Moonflowers, Mother Nature & Keats
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
Across the globe, 120,000 plant lovers have been tuning into a webcam trained on a rare Amazonian cactus planted at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, all eagerly anticipating the nocturnal bloom of the rare Moonflower.
Of course, Mother Nature remained firmly in charge of the proceedings… After eleven days of careful webcam observation, the flower didn’t bloom with the moon as its name and general academic consensus predicted it would. The striking white flower began to open in the afternoon. It was the sun, rather than the moon, that coaxed the flower out of its bud.
Like its scent, the flower’s bloom is bitter-sweet. After eleven short hours the scent turns rancid and the flower fades. Nature’s triumph is followed by a scene of decay and this transformation reminds me of both the beauty and the cyclical nature of the natural world.
Like a John Keats ode, the Moonflower’s bloom urges us to remember that a world so much bigger than ourselves turns beneath our feet.
The Science-Fiction genre, and its Paranormal and Dystopian cousins, have long explored the importance of these natural cycles and the devastating impact humans have upon the natural world. Authors present readers with a warning: like the Moonflower, Mother Nature is beautiful and fragile, but She is also powerful, even vengeful – She will fight back.
As I type this, I have been under a stay-at-home order for more than two months. A third lockdown caused by a virus transmitted from wild animals to humans because our species didn’t treat theirs with the respect it deserved.
These events remind me that our impact upon the natural world is not just the stuff of Science Fiction and it is these global tragedies, and the possibility of tragedies to come, that have writers reaching for their pens.
It has been reported that Matt Hancock based the UK’s vaccination response on one such Sci-Fi story. Perhaps it is time that we all listen.
The Moonflower’s unexpected afternoon bloom nudged those webcam viewers into remembering that the natural world we live in is unpredictable. Life is precious and fleeting - a fact borne out by the pandemic. Already, the Moonflower will have faded, its scent will have soured into one of decay. But from the decay, and from our present confinement, we can take a hopeful message: while the flower fades, the hope that the Moonflower will bloom again next year has taken root.
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I mentioned the poetry of John Keats above. His work grapples with human mortality and the inevitability of death. But just like the bloom of the Moonflower, he reminds us that Mother Nature is immortal. Seasons pass, life fades, but the world keeps turning.
While life can seem full of despair at times, Keats urges us to take comfort in the fact that the moon is eternal and endures; the tides will surge and recede as they have always done.
Mother Nature is the everlasting backdrop to our human story.
And with that conclusion, I leave you with a final word from Keats.
Keats: On the Sea
It keeps eternal whisperings around Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound. Often ’tis in such gentle temper found, That scarcely will the very smallest shell Be moved for days from where it sometime fell. When last the winds of Heaven were unbound. Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired, Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea; Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude, Or fed too much with cloying melody— Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood, Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!
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