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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 656 Response

“Pink Flowers” Explained

by Don Webb

In Ken Allen Dronsfield’s “Where the Pink Flowers Grow”:

  1. In what way does the poem not overstep BwS’ “dead narrator” guideline?
  2. What is the symbolism of the color pink?

Ken Dronsfield has kindly sent us a thank-you note for our publishing his poem and mentioned that he has been receiving congratulations from readers. I thanked Ken, in turn, for his message. I added that I’m very glad we have his poem and that his praise is well earned.

Why, then, do we have the questions in Challenge 656? Only the second one, about color symbolism, seems at all warranted. One reader surmises, “Pink typically signifies love and warmth.”

Yes, that is certainly an appropriate response, and it’s about as far as ordinary readers can go. However, there is more to it. The answer to the question can be found in our welcome message to Ken. It’s a kind of historical note, and a very touching one.

As for the first question, some readers need help. For example: “Is the narrator in the poem actually dead? I thought it was a tribute to a lost loved one by a survivor.” Yes, the poem is a tribute to a friend, but the narrator’s voice comes to us from beyond the grave: “Here I now lie, / deep in this hallowed ground.”

The first question was prompted by a bizarre response: “Dead narrator?” I do not think the response was intended as a joke. Rather, the reader was probably alluding to our “dead narrator” guideline.

The guideline says that a first-person narrator can‘t die and leave no one to tell the tale. Does the narrator in the poem do that? No, she’s already dead. And our guideline does not apply to what may be technically called “afterlife” or “ghost” stories.

At the risk of absurdity, can our guideline also apply to ghosts? No, it can’t. BwS cheerfully allows bringing the dead back to life; the theme is a time-honored and even sacred one. The dead can live again in literature, but can they die again once they’re dead? No, that defies logic; there can be no death without life.

BwS frequently publishes poems about mortality, including elegies and other commemorative poems. That’s quite understandable: memento mori has a Latin name because the topic dates from the dawn of time. It is very hard to equal Renaissance poets on the subject, but all must try, in their own way and in their own time and place.

Ken Dronsfield reverses the commonplace. The topic is not memento mori; it is memento vitæ, “Remember life.” The poet is taking a literary “risk,” and the originality may baffle readers who expect something more ordinary.

The poem is the opposite of sentimental; all the emotion is earned. It remembers life by the senses in such phrases as: “Brush my cheek,” “life’s internal fire,” and “the sun is warm and forgiving” as well as the visual interplay of light and dark.

What shall we make of this stanza:

Here I now lie,
deep in this hallowed ground,
listening for the sounds
of the shovels’ infernal digging.

There we hear an echo of memento mori. For whom are the shovels digging? For those who follow after. And the reminder is all the more powerful for being understated.

“Where the Pink Flowers Grow” is more than a model of an elegy; it is one of Bewildering Stories’ finest lyric poems.

Copyright © 2016 by Don Webb
for Bewildering Stories

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