right by the gate to the alley, of our very small yard. Every spring, I would prune it by cutting off flowers and bringing them into the house.
When I was thinking about this today, I also remembered another story about lilacs–
I used to have a business painting chuppahs–wedding canopies–for Jewish weddings. I had some that I rented and others I made to order. It was never a very big business, but I really enjoyed it. Once, a florist wanted to rent only my poles–I had made them from thick wooden rods and wooden curtain rod ends and they fit into portable flag pole holders. This man came to my house to get the poles. He came when I was picking lilacs and told me that I should pound the ends of the stems with a hammer so the flowers could get more water and would last longer. It worked! I still do that. Unfortunately, he never returned the poles or flag pole stands, and when I tried to reach him, the number was disconnected. I wondered why on earth someone would want to steal 4 wooden poles, but maybe that’s not why he disappeared–I’ll never know.
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