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Home > Culture and Society

Consider the lillies

"Gray skies are just clouds passing over."

- Duke Ellington

24 July 2003

Sainsbury's are selling a new strain of lily which doesn't have any pollen. Marvellous! According to the Telegraph: "Lilies are one of the nation's favourite flowers. Nearly 19 million bunches are sold every year, but their anthers are laden with dusty reddish golden pollen that can cause as much grief as joy for the recipients."

As much grief as joy? Okay - something's gone a bit wrong here. We've got confused about what constitutes an imperfection. Sticky orange pollen is *part* of a lily - just like thorns are part of a rose. This is what makes flowers the ideal symbol of love: beauty and trouble and complication all tangled up together.

The 'difficulty' of these flowers is not an imperfection - it's perfection itself. We are not 'improving' lilies by removing their pollen (any more than Jordan is improving her chest every time she pops down Kwik-Fit for a re-inflation).

Science has given us many wonderful things, like surgical cures for deafness and fast-streaming pornography, and that ear on the mouse thing was pretty cool, but there are some things in life that never needed its attentions.

There's a bunch of seedless grapes sitting at the top of a very slippery slope. There seems to be an army of geneticists and hybridisers spending every last ounce of energy to make the world ‘easier’ to live in. Rubbing off the annoying corners. Breeding onions that don't make you cry (pg. 8 of yesterday’s Sun). Cloning pets so that when your beloved Labrador dies you can simply replicate him, and enjoy his waggy company all over again. Forgetting that a part of owning a pet, if you're going to relate to the creature in any sort of meaningful way, is accepting its death, burying it in a shallow grave in the back garden, and feeling sad for weeks and months. Unless of course it's a fish, in which case you scoop, flush and forget.

The point is that we're getting spoiled. Our relationship with the world is getting cushioned. We don't stand before nature, wide-eyed at the beauty and grandeur of it all. We niggle about the pollen count of lilies. We want our apples pre-washed and plastic-wrapped. We cannot say, with Alexander Pope: 'everything that is, is good'. Instead we say: 'everything that is could be made a little bit better'. Tits, grapes, dogs, apples, lilies, and Melanie Griffiths' face. They're not improved by tinkering. they're just plain scary.



Richard Jeffries had a better handle on things:

There came to me a delicate, but at the same time a deep, strong, and sensuous enjoyment of the beautiful green earth, the beautiful sky and sun; I felt them, they gave me inexpressible delight, as if they embraced and poured out their love upon me. It was I who loved them, for my heart was broader than the earth; it is broader now than even then, more thirsty and desirous. After the sensuous enjoyment always came the thought, the desire: That I might be like this; that I might have the inner meaning of the sun, the light, the earth, the trees and grass, translated into some growth of excellence in myself, both of body and of mind; greater perfection of physique, greater perfection of mind and soul; that I might be higher in myself.

Exactly. We should reach towards nature, not crop it down to ourselves. This whole business of the lilies and the tear-free onion: it's an anti-Copernican revolution: it’s dragging the world back into a sad and subdued orbit around man.

Look ma, I'm on top of the world!

Great. Now have a seedless grape and shut up.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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