Melancholy of a Flower

You’re laying on the grass feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin. Nearby bees hum happily. You take hold of a daisy, clasping its delicate stem between your fingers, plucking it asunder before placing it upon the pages of your open book. You sit in admiration. Only the most thoughtful deity could have designed something so elegantly intricate. Anthers rich with pollen soon to release profuse clouds of dust on nearby butterflies. Petals placed so precisely, reaching their crescendo at fine felt tip points only millimetres from the central pistil. Sepals, originally guarding the embryonic flower, now reduced to the status of undercarriage flourish.

While you sit there admiring the infinite dimensions of this lovely little daisy, you see the essential water which is its lifeblood slowly dehydrating from its flesh. How much longer will its colour last? An hour? Two? Its beauty is transient, fleeting at best, its destiny to become compost for future generations of flowers. It draws your attention to time. When was the last time you spoke to your grandmother? She won’t be around forever. You haven’t seen your parents in a while. There’s a sunspot on your hand that didn’t used to be there, and you’re getting wrinkly around the eyes. Something so beautiful has drawn your attention to something quite morbid. But instead of Poe, you’re reminded of Keats when he wrote Ode to Melancholy,

She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;

       And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips

Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,

       Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:

The wonder of every moment is pregnant with dismay – it is within ‘the temple of delight’ writes Keats in the same poem, where ‘veiled melancholy has her sovereign shrine’. The flower is beautiful now, but for how long? As it sits atop the pages of your book, slowly wilting in the sun, its fading presence is a certain reminder of how decay is inextricably bound with life. Like Janus, they are opposite, but not separate. 

Janus, the Roman god of change

To feel sad while admiring a flower on a sunny day is not a sign of a defective intelligence or a morbid perspective. It is, rather, an indication of sensitivity to the dual nature of existence. Melancholy is the intelligent response to a universe that is an ineluctable play of opposites. You can only turn off the feeling by shutting down the imagination. Melancholy is a sign of your humanity, not a deviation from it.

To be melancholic does not mean to be sad. It is to see just how much sadness is implied in happiness and to be sensitive to the quieter parts of ourselves which we often ignore. Put otherwise, melancholy is an indication of feelings which have been invited to speak (by something as innocent as a flower) and are now ready to be heard.

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