Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Cornflower : die Kornblume

It is early June, and many cornfields now are full of the colourful flowers of poppies, buttercups, ox-eye daisies, chamomile, and of course cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus).

It seems that cornflowers are native only to the eastern Mediterranean, but since neolithic times, wherever humans have grown corn, cornflower seeds have travelled with them.

The cornflower is particularly associated with Prussia, not least because its colour is the same as the 'Prussian blue' of the Prussian army's infantry and artillery uniforms since 1701. There is also a tale that Kaiser Wilhelm I used to relate about when he was ten years old and with his mother Queen Luise and his siblings fleeing Berlin ahead of Napoleon's army. One of the wheels on the carriage broke whilst they were in open fields. They sat on the bank of a ditch whilst the wheel was being repaired, and Wilhelm recalls that he in particular was giving his mother grief with his petty complaints. To divert her children, Queen Luise pointed to quantities of blue cornflowers growing in the field and had them collect them and bring them to her. She then niftily weaved them into floral wreaths. Wilhelm I related:

"As she worked, overcome with thoughts of her country's sorrowful plight and her own danger and anxiety for the future of her sons, the tears began to drop slowly from her beautiful eyes upon the cornflower wreaths. Smitten to the heart by her distress and completely forgetting my own childish troubles, I flung my arms about her neck and tried to comfort her, till she smiled and placed the wreath upon my head. ... after all these years I can still see those blossoms all sparkling with my mother's tears, and that is why I love the cornflower better than any other flower."

The cornflower was also of importance to the early German Romanticists. They associated it with Sehnsucht. With desire, love, and the metaphysical striving for the infinite and unreachable.

One influential Romantik poem is die Blaue Blume by Joseph von Eichendorf (1818):

Die blaue Blume

Ich suche die blaue Blume,
Ich suche und finde sie nie,
Mir träumt, dass in der Blume
Mein gutes Glück mir blüh.

Ich wandre mit meiner Harfe
Durch Länder, Städt und Au'n,
Ob nirgends in der Runde
Die blaue Blume zu schaun.

Ich wandre schon seit lange,
Hab lang gehofft, vertraut,
Doch ach, noch nirgends hab ich
Die blaue Blum geschaut.

My attempt at translation is:

The Blue Flower

I am searching for the blue flower,
I search and find it not,
I dreamt that by the flower,
My good luck would bloom for me.

I roam with my harp
Through nations, towns and meadows,
Where nowhere all around
Is the blue flower to behold.

I roam for a long time,
Had long hoped, trusted,
But still alas, still nowhere
Have I the blue flower beheld.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the story and the translations! All of it was new to me.


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