A Conversation for A Flower Clock Garden

Reference to a Flower Clock in a Seventeenth Century Poem

Post 1

Researcher 177704

I was reading the poem 'The Garden' (c.1650) by Andrew Marvell (1621-78) earlier, and was struck by an apparent reference to a floral clock that predates the earliest in this entry by about a century. The last stanza of the poem reads:

"How well the skillful gard'ner drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new ;
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run ;
And, as it works, th' industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!"
- http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/marvell/garden.htm

In the Penguin anthology 'The Metaphysical Poets', the editor provides after "dial new" which confirms that "The garden is embellished with a floral sundial" (p.258 in 1972 ed.).

It could be argued that Marvell is not describing a clock but an annual calendar with plants that flower at different times of the year. However, I think we can interpret the word 'zodiac' in line with a circadian clock:
- "through a fragrant zodiac run": I interpret this as meaning that the sun is running through the zodiac as it passes over ahead ahead, in the same way that the planets pass along the ecliptic. "Fragrant" strengthens this notion: the sun and its passage are part of the poet's experience, and his feelings on a single occassion affect the way in which he perceives mundane events. We could not be expected that the sun is still "Fragrant" in winter.
- the OED says that the meaning of "zodiac" is flexible. It can indicate merely a "recurrent series, round, course", a "set of twelve" or "a ring with figures of the signs of the zodiac". Donne, another metaphysical poet, talks of "Thy illustrious Zodiacke Of twelve Apostles" with no reference to time at all. I think Marvell is using the word to describe a circle divided into twelve - "zodiac" is a poetic and succinct way of doing this.

The bee working its was round the clock is certainly comparable to the circular movement of the hands on a clock. Marvell suggests a comparison is appropriate with "as well as we". The last line clinches it, with "wholesome hours" being said to be measured directly by the flowers? Of course, a simple explanation would be that Marvell is describing a large sundial. However, the emphasis does seem to be on the plants themselves - "...*with* herbs and flowers" - and with no mention of a gnomon; "fragrant zodiac" reinforces this direct flowers-sun relationship.

While I'm sure the clock would not have been as effective as those created a century later, the floral clock's apparently earlier presence would perhaps suggest a greater appreciation and application of botany and taxonomy in relation to plants' circadian rhythms than we might expect. It also reduces the importance of Linnaeus's claim to have "conceived the idea of arranging certain plants... [into] a floral clock".

Thoughts?

smiley - rocket


Reference to a Flower Clock in a Seventeenth Century Poem

Post 2

BigAl Keeper of the Glowing Pickle and Monobrows

That's really interesting, RM. I'm delighted you shared that with us; it's a valuable addition to the Entry smiley - biggrin (I've come across Andrew Marvell before - I think I may have quoted him in my Entry, 'Comets as harbingers of momentous events' (A3086101) smiley - runs to have as look


Reference to a Flower Clock in a Seventeenth Century Poem

Post 3

BigAl Keeper of the Glowing Pickle and Monobrows

Yes, I quoted his poem 'The Mower to the Glo-Worm'.

Also, there's an unedited GE on The Garden at A1042561, which I might take a look at with a view to getting it through PR.

smiley - smiley


Reference to a Flower Clock in a Seventeenth Century Poem

Post 4

Researcher 177704

'The Mower to the Glo-Worm' is a good poem, although I was surprised to see that your entry credited it as published in 1681, three years after Marvell's death. Perhaps it was published posthumously.

Good luck with the entry on 'The Garden' if you try to take it on. I'm always daunted by entries which have awkward formatting and are clearly just uploaded versions of someone's coursework, but normally they don't need much work to sort out.

smiley - rocket


Reference to a Flower Clock in a Seventeenth Century Poem

Post 5

BigAl Keeper of the Glowing Pickle and Monobrows

Hmm, maybe 1681 was an error! smiley - blush


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