The Latest from Freddie Bowles The Cambridge Man in Athens The Last Days LitTunes On the Psychic Road with Beau Bosko Our Readers Glossary and Compendium HOME Go
resurrection lily
surprise lily

Lycoris squamigera

From the gardens at Crow's Cottage      •      August 16, 2011

They appear as a cluster of long, thin leaves in early spring,
then vanish, as if dead,
preparing in the underground for a late summer resurrection.

Photos by Beau Bosko


By Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles

Posted on August 26, 2011, from rural Washington County, Arkansas

Some short time ago. . . .

I look out the window.  The hawk circles, low in the thin sky, hunting.  My eyes drift downward to a heart-shaped dogwood of graceful green and pleasant visage.  A few yards to the left of its two-branched trunk, on the other side of the pale gray road, I spy a band of lilies, pink and white, swaying in the hot breeze like dancers in a corps de ballet.  They are a wonderful late summer surprise.

Their emergence from the parched earth caught me unawares.  The first two two lilies members of a transient, merry band now numbering in the many glorious dozens appeared on the last day of July as objects of mystery, arising of a sudden from the dark, rocky soil of a little flower patch beside the back fence.  I stop at the patch twice each day, sometimes thrice, to water, prune, and admire the marigolds, morning glory, cosmos, and four o'clock growing there.  Seeing a pair of strange new creations winding toward the sky from whence, the day before, there was none:  Amazing.

As long as a man doth prune his vines,
doth dig at the roots,
and doth lay fresh earth to them,
he hath a mind to them,
he perceiveth some token of fruitfulness,
that may be recovered in them

— Certain Sermons Or Homilies
Appointed To Be Read In Churches

(page 77, The Edition of MDCCCXXII  (a long time ago) )

See them, young and precious, to the right of the text, tall and slender in the photograph.  Green magic wands for garden gnomes and fairies, precious gifts from the original animist mother, Gaia.

That night, I asked the mistress of the hacienda if she knew the identity of the new plants.  Have you seen them on your sunrise walks with the shepherds?   "Yes.  They're surprise lilies," she said.  "We used to have them at home in the delta.  They sprang up everywhere."

We are not there, in the delta . . . .
Not at Swan Lake, not anywhere
In the sea of remembered things,
But at the cottage, pretending.

A moveable feast of natural delights, a creation of the Mind and Spirit grounded in corporeal realities, Crow's Cottage found a new home this past spring on the edge of Wedington Forest — thus the surprise when the lilies emerged.  Surprise of this sort comes but one season only.  Next summer, when the perennial visitors reappear, the surprise won't be.  I'll expect them.  Eagerly.

In the study now, following the thread of magic lilies wherever they may lead,
and under natural and generated light, from solar fires and furnaces of coal,
by reaper's hook or shepherd's crook,
we arrive at a gateway to ideas first propounded by Aristotle,
and there we find a passel of questions,
of people and animals and things,
raised-up by the Doctrine of the Ancients:

" Whether genera and species do really exist in nature ?  or,
Whether they are only conceptions of the human mind ?
If they exist in nature, Whether they are corporeal or incorporeal ?  and,
Whether they are inherent in the objects of sense, or disjoined from them ?
These, he says, are very difficult questions, and require accurate discussion;
but that he is not to meddle with them. "

— Analysis of Aristotle's Logic
With Remarks by Thomas Reid, D.D. F.R.S. Edin.

(page 7, The Second Edition, Edinburgh: 1806)


resurrection lily 2

A Patch of Surprise Lilies in Morning Light     •     August 16, 2011
Bunches of lilies appeared everywhere on the grounds of the cottage,
in beds around the oaks, in front of the woodworking shop, along the back fence,
next to the front door of the hacienda, across the road by the dogwood,
amidst the patch of poison ivy by the south fence, and under the old apple tree.

   Resurrection Lily

Kingdom: Plantae
  Subkingdom: Tracheobionta  (vascular plants)
    Division: Magnoliophyta  (angiosperms — also called flowering plants)
      Class: Liliopsida  (monocotyledons)
        Subclass: Liliidae
          Order: Liliales
            Family: Liliaceae  (the lilies)
              Genus: Lycoris  (Lycoris Herbert)
                Species: squamigera  (Maxim.)

Yes, but. . . . The taxonomy shown above is the version declared to be correct by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  It appears official enough for our purposes here in the laboratory of Crow's Cottage.  However, an article on Wikipedia under the title Lycoris squamigera places the plant in the order Asparagales, family Amaryllidaceae.  Hence we stumble into another pitfall in the quest for truth. . . . and if not for truth, then for factual clarity.

When the library here at the cottage isn't sufficient, and when we aren't inclined to climb into a vehicle and motor on over to the stacks at the university, a thirty-minute drive to the east, we turn inward to the vast World Wide Web, a wondrous expanse of ready information and delightful diversion, but also a punji pit of delusion, error, misdirection, and foolishness.  No wonder Luke tells us to separate the wheat from the chaff, which shall burn with fire unquenchable.  One source states this, another source states that.  Which source shall the scholar choose to accept as gospel?

So, we take the second thought. Perhaps the serious-minded contributors to Wikipedia are a step ahead of the mainline botanists at USDA, who may ascribe to the adage, "Close enough for government work."  Fashions in science change and certitudes in most any discipline fall prey to postmodern relativity.  Maybe the order Asparagales, family Amaryllidaceae has superseded the lilies in present-day taxonomical jargon.  Doubtless we can find an expert to take the affirmative for either side.  But today, trustful, we side with the government men.  As for those of you who would say, who cares about such meaningless trivia, I'm convinced you aren't here on this byted page.  And to those of you who've come this far, I shout:  Thanks for being here now.  It's the best you can do to mitigate the obscurity of life on the lam.

resurrection lily 14

Fiery Star
And the wand-like lily, which lifted up,
As a Maenad, its moonlight-colored cup
Till the fiery star, which is its eye,
Gazed through clear dew on the tender sky
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Sensitive-Plant," 1820

Continue, then, the inaccurate discussion, meddled and muddled through 'n through:  genera and species, Mind and Nature, inherent and disjoined.  So what if I can't run with Aristotle — you know it — can't run with one of the Greats in the Pantheon of the Ancients, can't run with a Mind   w a y  f a r   beyond mine in length, breadth, depth, and reach — any other form of psychic measurement you can lay on the trestleboard and say, "Measure this!"  So why try?

"I didn't understand a word of it," she wrote from the little hamlet at the foot of the great mountain, the atoms swirling in concentric circles at her feet, the bumble bees in concert 'round her hair.  I've mentioned this before.  It haunts me.  Why didn't she understand?  Don't tell me it's breaking down that quickly, dementia on the half-shell, fragments too disjointed for the conveyance of meaning, conveyor belts dumping words into a purposeless abyss.

Right away, we limit the response to the kingdom of plants — more narrowly and specifically, to just one of its members, Lycoris squamigera.  Already in the space of a few paragraphs, we've given the plant three distinct common names:  magic lily, surprise lily, and resurrection lily.  There are others, too, and some of them fit the taxonomy:  autumn lily, rain lily, naked lady.  Other published names for Lycoris squamigera are not rightly aligned with botanical fact, including the belladonna lily, Amaryllis belladonna, which is very nearly a mirror image of Lycoris squamigera but somehow deemed by the experts to grow under a different name.  I'd need to put them side-by-side in full bloom to discern the difference, but the fair lady of the night is somewhere else, drinking atropine and praying to a merciful god for deliverance from the Second Circle of Hell.

One can argue against the name rain lily because it's more commonly associated with the Cooperia drummondii Herbert, the evening rain lily, a white flower of late summer with tall naked stems.  Regardless, we stand by it.  Here in the Ozark highlands, the Lycoris squamigera oft emerge from their slumber after a good summer rain, and several of our pals like to call them rain lilies.  We, too.

Some web writers include spider lily in the list of names for Lycoris squamigera, a lazy but understandable error.  Lycoris radiata, the spider lily, is the surprise lily's closest cousin.  I wish they'd come visit our garden.

The relationship between the resurrection lily and the spider lily reveals a fundamental purpose of taxonomy.  As Professor Reid writes in his treatise on Logic, "Now, the essence of a thing consists of these two parts:  first, What is common to it with other things of the same kind; and, secondly, What distinguishes it from other things of the same kind.  The first is called the genus of the thing, the second is its specific difference.  The definition, therefore, consists of these two parts."  [pp. 37, 38]

Here in the study, over there in the laboratory, out there in the world — Hello World!  It's me.  I exist. — we are snared by the passion to travel so long and so deep as to arrive at the essence of a thing.  It becomes a passion forever unfulfilled, a quest for the ineffable that by nature remains unuttered in both thought and word, but Thanks be to God for His ineffable grace.  We continue, n'er give up.

resurrection lily 5

Petals, Stamens, and the Style of the Resurrection Lily
Look carefully. I count six stamens.
The extra long, dark purple tentacle must be the style of the pistil.
If correct, this analysis fits the symmetry of the lily, which features six petals.
Botanists tell us that three of the petal-like structures in the corolla
are actually sepals.  So, looking alike, three petals and three sepals
form the whorl of the brightly colored thing we see, collectively, as the flower.
my amateur's eye can't tell the difference between a sepal and a petal.)

Here on the screen of a monitor,
zeroes and ones, on and off,
not a page but the representation of a page,
the only valid reality emerges from the imagination,
imago on wings of maturated recorded language,
and here
every notion of genre and species extends from Mind.
There is no lily, no row of elegant ballerinas on a stage.
Though I saw them, I remember!
lilies growing in beauty and grace, yesterday and last week,
rising in all directions toward the sky,
saw the Russian dancers, the sorcerer with his curse,
and faithful Odette in love, selling
tickets for a seat in the auditorium,
and here
the tall stalks totter and fall,
the lily flowers are dead or dying,
darkening day by day,
the Lord Jesus, emerging from the tomb to confound death,
walked for forty days among the children of Israel and their Roman conquerors,
then ascended toward the clouds below heaven,
then beyond the clouds to sit at the right hand of the Father,
the sky dogs there with him, the Lost Boys and all forgotten dreams,
threads of conception from the human Mind.

resurrection lily 4

The Naked Lady's Legs
Among its many names, the Lycoris squamigera
is known by the bawdy nomen confusum "naked lady."
Following the logic, she is all legs.
These legs stood about 55 centimeters tall.

Have you ever died?  If so, you are resurrected.  The scenario is unlikely.

My death, our deaths — we are the quick, the only ones able to be here — are psychic events of the spirit and flesh united into a whole being with a Name.  We become the ones who die to a corrupted way of life so that another way, a way of promise and freedom, can arise in its place.

And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.

Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

In the vestry sat the pastor at his desk, the children of the catechism at his feet, each with Luther's little book opened to "The Third Article, Sanctification," the pastor saying that when they rolled away the stone door of the tomb He was not there, His body not stolen but resurrected, risen from the dead, alive as God and Man in One.  "This is most certainly true," the pastor spoke, and the little ones believed him, marveled at the red-tinted rays of morning light streaming through the stained-glass cloak on the right arm of Jesus Christ inside the tomb, the filtered light in the vestry the color of blood, falling on the pastor's white hair, and Jesus on the glass with a moustache and beard, and flowing hair of auburn brown, His eyes toward the heavenlies, the fingers of His two hands intertwined in prayer and supplication.  The pastor called one boy in the cathechism to rise and recite,
and the boy said,
"I believe . . . ."

resurrection lily 6
resurrection lily 7

Calyces of the Resurrection Lily
Yet in the bud, each lily flower is covered by an outer envelope
of unopened petals and sepals called the calyx.
The ground number of the lily is three and twice three.
"The calyx is nothing but the swaddling clothes of the flower,"
John Ruskin wrote in The Ethics of the Dust.
"The child-blossom is bound up in it, hand and foot."

Why choose resurrection over surprise as the heading for this tale?  Both names are equally valid as the commonplace for Lycoris squamigera.  I suppose it's a matter of gravity versus lightness of being, of the heavy heart over light heartedness.  So oft I tote the former like a ball and chain into the dark night.  No wonder I gravitate toward sharers with a lilt on the tongue and a smile on the lips.  I need their cheerful disposition to leaven the seriousness.  The bud and the bloom I love in my own way.  It works well enough to keep me here, well enough to spite the scathe and its wicked intentions.

Not born again,
not rising from the ashes of an arid existence like the phoenix bird,
not reincarnated as a fragment of wandering soul,
         arriving to habitate another corporeal form,
not brought back to the land of the living at the end of a near-death experience,
not the dust of the man reanimated at the gates of heaven
         standing for the Last Judgment,
but resurrected,
revived and revitalized from a dead place,
a moment ago,
         into the life-giving sunlight of the Spirit.  Now.
From emptiness and screaming madness to rhyme and reason,
merrily merrily merrily some of us go,
         dead men walking toward a cleansing Light.  And get there.
He's alive!  He's alive!  And what's next?

resurrection lily 10

A Mighty Trumpet
For the trumpet shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.

When we make the implements of our work and our art,
we look to Nature for form and function.

There is room for not much more, little room for more, no space left to discover a hidden law of nature in the life of the lily.  I have meddled enough with difficult questions and the limits of language.  These, then, are my pictures of flowers, the altering of perception, not the corporeal reality inherent in the things out there in the garden, but a disjoined notion of it in here in the study, where the words crawl bit-by-bit across the screen, jumping up, jumping down, never seeing ink, and where the images lie flat and distorted in their confinement, where the colors bend and shape like phantoms escaping from an unreal spectrum, and where each and all exist as impermanent expressions of the cosmos, as ephemeral as the light of a single day, and as imperfect as the ability of language to express the soul of man.

resurrection lily 8
resurrection lily 9

Magic Lilies and Sunset of a Sort
Meet me, Mr. I. Magination,
The man with the magic reputation!

Post Script:  Quick they came.  Quick they went.  The first resurrection lily broke ground at Crow's Cottage on the last day of July.  Rising from my chair here in the study on the twenty-fifth day of August, I look outside — and the lilies are gone.  Under the earth, the bulbs await their next resurrection.  I pray to be the witness.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake     •     1977
The Swan Queen with the corps de ballet of the Tulsa Ballet


lilbatMeet me, Mr. I. Magination. . . .
When I sang the tune to my class of high school sophomores in the little schoolhouse at the foot of the mountain — it was one of those spontaneous acts inspired by the joy of learning — most of the students smiled.  Silliness had long ago earned its rightful place in my classroom, and the song fit the moment.  Paul Tripp's TV show Mr. I Magination ended its three-year run in 1952, long before a television first appeared in our living room.  But Mr. I also released several 78rpm records on the RCA label, one of which found its way into our house about the time Hank Williams' Your Cheatin' Heart was climin' to the top of the country charts in 1953.  My mom would listen to Hank and I'd listen to Mr. I.  The tale on the record, a science fiction yarn about a boy traveling into space and landing on a planet, provides one of my earliest memories, especially the opening lines of the theme song, which I've sang to myself and others for half a century now, imagination being my most reliable refuge.  The link leads to a page at featuring an episode of the TV show from 1952.

lilbat Carl Maximowicz (Maxim.)
Botanists and other scientists interested in taxonomy often tack-on insider's jargon to the botanical nomenclature of flora, hence the name Lycoris squamigera (Maxim.) for the star of our narrative.  Find it, identify it, name it, and it's yours.  The purpose of the practice, so it is claimed, is to transcend the limits of different tongues and provide an official name that is accepted and used worldwide — a necessity, I suppose, although the hodge-podge of the commonplace is much more interesting.  "Maximowicz described and named over 2,300 plants which were previously unknown to science," the linked article states.  Professor Maximowicz's name for the resurrection lily dates to the nineteenth century.

lilbat PLANTS Profile: Lycoris squamigera Maxim.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service webpage that places the resurrection lily in the lily family, and not in the amaryllis family as stated on Wikipedia.


Notices announcing new entries for Crow's Cottage Glossary and Compendium are sent by e-mail express to my list of family, friends, students, and fellow travelers. If you've come here by some other means, I invite you to write me at the address below so I can add you to the list.  It's a private list, shared with no one and guarded by a flock of warrior crows with loud alarms and diligent fairies with tricks of illusion.  Aggressive or pacific — you choose — the guardians are in our service to ensure your privacy.

Ebenezer Bowles

Friday, August 26, 2011
tower of calyx
CornDancer HOME Glossary and Compendium Contact Us Today Photo of the Week