Among the daffodils;
A bright moonlit nightYosa Buson
We are nearing the end of the mini season First Winter. It is during this time that we often have our first snowfalls and the temperatures begin to drop. Included in the mini season of First Winter are the three micro-seasons of:
- The First Camellia Blossoms (Nov. 8- Nov 12)
- The Earth First Freezes (Nov. 13 – Nov 17)
- The Daffodil Flowers (Nov 18 – Nov 22)
Established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai, the traditional Japanese calendar has 24 mini seasons and 72 micro-seasons. Each season highlights a slight change in the natural environment. The micro-seasons are specific to the climate of Japan. However, just because this calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable to others. The seasons can become a starting point for your personal exploration into the world around you.
“The Daffodil Flowers” (Nov. 18 – Nov. 22)
Daffodils are perennial plants that are part of the amaryllis family. They are native to Europe and North Africa and were introduced to Japan during the Heian period (794–1185). One of the most common varieties of Daffodil in Japan is the Japanese narcissus, which is known to bloom between December and March. (1) These flowers are very distinct with six petals around a cup, or trumpet-like, center. They are also known for there sweet scent and their toxicity.
The Daffodil’s scientific name is Narcissus. The term is derived from the Greek word narcotic, which means intoxicated. Narcissus is also the name of the young hunter in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection. He was so captivated by his own beauty that he gazed at his reflection in a pool of water until he died. The Daffodil flower, or narcissus flower, is said to have grown from the spot where he died. (2)
In Japanese the Daffodil is also called suisen, which means “water hermit”. (3) This is a fitting name that connects this plant to its preferred habitat and its origin story.
The Symbolism of the Daffodil (or Narcissus)
Much like the Camellia flower from the micro-seasons of “The First Camellia Blossoms“, the symbolism of the Daffodil varies depending on your location.
Because they are known to bloom in the spring, European countries and the United States often see the narcissus as a symbol of rebirth or new beginnings. In China, the narcissus is said to bring good fortune to a home. Whereas in Japan, the flower represents self-love and respect. Other traits linked to the plant are creativity, inspiration, awareness and inner reflection, forgiveness, and vitality.(4)
However, this flower has not always had these positive associations. The experts at Interflora state that in “medieval times when Europeans believed that if a narcissus flower drooped as you looked at it was an omen of death.” They also state that if you give a person just one narcissi flower you can bring them bad luck and misfortune.(4) Luckily for the Narcissus, its negative symbolism didn’t stick and it maintains its favorable attributes.
Daffodils in Poetry
Besides having a vast symbolic history, the Daffodil is also the inspiration for a variety of poems.
Matsuo Basho has a great haiku that places the Daffodil directly within this micro-season.
The first snow just enough to bend the leaves of the daffodils.
Kobayashi Issa also has a few haiku that puts this flower in the winter season.
the daffodil too covered with soot stands
sweeping soot-- off daffodil, plum blossom camellia
Both of these haiku use the word “soot”, which is the carbon product that is produced where burning organic matter. So it can be assumed that we are talking about colder months when a fire is needed. Also notice that the second haiku brings in the Camellia flower, which is known to bloom in November.
Contrary to winter references found in the haikus of Issa and Basho, Shakespeare and Wordsworth place the Daffodil in the spring.
Daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty. --William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. --Excerpt from William Wordsworth, "I Wander'd Lonely as a Cloud"
You can see that in these verses, the writers are referencing the spring of summer time. Shakespeare mentions the month of March, whereas Wordsworth imagery promotes a feeling of spring or summer.
When I started this post I mentioned that for those of us who live outside the regional limitations of the Japanese 72 season calendar, these micro-season can provide us with an invitation to explore the world around us and deepen our connection to it. I feel like this micro-season, “The Daffodil Flowers”, is a perfect example of that idea. Where I live the Daffodils do not bloom at this time. However, that doesn’t mean that I do not have a connection to them. Instead, through this exploration of the Daffodil I have increased my awareness of them. So when they emerge from the bare ground next spring, I will have a greater appreciation for their presence, their beauty, and their history.
- Tokyo’s 4 Best Spots to Enjoy Winter’s Daffodils and Seasonal Flowers
- Wikipedia: Narcissus-Mythology
- Gardens of Japan: Narcissus or daffodils in March; Nature in Japan
- Narcissus Flower Meaning Symbolism & Facts; Interflora
- William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale
- William Wordsworth, “I Wander’d Lonely as a Cloud”
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