Here is another woodland find from Monday’s wood chip scrounging mission in the Linden Field. Freshly opened too among the Dog’s Mercury, this arum lily looks like a dryad’s lantern.
The flower’s mysterious (not to say phallic) looks have earned it a host of country names over the centuries, many obviously, but not so obviously, of the lewd variety. For instance the seemingly innocuous Lords and Ladies would have had particular connotations in its day. The same with Cows and Bulls. And the more modern Willy Lily is downright rude. I’ve always known it as Cuckoo Pint, the pint pronounced as in pint of beer. But back in the day it would, most likely, have been pronounced to rhyme with mint. In the sixteenth century, pint was an abbreviated version of pintle, slang for penis.
Other names are Red-hot-poker, Devils and Angels, Adam and Eve, Friar’s Cowl, and Wake Robin. There are many more. And it’s making me think of that classic anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss’ contention in his book The Savage Mind, that human beings have ever used their observations of the natural world to think by. Food for thought in every sense – a trigger for metaphor and story-telling makings, the narrative impulse that defines human nature.
So I’m treasuring the bawdy names, even if I’ve often missed their meaning. Irreverent they may be, but then irreverence may be the only antidote we have to what Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, called “the colonisation of the mind.”