Evening Primrose: the plant and the poem

The Plant

The Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a biennial plant native to North America and Canada.  The term “biennial” indicates that it takes two years for the plant to complete its life cycle. During the first year it only grows foliage.  In the second year, it will flower. (1)

The Evening Primrose aptly gets its name because it blooms in the evening.  The flower will stay in full bloom overnight and then wilt the next day. Some other names for this plant include evening star, sundrop, fever plant, and King’s cure-all. (2) These last two names are a result of the Primrose’s medicinal properties.

The Evening Primrose has been used to treat a variety of alignments for many years.  Indigenous people were the first to use the Primrose as a treatment for obesity and bowel pains. Recently, western medical research has explored the use of the Primrose’s seed oil to treat ailments including endogenous eczema, polyarthritis, multiple sclerosis, and menopausal symptoms. Although most of this research is inconclusive, there has been some indication that a supplement of Primrose oil can be beneficial for a variety of skin issues. (3)


The Poem

The Evening Primrose was first introduced to Europe in the early 17th century as an ornamental plant.(2)  Its strange behavior of blooming in the evening and then wilting before noon caught the attention of English poet John Clare.  Clare, who died in 1864, is described as a romantic poet with an “admiration of nature”.(4)  His poem titled “Evening Primrose” demonstrates his admiration and awareness of the natural world.

When once the sun sinks in the west, 
And dewdrops pearl the evening's breast;
Almost as pale as moonbeams are,
Or its companionable star,
The evening primrose opes anew
Its delicate blossoms to the dew;
And, hermit-like, shunning the light,
Wastes its fair bloom upon the night,
Who, blindfold to its fond caresses,
Knows not the beauty it possesses;
Thus it blooms on while night is by;
When day looks out with open eye,
Bashed at the gaze it cannot shun,
It faints and withers and is gone.
(Poem cited from allpoetry.com)

John Clare has other poems inspired by nature including “The Yellowhammer’s Nest”, “Autumn”, and “Summer”.  

“Evening Primrose” is the first poem I have read by John Clare and I appreciate his ability to capture the natural world in such an elegant way.  I can see myself using some of his other works in the future, and after reading “The Yellowhammer’s Nest” I now want to go research this little bird.

Yellowhammer-Credit: Nigel Voaden

What do you think about Clare’s poetry?  Please share your thoughts below.


Resources:

  1. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
  2. Wikipedia:Oenothera biennis
  3. Healthline: Evening Primrose
  4. AllPoetry.com: Evening Primrose
  5. Poetry Foundation: John Clare

35 thoughts on “Evening Primrose: the plant and the poem

Add yours

  1. Thank you for this, and for reminding me of the work of John Clare. Clare’s life story makes vey interesting reading. He struggled for years with his mental health and lived through great difficulties. I first read his poems as a child, so he has been a poet who’s work has been known to me throughout most of my life. I very much enjoyed your blog post.

    1. Thank you! I will admit that I don’t know a lot about John Clare’s history, so I appreciate you sharing. Do you happen to have a favorite poem from him that you would be willing to share? The title would be great and I can go look it up. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Nice combination of good information and poetry. I enjoyed Clare’s poem, and I learned some new things about the primrose. I don’t mean to embarrass you, but you have a typo. You typed “alignment” when I’m pretty sure you meant to say “ailment.” Forgive me for pointing that out. 😛 🙂 Nice post, Mark.

    1. Hi Susan, I appreciate the heads up about the typo. I often find typos when I reread things a couple of days later. Sometimes I just don’t see those mistakes until much later. I am glad you enjoyed the poem. Thank you!

  3. A delightful poem. I like how John Clare highlights the difference of the evening primrose. But I disagree with the line “Wastes its fair bloom upon the night.” I don’t think the bloom is “wasted” … the flower requires more work to admire it, beyond the day blooms … so I would consider it more of a reward if I spotted the flower.

    1. Hi Dave, that is a great point and what a wonderful shift in perspective. It is definitely kind of amazing to see a flower in full bloom at night. Thanks for the comment!

    1. Hi EK, thanks for the comment. That is a very strong last line. I often wonder in situations like this is the poet actually talking about the object, in this case a flower, or is that a symbol for something else.

  4. Thanks for another thoroughly researched post and the info it contains, Mark. – e.g. I had never heard of evening primrose being used ‘for obesity’. Not much of a fan of romantic poetry myself, this poet has my sympathy as described – one with ‘mental health difficulties’ – which usually covers ‘misunderstood and ill-treated’ and all too often consists of nothing more than that. Will go away and look up healing properties of EP. Thanks and keep sharing. Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Barbara, the obesity piece was something that I also wondered about. I checked a few resources and they all mentioned it. Maybe it acts like an appetite suppressant. That seems very different from the potential benefits found in western medicine. Interesting! Thanks again for the support, and thanks for the comment.

      1. thanks Mark; will be interested to follow up. I had previously noted health benefits of natural/herbal meds referred to in Europe seem to be different from US. What I found here was talking about hot flushes – could be hormone-/mood related. And it’s quite wide-spread/accepting as OTC medicine. The other thing I seem to remember reading is that pharmaceutical products use natural ingredients – or re-create the same compounds to be able to justify making a profit from them. Would not surprise me.

  5. I think there are so many health benefits from the natural world instead of all these chemicals they use in pills and such! I will look out for this one tomorrow on my walk, it surely must be in Scotland too!

    1. Hi Ananka, I believe you should find some of these in Scotland. The one I found was along a dirt road so they are pretty hardy plants

  6. as for commenting on John Clare’s poetry – I wouldn’t quite let myself get away with the putdown, so I looked him up and found this – certainly more of interest: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43948/i-am
    On the same web site I have also read an introduction to Romanticism which reminded me of the only poem I did not sabotage the learning-by-heart of while at school – and I now consider Heinrich Heine’s answer to romanticism:
    Ein Fraeulein stand am Meere
    es ruehrte sie so sehre
    der Sonnenuntergang.
    Mein Fraeulein, das ist ein altes Stueck:
    Hier vorne geht sie unter
    und kehrt von hinten dann zurueck.

    1. Hi Barbara, I am glad you found a poem of his that you liked. And I will have to look up the translation for that quote. Thanks again for adding to the conversation.

      1. Mark, I posted a translation from a translator poet’s web site – title of my post: Heinrich Heine; apart from one line, he did very well, I think. I hope you enjoy that.

  7. Woww I loved your article!! It was too informative. Nature has so much in variety. I truly loved your post and am eager to read more from you😊😊😊❤❤❤

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