Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Of Roses and Metaphor

"Stop and smell the roses" doesn't mean what it used to mean. At least, not in my experience. I've long made a point of stopping to smell roses whenever I walk past them (beautiful things, aren't they?) but, for quite some time now, I have suffered disappointment at the result. I remember loving the smell of roses as a kid. We never grew them in our yard, so I had to enjoy them vicariously, on the fly-by, stealing discreet whiffs (and occasionally stealing blossoms in thorn-pricked fingers) from neighbors' bushes. A few times during my teenage years I received a bouquet of roses from my father, usually on opening night of a school play or concert, but our family budget didn't allow for such extravagance often. So the smell of roses remains in my memory not merely as pleasant, but as luxurious.

Apparently horticulturalists have devoted considerable effort over the years to breeding ever larger and more spectacular varieties of rose, as well as hardier varieties that will bloom just about anywhere with little or no effort on the part of amateur landscapers. There are even thornless varieties that enable florists to create painless bouquets that strip roses of any poetic or metaphoric depth. In the process of catering to eyes and ease, these scientists have also stripped roses of their fragrance.

You don't have to look too hard to find someone ranting about genetically-modified corn or wheat or cattle of one ilk or another. But where are those who will stand up and express quiet outrage at the mutilation of the rose? "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," averred Shakespeare's Juliet, and yet, that which we now call a rose has no smell whatsoever.

When I was twelve, I wrote a poem using the rose as a metaphor for life, contrasting its fragrance and its peril (though the flower is sweet / the thorns are sharp). That poem would make little sense to today's youth, who have probably never smelled a rose-scented rose or, indeed, suffered the pricks of its thorns. And so I toss off a new poem for your perusal.
the rose of progress
beckons to me with its splendor
I stop and inhale deeply
then walk briskly on
cheated once again