Mutabilité: Spring’s Fleeting Beauty

Sensory pleasures are all around us.

Ah, spring is here—but end it must, like all good things. I often gush about flowers as my dearest tokens of spring. Among those who don’t suffer hay fever, I’m sure I would find not a few who feel likewise about nature’s technicolor cinema. Hardened indeed is the heart unmoved by the succession of crocuses, then daffodils, then tulips. The blooms on the almond trees of Provence in March. April’s sacrament of the cherry blossoms in the American Northeast and Japan. And the dogwood in New York leading into May. What we sometimes forget to appreciate, on the other hand, is the satisfaction of their passing. If the cherry blossoms lasted for months, they would fast become a banality. Their mystery, their command of our attention, is exactly in proportion to their fleeting presence, what the Elizabethan poets obsessively referred to as “mutability,” a Norman word (and still a French one). It was for this reason, I suppose, that van Gogh painted the irises in Provence rather than a still life of its more enduring lavender, however lovely that is.

A feature of our globalized marketplace is the constant availability of plant life out of its time; for a price, we can have the rarest orchids in our midst whenever. But this seems to me quite beside the point of flowers, if they may be said to have a point beyond their mere existence. What we appreciate, we appreciate in the fullness of time, though we can agreeably fool ourselves by protracting this a bit.