During my recent trip to the Netherlands I joined my sister and brother-in-law for a visit to the Keukenhof. It was a clear dry day, with a slight breeze and a some sun in the afternoon.
The Keukenhof is one of the world’s largest flower gardens incorporating different gardens and styles on a 79-acre site. It’s situated on 15th century hunting grounds and there are beech trees which are centuries old. The original park was designed in the 1830s and the Keukenhof (Kitchen garden) first opened in 1949. Each year some seven million bulbs are planted up.
I vaguely recalled the Sylvia Plath poem about tulips, so I looked it up. It was written in 1961 and consists of nine 7-line stanzas. It starts: The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. The poem is based on Plath’s experience of recovering in hospital from an operation: I am learning peacefulness, I am lying by myself quietly/ In the following stanzas the tulips are not experienced as benign: The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. The vivid tulips eat my oxygen. The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
I have one poem about tulips (in the Building Bridges anthology published by Ek Zuban last year). It has a very different feel from the fabulous Keukenhof tulips and is more at the Sylvia Plath end of the continuum. The title of the poem is the title of a watercolour painting donated by the (anonymous) artist to Manchester Art Gallery.
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
They’ve not yet reached one of the tulips,
the central one of this display.
You can imagine a window, if you like.
Five parrot tulips lean towards the light.
Degrees of purpling. The ants appear
half-way up the bulb-shaped vase.
I’ve left the thin pencil lines
indicating a flat surface.
Look closely and you’ll see this vase
should tumble, fall or slip.
Three fingers’ width, water level
in the glass. Greying water extracted.
The tulips were a present.
You can count the ants, if you like.