22 Jul


Narcissus in my garden bloomed in spring and summer this year, wildly sown into wood chips last year. Looking at the flowers’ faces it’s easy to see why they are named as they are.

In Greek mythology Narcissus was a hunter who fell in love with his own reflection in a crystal clear pond as he bent down to scoop some water to drink. It’s hard to see how anyone could be so ego-centric, but the young hunter’s name has passed into the language as a person who was dreadfully overfond of himself.

In the end, when he realised his folly, Narcissus took his own life – though had I been an ancient Greek with a quill (or whatever they used to write with back then) in my hand I’d have been a tad more adventurous with my ending. This is something like it would turn out by this ancient Greek!

Picture now a sweet lad (the traditional description of Narcissus) walking along glades and through verdant woodland, and he comes, in the heat of day, upon a crystal-like pool of clear water. The hunting has gone none-too well (possibly because he’s been distracted by thoughts of himself) and his in need of a rest and refreshment.

“Oh,” he says to himself, “look what we have here, and I am becoming thirsty under this sun… I will drink and quench my thirst before I carry on….”

The water is so inviting and looks so perfect that he stoops down to scoop a handful. And as he reaches out to assuage his thirst he notices that a handsome young man, strangely beneath the surface of the water and oddly reminding him of himself, is looking back at him. And that young man is so perfect in Narcissus’ eyes, with a beautiful complexion and skin like the sweetest skin he’s ever seen, unblemished … and eyes that beguile him, so clear, so honest, so wonderful, that he starts shivering and quivering with joy, just looking at him.

“What have we here?” he asks of himself, “what manner of god is this that my heart is twisted by the very sight of him?” (We must remember that in Greek times a great deal of what happened was attributed to a wide variety of deities, even manly attractiveness).

And then his reaching hand touches the water’s surface and forms myriad ripples, and the image breaks up as rippling images do.

“Where have you gone, sweet youth?” he asks, frantic suddenly for another glimpse of human perfection (it does make you feel a bit queasy reading this, I suppose, but stories must out! I dared say there was a wide variety of human sexuality then as now, and the world was doubtless better for it.)

But the youth in the water is fragmented. He has gone. And in his quaking sorrow Narcissus rips off his own clothing intending to dive into the water and unite himself with the vision of manly beauty that he had glimpsed.

He stands there for a moment next to a pile of his clothing, naked and tackle-out, and in his own eyes as glorious as any man could be, and then he dives into the pool. But alas, that pool is but a few inches deep and he bangs his head on its stony bed and, sorrow of all sorrows, he loses consciousness. And as his mind goes blank, at the very moment when sense and vision desert him, he touches his own thigh with fingers searching for the least contact with the vision, and knows, in that fleeting, final moment, that he is touching perfection. And he sighs his gratitude to the beautiful youth, and drowns there and then, inhaling vast quantities of the purest of waters. Poor Narcissus.

That’s better than suicide, surely?

And the flowers in my garden … the sun’s been more than just teasing them and they’re dying too. Shame, really. Meanwhile, anyone who seems to be inordinately fond of themselves, who always puts themselves first and enjoys dominating others, who just cannot admit that he or she is ever wrong, they’re often referred to as a narcissus, a flower much too fond of itself for its own good….

© Peter Rogerson 22.07.15


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