#24 Cowbind

Cowbind / Bryony


As Molly Hite points out in her annotations to The Waves, Cowbind is another name for White Bryony (TW 235) or Bryonia alba, a vine related to the cucumber, which bears small greenish white flowers in May and bright red, noxious berries in the fall. Also known as Wild Hops, it grows in hedges and is “exceedingly common in the south of England.” [1] 

Cowbind only appears twice in Woolf’s oeuvre, both times in The Waves as an element of a garland mentally woven by Rhoda. As Hite also notes, Woolf’s cowbind is derived not from country walks and direct observation but from the literary imagination of Percy Shelley. In the third episode of the novel, as the six children separate to go off the school, Rhoda soothes anxious solitude by reading a “poem about a hedge” (TW 39), clearly Shelley’s “The Question” a slightly mournful lyric about gathering spring flowers for a bouquet without having anyone in particular to give it to. Rhoda’s meandering meditation follows Shelley’s roll-call of spring flowers, at times almost word for word. Her desire to wander down the hedge “and pick flowers, green cowbind and the moonlight-coloured May, wild roses and ivy serpentine” (TW 39-40) corresponds exactly to Shelley’s third stanza, with only a few editorial excisions:

And in the warm hedge grew lush eglantine,
Green cowbind and the moonlight-coloured may,
And cherry-blossoms, and white cups, whose wine
Was the bright dew, yet drained not by the day;
And wild roses, and ivy serpentine.

Like Shelley, Rhoda has no one to present her flowers to, but later after Percival’s death, eliminating all the flowers but the “cowbind and the moonlight coloured may,” she reweaves the literary memory as a mourning garland and imagines tossing it out over a cliff in Spain, offering its white petals to the sea (TW 151).  Cowbind is almost unique in Woolf’s floral arrangements in being wholly imagined in both its origin and its representation, a ghostly green flower of the mind.

[1] The most complete information I found on Byrony is location at Botanical.com: A Modern Herbal

No comments:

Post a Comment

About 98 Flowers

Welcome to the Virginia Woolf Herbarium.  For many years I have been researching and writing about Virginia Woolf and parks, gardens, and fl...