Monday, April 30, 2012

For years I've been growing an orange tree, one I bought in an airport and brought home in defiance of the recommended climate for orange trees. It has grown tall but never strong, refusing unsurprisingly to flower and bear fruit. Just now, for the first time, it has sprouted one single blossom. It still won't be growing oranges, but I am happy in this surprising flowering after so many years of only green.

In my Tennysoning I'm usually distracted by the Lotos-Eaters, a poem I came to in a roundabout way as a child through a mention in one of the Little House books. Lately I have been struck more and more by Ulysses, a poem that Tennyson wrote after the death of a friend. Ulysses is nowhere to be found in the Lotos-Eaters, although in the stories he bundles his crew back on the boat to continue their adventure home. By the time he shows up in Ulysses he has returned home and found himself beset by the restless, considering his eventual death and how little of himself is left. Eventually he begs his sailors--who are all, at this point in the story, dead in foreign lands anyway--to "Come, my friends,/'Tis not too late to seek a newer world./Push off, and sitting well in order smite/The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds/To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths/Of all the western stars, until I die." If you ask Tennyson, Ulysses spent the entire Odyssey striving to get back home only to realize once he got there how badly he wanted to leave. Ulysses was kind of a jerk, but it's hard to argue with the pull of adventure.

A dim conversational pathway recently led from the fruits of forgetting to mullein leaves, which are potentially what Ulysses waved at Circe in order to keep away from her spell and free his men. In the time of the Romans mullein was supposed to have an overpowering effect on demons, which made it a great thing to use for torches--what better way to light a path through the darkness than with the one thing that would definitely keep the demons away? (Boiled and put into water, mullein is also a plant that can cause fish to drown, which leads me to question the otherworldly integrity of fish.) I didn't really think about the mullein past that until one ended up in my hand yesterday, where it turned out to be soft and resistant to my nervous fidgeting. Seems to me these are obvious qualities for anything one might want to be using to unsettle the demons.

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