AH, SUNFLOWER! WEARY OF TIME….

English: Callanish Standing Stones - Midsummer...

Midsummer’s Day —

The Summer Solstice — “Summer Sunstead” — the longest day of the year.

Today I will briefly (it does not take more than that) discuss a poem by the visionary British poet William Blake:

Ah, Sunflower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;

Where the youth pined away with desire
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go.

On the Internet one will find all kinds of differing interpretations of the poem.  But it is not really difficult if one keeps in mind Blake’s visionary spirituality.

Ah, Sunflower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;

“Ah, Sunflower, weary of time / Who countest the steps of the sun.  What does that mean?  The sunflower is a part of the material world; the light of the sun represents the spiritual world.  Yet we see from its name that there is something in the sunflower that is linked with the sun; there is a spiritual aspect even within material things.  As we shall see, Blake likens this to the spiritual nature in material humans that longs for something beyond the material.  The sunflower is “weary of time,” that is, wearied by the slow and endless passage of time.  It longs for rest, for the place where “the traveller’s journey is done.”

I have read on the Internet that the sunflower is “counting the hours,” but that is too rigid a reading.  It is not the individual hours that it counts — the sunflower is not a sundial — but the slow, daily progress of the light of the sun across the sky.  There is that in the sunflower which draws it to the light

The sun, each day, sinks in the West and vanishes.  The end of day corresponds to the end of life.  The West is a very ancient symbol of the end of life and of the afterlife.  That is why in ancient Egypt, burials were on the west bank of the Nile.  The West was Amenti — the Realm of the Dead.  And in Celtic mythology, to the West, across the sea, lay Tir-nan-og, the Land of Youth — the Isles of the Blessed.  We find a reflection of this in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, in which the elven folk leave Middle Earth from the Grey Havens to cross the waters to the Undying Lands in the West.  And it is not surprising that in World War One, an old expression was revived when  speaking of a death:  “He has gone West.”

So there is a great deal of meaning in this sunflower following the sun.  And sunflowers do precisely that.  The flower (due to a difference in growth of cells in the flower stem) daily does follow the progress of the sun across the sky from East in the morning to West in the evening.

Blake, of course, says nothing of differences in cell growth.  To him, the sunflower is

Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;

Notice how Blake connects the notion of seeking light and following the sun with a “sweet golden clime / Where the traveller’s journey is done.”  That, of course, is the afterlife, which for Blake was a life of the spirit beyond this material world.  It reminds one of the old term that spiritualists used for the realm of the departed — “The Summerland.”

We see that this is the correct interpretation when we read the second part of the poem, which tells us of this Summerland, this “golden clime” (gold is connected always with the notion of light, and of course with the sun as well):

Where the youth pined away with desire
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go.

The youth who has pined away (and died) with desire wishes to go to that golden clime, as does the pale virgin “shrouded in snow (buried beneath snow),” which expression is intended to give us a contrast with the warmth and light of the Summerland to which both, rising from their graves, aspire to go.  And it also gives us a look into some of Blake’s peculiar notions about unfulfilled desires, because, as you noticed, the youth pined away with (unsatisfied) desire and the “pale virgin” of course never experienced physical sensuality.  But in both cases, where they long to go is the place of golden light and rest.

That is the whole point of mentioning the sunflower.  Just as the flower head turns to follow the path of the sun westward, so does that which is spiritual in the material body of humans long for the place of light, the golden clime (climate /region) “Where the traveller’s journey is done” —  the afterlife, the “spirit world” as some call it.

So why is the sunflower “weary of time”?  Because that which draws it to the light  — its spiritual nature in Blake’s view — is weary of the material world and longs for the immaterial, spiritual world, the place of rest beyond time as we know it.

It is obvious that Blake is projecting his own views upon the sunflower, but we have seen his reasons for doing so, and they fit well with very ancient human feelings and emotions about the sun and about the West.

And, of course, we should not overlook Blake’s referring to the sunflower as a “who,” as though it were an intelligent creature that both wearies and longs to go, and to the “steps” of the sun, as though it too were a living being.  Of course both of these are very much in keeping with the ancient way of looking at things, in which all things have their own lives, even stones.

We must not forget that Blake wrote in his A Vision of the Last Judgement of his view of the ultimate unreality of the material world:

Mental Things are alone Real; what is call’d Corporeal, Nobody knows of its Dwelling Place: it is in Fallacy, & its Existence an Imposture. . . I assert for My Self that I do not behold the outward Creation that to me it is hindrance & not Action; it is as the Dirt upon my feet, No part of Me…
“What,” it will be Question’d, 
“When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?”

O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

A gold guinea coin of Blake’s time
(photo credit Wikipedia)

In any case, from this Midsummer’s Day onward, the length of the day will gradually shorten until we reach the opposite of Midsummer’s Day in the Wheel of the Year — the Winter Solstice.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s