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Sunflower Song through Time and Space

Aztec Flower Song / Dale HarrisWilliam Blake / Allen Ginsberg /
Fu Xuan / Mahmoud Kianush/ Kansas/ other sunflower poets /
Grateful Dead /


Aztec Flower Song
(anonymous, pre-Columbian)


Be indomitable, Oh my heart!
Love only the sunflower;
It is the flower of the Giver-of-Life!
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned here on earth in vain?
As the flowers wither, I shall go.
Will there be nothing of my glory ever?
Will there be nothing of my fame on earth?
At most songs, at most flowers,
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned on earth in vain?


 

Manzano Sunflowers by Dale Harris
 Sunflower Designn by Dale Harris


You missed Indian Market
And of course the sunflowers.
As usual they swept across August
At first a few, a yellow trickle along the fence line
Then more, making pools in the pasture
And splashing down into the arroyo
Then incredibly many more,
Dappling the distance,
As though a giant hand had buttered the land.

Yet with the entire prairie to expand into,
They prefer crowds of themselves
They mass along the roadside,
Lined up as though a parade were about to pass.
Here and there one stands alone,
But not for long.
Soon his kin will come
And there will be sunflower squalor
There will be sunflower squalor, a floral slum.

Once they are out,
They will not be ignored.
Stretching their skinny stalks,
They top our roofline,
Press against the window screens,
And peep in at the door.
Familiar foot paths to the out buildings are obscured,
And from the road we seem afloat,
Our cabin, an odd tin boat
In a sea of sunflower faces.

They are the most staccato of flowers.
I catch them humming snatches of polkas
And John Phillips Sousa Marches,
Bobbing in the wind to the Boogaloo,
The Boogie Woogie and the Lindy Hop.
I call their names,
Clem, Clarissa, Sarah Jane
To try and tame them.

My neighbor comes by.
She has a field full
They’re useless, she complains.
Her horses can’t eat them.
I should hope not! I exclaim,
After she’s gone.

I don’t remember if you even liked sunflowers
But you liked life
And they are all about that.
Today I wrote to your family, finally.
I expect they are occupying themselves,
With beautiful gestures
In order to get over the grief of you.
As for me, I have sunflowers.

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<>
Sunflowr Sutra
Sunflower Sutra, CrumpArt, Australia


Sunflower Sutra
by Allen Ginsberg

 

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and

     sat down under the huge shade of a Southern

     Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the

     box house hills and cry.


Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron

     pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts

     of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, sur-

     rounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of

     machinery.


The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun

     sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that

     stream, no hermit in those mounts, just our-

     selves rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bums

     on the riverbank, tired and wily.


Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray

     shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting

     dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust--

--I rushed up enchanted--it was my first sunflower,

     memories of Blake--my visions--Harlem


and
Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes

     Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black

     treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the

     poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel

     knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck

     and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the

     past--


and
the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset,

     crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog

     and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye--


corolla
of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like

     a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face,

     soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sun-

     rays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried

     wire spiderweb,


leaves
stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures

     from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster

     fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,


Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O

     my soul, I loved you then!


The grime was no man's grime but death and human

     locomotives,


all
that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad

     skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black

     mis'ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuber-

     ance of artificial worse-than-dirt--industrial--

     modern--all that civilization spotting your

     crazy golden crown--


and
those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless

     eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the

     home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar

     bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards

     of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely

     tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what

     more could I name, the smoked ashes of some

     cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the

     milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs

     & sphincters of dynamos--all these


entangled
in your mummied roots--and you there

     standing before me in the sunset, all your glory

     in your form!


A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent

     lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye

     to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited

     grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden

     monthly breeze!


How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your

     grime, while you cursed the heavens of the rail-

     road and your flower soul?


Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a

     flower? when did you look at your skin and

     decide you were an impotent dirty old locomo-

     tive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and

     shade of a once powerful mad American locomo-

     tive?


You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a

     sunflower!


And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me

     not!


So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck

     it at my side like a scepter,


and
deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack's soul

     too, and anyone who'll listen,


--We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dread

     bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we're all

     beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we're bles-

     sed by our own seed & golden hairy naked ac-

     complishment-bodies growing into mad black

     formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our

     eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive

     riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sit-

     down vision.

 

Berkeley, 1955



Poet Allen Ginsberg, born June 3, 1926, died in April 1997. To hear him read “Sunflower Sutra,” click here, to hear him read “Sunflower Sutra.” Flowers can be uttered!

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Ah Sunflower! by William Blake

 




Blake's Sunflower
Print, Jerusalem, Plate 53 Chapter 3
(Winged muse atop a floating sunflower)
1804-1820.

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,

Who countest the steps of the Sun:

Seeking after that sweet golden clime

Where the travellers 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 Sun-flower wishes to go.




"Woman" by Fu Xuan, from Arthur Waley, Chinese Poems, (New York: 1946), pp 84-85, reprinted in Albert M. Craig, et al, The Heritage of World Civilizations, 2d ed., (New York: Macmillan, 1990), p. 217

How sad it is to be a woman!!
Nothing on earth is held so cheap.
Boy stand leaning at the door
Like Gods fallen out of Heaven.
Their hearts brave the Four Oceans,
The wind and dust of a thousand miles.
No one is glad when a girl is born:
By her the family sets no store.
When she grows up, she hides in her room
Afraid to look at a man in the face.
No one cries when she leaves her home --
Sudden as clouds when the rain stops.
She bows her head and composes her face,
Her teeth are pressed on her red lips:
She bows and kneels countless times.
She must humble herself even to the servants.
His love is distant as the stars in Heaven,
Yet the sunflower bends towards the sun.
Their hearts are more sundered than water and fire--
A hundred evils are heaped upon her.
Her face will follow the years changes:
Her lord will find new pleasures.
They that were once like the substance and shadow
Are now as far from Hu as from Ch'in [two distant places]
Yet Hu and Ch'in shall sooner meet
That they whose parting is like Ts'an and Ch'en [two stars]

The title of Irving Lo’s Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry highlights the significance of sunflower imagery in classical Chinese poetry.



 
Mahmud Kianush, rubái (quatrain), English translation at http://www.artarena.force9.co.uk/esunflowers.htm

Sunflowers
Sunflowers: I have seen them everywhere;

They are beautiful, this no one can deny;

But, surely it was Van Gogh who painted the truth

Of the sunflower and hung it on the wall.



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Kansas Sunflowers Kansas sunflower field

Sunflowers in Prose and Poetry

Sunflowers are native plants of the North American prairie; One state where sunflowers would be found is Kansas. What images does An Ode to a Kansas Sunflower bring to mind?

The Earth’s Birthday Project asks the students to write their own sunflower poem and provides examples of student work.

 

Sunflowers, a Kansas Book of Verse (1919) http://skyways.lib.ks.us/poetry/sflr1916/


When sunflowers fail,” from Evening Verse by Jack Harter , http://home.tiac.net/~cri/poetry/poetry3.html

Sunflowers are a chancy crop. If they don't make it they aren't harvested. The unharvested fields are striking - acre upon acre of black. [Note: this is incorrect - the fields have to blacken before they are harvested. The seeds must dry out in their last mortality.]

When sunflowers fail
They do not fail
In the manner of wheat and corn;
For fields of grain wither to brown
And sunflower fields blacken instead.
The great green leaves fall away;
Each plant becomes a stick.
The yellow eyes that once
So proudly followed the sun
Are humbled;
They bow their heads in ebony.
Row upon row the sunflowers stand
Like candy canes awaiting Halloween

November 1998

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"Along the river" by Lorine Niedecker http://www.oysterboyreview.com/archived/17/niedecker/


Along the river

      wild sunflowers

over my head

      the dead

who gave me life

      give me this

our relative the air

      floods

our rich friend

      silt

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Poem to a Sunflower
, Elaine’s Sunflower Page http://freespace.virgin.net/derek.berger/sunflowers.html
 

 

Sunflower poems  http://www.allspirit.co.uk/sunflower.html

 

Garden Poems from KTC (Kids Turn Central) http://www.kidsturncentral.com/topics/hobbies/ktcgpoets.htm



Terrapin Station Sunflower Terrapin Station - Lady with a Fan, lyrics, Grateful Dead


Let my inspiration flow in token rhyme, suggesting rhythm,
That will not forsake you, till my tale is told and done.
While the firelight’s aglow, strange shadows from the flames will grow,
Till things we’ve never seen will seem familiar.

Shadows of a sailor, forming winds both foul and fair all swarm.
Down in Carlisle, he loved a lady many years ago.
Here beside him stands a man, a soldier from the looks of him,
Who came through many fights, but lost at love.

While the story teller speaks, a door within the fire creaks;
Suddenly flies open, and a girl is standing there.
Eyes alight, with glowing hair, all that fancy paints as fair,
She takes her fan and throws it, in the lion’s den.

Which of you to gain me, tell, will risk uncertain pains of hell?
I will not forgive you if you will not take the chance.
The sailor gave at least a try, the soldier being much too wise,
Strategy was his strength, and not disaster.

The sailor, coming out again, the lady fairly leapt at him.
That’s how it stands today. You decide if he was wise.
The story teller makes no choice. soon you will not hear his voice.
His job is to shed light, and not to master.

Since the end is never told, we pay the teller off in gold,
In hopes he will return, but he cannot be bought or sold.

Terrapin Station


Inspiration, move me brightly. Light the song with sense and color;

Hold away despair, more than this I will not ask.
Faced with mysteries dark and vast, statements just seem vain at last.
Some rise, some fall, some climb, to get to terrapin.

Counting stars by candlelight, all are dim but one is bright;
The spiral light of Terrapin Station - lady with a fan

Let my inspiration flow in token rhyme, suggesting rhythm,
That will not forsake you, till my tale is told and done.
While the firelight’s aglow, strange shadows from the flames will grow,
Till things we’ve never seen will seem familiar.

Shadows of a sailor, forming winds both foul and fair all swarm.
Down in Carlisle, he loved a lady many years ago.
Here beside him stands a man, a soldier from the looks of him,
Who came through many fights, but lost at love.

While the story teller speaks, a door within the fire creaks;
Suddenly flies open, and a girl is standing there.
Eyes alight, with glowing hair, all that fancy paints as fair,
She takes her fan and throws it, in the lion’s den.

Which of you to gain me, tell, will risk uncertain pains of hell?
I will not forgive you if you will not take the chance.
The sailor gave at least a try, the soldier being much too wise,
Strategy was his strength, and not disaster.

The sailor, coming out again, the lady fairly leapt at him.
That’s how it stands today. you decide if he was wise.
The story teller makes no choice. Soon you will not hear his voice.
His job is to shed light, and not to master.

Since the end is never told, we pay the teller off in gold,
In hopes he will return, but he cannot be bought or sold.

Terrapin Station

Inspiration, move me brightly. light the song with sense and color;
Hold away despair, more than this I will not ask.
Faced with mysteries dark and vast, statements just seem vain at last.
Some rise, some fall, some climb, to get to terrapin.

Counting stars by candlelight, all are dim but one is bright;

The spiral light of Venus, rising first and shining best,
On, from the northwest corner, of a brand new crescent moon,
While crickets and cicadas sing, a rare and different tune,

Terrapin Station.

In the shadow of the moon, Terrapin Station.
And I know we’ll get there soon, Terrapin Station.
I can’t figure out, Terrapin, if it’s the end or beginning, Terrapin,
But the train’s put it’s brakes on, Terrapin,
And the whistle is screaming, Terrapin.

Terrapin Station - at the siding

While you were gone, these faces filled with darkness.
The obvious was hidden. With nothing to believe in,

Sullen wings of fortune beat like rain.
You’re back in terrapin for good or ill again, for good or ill again. Venus, rising first and shining best,
On, from the northwest corner, of a brand new crescent moon,
While crickets and cicadas sing, a rare and different tune,


Terrapin Station.

In the shadow of the moon, Terrapin Station.
And I know we’ll get there soon, Terrapin Station.
I can’t figure out, terrapin, if it’s the end or beginning, Terrapin,
But the train’s put it’s brakes on, Terrapin,
And the whistle is screaming, Terrapin.

Terrapin Station - at the siding

While you were gone, these faces filled with darkness.
The obvious was hidden. with nothing to believe in,

Sullen wings of fortune beat like rain.
You’re back in Terrapin for good or ill again, for good or ill again.   



China-Cat Sunflower


Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing.

    Look for awhile at the China Cat Sunflower
    proud-walking jingle in the midnight sun
    Copper-dome Bodhi drip a silver kimono
    like a crazy-quilt stargown
    through a dream night wind

    Krazy Kat peeking through a lace bandana
    like a one-eyed Cheshire
    like a diamond-eye Jack
    A leaf of all colors plays
    a golden string fiddle
    to a double-e waterfall over my back

    Comic book colors on a violin river
    crying Leonardo words
    from out a silk trombone
    I rang a silent bell
    beneath a shower of pearls
    in the eagle wing palace
    of the Queen Chinee



Note: The 'China Cat' in China Cat Sunflower may refer to the beckoning porcelain cats that adorn the front windows of Japanese restaurants and teahouses, etc. The figure is called is known as Maneki Neko and is believed to bring customers and wealth to a merchant's establishment. The legend of the Maneki Neko is that a traveling man, who was sitting out a storm under a tree one day, was beckoned to the porch of a nearby temple by a cat that appeared to be waving to him. When the traveler approached the cat, a lightning bolt hit the tree where he had been sitting only moments before. The grateful traveler became a benefactor of the temple and the image of the waving cat entered the popular iconography of Japanese culture forever. Most Japanese businesses even today have a china cat in the front window or above the cash register.

On the other hand, anyone who had hung out in coffee houses in the early sixties would be familiar with Ginsberg's "Sunflower Sutra," which appears in Howl with other poems. The sunflower in this poem is likely linked. While it is some times a dark presence, a representation of mortality, it is also a symbol of hope, of at least a once lived life. It is rather more all encompassing, somthing our worldly, joyous China Cat might be.


Annotated version at http://arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/agdl/china.html

 


Aztec Flower Song / Dale Harris / Grateful Dead / William Blake / Allen Ginsberg /

Fu Xuan / Mahmoud Kianush/ Kansas/ other sunflower poets & poetry / Grateful Dead 


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