Friday, December 28, 2012

"The Curse Of Literacy. And The Greed For Knowing."

In winter, on my daily walks, I always enjoy seeing the bushes with white berries.  At this time of year, the bushes have long ago lost their leaves. The creamy white berries -- which are the same size and shape as blueberries -- tend to grow in bunches out on the tips of the twigs that extend from branches.  The newer branches range in color from rusty brown to red.  The older branches are grey, and are often covered with moss.

On a gloomy day, the white berries seem to gather in all of the available light.

What name do these bushes go by?  I don't know.  I've been looking at them for years, and I've been content to call them "the bushes with white berries."  Mind you, I greatly admire those who know the names of all things.  And as for those who can rattle off the Latin binomials for every flower, tree, and bird they come across:  I envy them their curiosity, diligence, and knowledge.

But I am content with "the bird with the yellow head, black beak, and yellow-striped wings" and "the tree with the big, dark-green leaves that fall first in autumn."

And "the bushes with white berries."  The berries that, on certain days in winter, gather in all of the light.

                   John Aldridge, "Artichokes and Cathay Quinces" (1967)

          1,800 Feet Up

The flower -- it didn't know it --
was called dwarf cornel.
I found this out by enquiring.

Now I remember the name
but have forgotten the flower.

-- The curse of literacy.

And the greed for knowing. --
I'll have to contour again
from the Loch of the Red Corrie
to the Loch of the Green Corrie
to find what doesn't know its name,
to find what doesn't even know
it's a flower.

Since I believe in correspondences
I shrink in my many weathers
from whoever is contouring immeasurable space
to find what I am like -- this forgotten thing
he once gave a name to.

Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).

                                        John Aldridge, "Still Life" (1958)


Sam Vega said...

First lost when named?

I wonder whether we only need to know the name when we want to involve someone else in our knowledge. If those berries were bursting with free vitamins, yet were rather similar to the poisonous ones, we would reach for the name, and then the exact Latin one.

For now, though, even if I knew, I would not do you the discourtesy of telling you.

izzieiambic said...

I wonder Stephen if you mean Snowberry (Symphoricarpus sp). It brightens winter gardens
even in storm wracked Orkney.

Eoin Mackay Ross

Stephen Pentz said...

Sam Vega: thanks for visiting again, and for your thoughts.

You're right: unless I've got a practical reason, I'm fine not knowing the name. Although, when I read the name of a flower, plant, bird, etc. that I don't know (in a poem,for instance), I always look it up, and try to find an image. Outside, on my own, it's nice to know names, but I can do without them. (But I'd never sample mysterious berries!)

Thanks again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Eoin Mackay Ross: thank you for stopping by again, and for the information.

If "snowberry" it is, then I am very pleased at such a lovely name. Plus, a quick Internet search turns up "ghostberry" as an alternative name, which is also lovely. I'm satisfied with either of them.

Thanks again.

Andy McEwan said...

Mr Pentz,
Yes, sometimes we seem more concerned with the naming of things than with their intrinsic beauty and, of course, we do not need to know the flower's name to see its loveliness or the bird's to be charmed by its song.But, I often think that names of flowers, birds and much else in nature have a kind of beauty in themselves. I think of wildflowers, like Tormentil, Viper's Bugloss, Sundew, Germander Speedwell; of birds, such as, the Velvet Scoter, Oystercatcher, Chiffchaff, Hoopoe - to name but a few. They are a kind of poetry, I think. But then, you know only too well the beauty of words - I realise I'm preaching to the converted.
Best wishes,

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr McEwan: I agree with you completely. I was being cantankerous, I fear.

Your point is proven well by the lovely names for my unnamed bush supplied by Eoin Mackay Ross in the comment above: "snowberry" and "ghostberry" are very fine indeed. By the way, I would extend your comments about lovely names to the names of (although they are not flora or fauna) English villages: wonderful!

Thank you very much for your thoughts throughout the year, and I look forward to hearing from you in the coming year. Happy New Year.