Ripple of Water, Shade of Sky

Tropical blue water lily (Nymphaea elegans) ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

Unlike the fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata), which floats upon the water, the tropical blue water lily rises several inches into the air on a slender peduncle, or stalk.

Native to Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, the flower shows off its color as a young plant, fading from blue to white as it ages. Its specific epithet, elegans, suggests the entirely elegant flower could have served as Rainer Maria Rilke’s model when he wrote his poem, “Water Lily.”

My whole life is mine, but whoever says so
will deprive me, for it is infinite.
The ripple of water, the shade of the sky
are mine; it is still the same, my life.
No desire opens me: I am full,
I never close myself with refusal —
in the rhythm of my daily soul
I do not desire — I am moved.
By being moved I exert my empire,
making the dreams of night real;
into my body at the bottom of the water
I attract the beyonds of mirrors.


Comments always are welcome.

69 thoughts on “Ripple of Water, Shade of Sky

  1. A beautiful plant rising defiantly above the water like that. I seem to recall having similar water lilies in Central America, perhaps in the same genus. I will have to check the distribution of this species.

    1. I took a quick look and discovered that this one also can be found in Mexico, Columbia, and the Bahamas. Our most common native water lily, Nymphaea odorata, is easily found, and I think it’s even more widely distributed.

      Oddly, our official state water lily is Nymphaea “Texas Dawn.” It’s a beautiful flower, but I wish they’d chosen one of our natives.

  2. Lilies are beautiful flowers. We used to see some in our canals over here, but they have long disappeared with the herbicides they have to use to keep the canals open.

    1. Herbicides and pesticides are the proverbial double-edged sword. They have their uses, and can improve life considerably. On the other hand, indiscriminate or unneeded use can wreak havoc on flora and fauna alike.

      I wonder, too, if salinity might be an issue in your canals. These are freshwater plants, and rising salinity can affect them. We occasionally see the phenomenon with the invasive water hyacinth. When we have floods, the water carries great numbers of the plant down to the bay. A salinity level of 9 ppt. will do them in, so over time, they begin to shrivel and die. One of the most dreaded tasks for dock workers is pulling those heaps of slimy, dead plants out of the water.

      One of the side effects of man-made canals in both Texas and Louisiana has been saltwater incursion. Those unintended consequences can be a killer — literally.

        1. I’m not surprised, although they haven’t been as thick around Clear Lake and the Clear Creek channel this year. Some people have hypothesized that Harvey’s flooding disrupted them significantly, and they haven’t reestablished yet. It’s possible; huge, floating mats of them were swept down to the Bay from many of the creeks and bayous.

      1. Our canals are freshwater, but we do have salinity problems with our aquifers. So much of south FL is paved over or built on, so the lack of rainwater causes a vacuum and salt water is sucked in.

        1. I’d never thought of that, but I don’t know much about Florida’s aquifers. I found this interesting and understandable article about the issue. Sure enough — canals have played a role for your state, too:

          “The struggle to forestall saltwater intrusion began in the 1930s when canals were dredged to drain the Everglades, Prions said. As water levels declined in the spongy aquifer, saltwater that is heavier than fresh water, began to flow inland.”

            1. Have you read The Control of Nature by John McPhee? If not, I suspect you’d enjoy it. I was introduced to it during the Mississippi/Atchafalaya floods of some years back. It’s quite a book.

              I meant to mention to you that one of the speakers at our recent Native Plant Society of Texas fall symposium was Merriwhether — Mark Vorderbruggen.You might know of his work, and his website. He’s far from just another foodie wandering the woods. His education and work experience is impressive.

  3. A water lily in Brazoria: seems familiar.

    I’m having the darndest time finding the original version of the Rilke poem. I searched and checked out hits for 15 minutes without turning it up. In the process I learned that this English translation, which is the only one that ever appeared, is by Alfred A. Poulin, Jr., and that Rilke wrote poems in French as well as German.

    1. Whenever I use a translated poem, I try to find at least one other version for comparison, but in this case the same translation kept turning up. There are a couple of lines that seemed a little odd to me (or at least awkward and unexpected) but the Poetry Foundation’s assertion that Rilke “was unique in his efforts to expand the realm of poetry through new uses of syntax and imagery” could explain that.

      N. odorata is the same native water lily that Steve G. has photographed. He’s shown both pink and white flowers, and I was surprised to learn that we also have the pink. I’ve never seen one, but they must be out there.

    1. I was lucky enough to be exposed to a wide variety of good poetry throughout my school years and beyond. Every now and then, something triggers a memory of one of those poems, or at least of a poet, and a match between image and words just seems right. I’m glad to know you enjoy the pairings!

        1. I don’t do much memorizing now at all, but at least I can remember where to find the poems I really enjoy, and I keep a file of new ones to jog my memory. That’s good enough for this stage of life.

    1. Isn’t that something? My favorite line is, “I never close myself with refusal…” Somehow, that’s both a delicate description of the lily’s closing at evening, and something more, that’s less easily described.

      1. “Something more, less easily described”… It is an incredibly sensual poem and now knowing twas originally written en Français makes so much more sense. Thank you Linda, your photo is equally as exquisite a composition as are the words.

  4. Oh my goodness, that is a stunning image! So comforting to these eyes which are seeing way too many policemen, military vehicles, protesting people. It’s an amazing contrast as I look out on sunlit streets, streets way too empty – knowing that across the country it’s not so peaceful —- and then seeing this symbol which to me means peace… if only the world could stop/slow down and focus on being as calm as this image!

    I’m pretty quiet these days but am seeing your posts via reading offline at home.

    Until the next smoke signal, z

    1. I was glad to see your latest post. Much of what you said (and didn’t say) reminded me of my return to Liberia between their coup and the civil war. On the surface, things seemed peaceful enough, but you could feel the hyper-attentiveness in the air. There’s a lot of that going around these days.

      Still, the seasons are changing, the lilies are blooming, and if peace doesn’t abound, at least it can be found: now and then, and here and there. Wishing you a peaceful week!

    1. It is a strange poem in some ways. When I first read it, my response was quick and positive; I was sure I knew exactly what he meant. Then I read it again, and wasn’t so sure. But it’s clearly written from the point of view of the lily, and there are some wonderful lines. I especially like the second stanza, and the last line: although I’ve yet to figure out what I think that last line means!

      The float-on-top-of-the-water lilies are the kind that Steve G. often photographs. They’re the same as our most common native lily. I found out it’s usually white, but it also comes in pink, which Steve sometimes shows.

    1. And I like the way the outstretched sepals seem to be welcoming “The ripple of water, the shade of the sky.” I can’t imagine this lily ever closing itself with refusal!

  5. Elegant in its beauty. Tall spike with a gorgeous blossom at the top. There is nothing prettier. I have never seen a blooming water lily in its native habitat. I suppose my little world is quite narrow when I stop and think.

    1. Until the last two years, I’d only seen them in civic ponds and so on. The little lake at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve has been full of the white ones that float on the water. In fact, there are so many I haven’t been able to get a photo of them that pleased me. There’s another white water-flower in with those lilies that I haven’t identified yet. The bloom is much smaller, and as I recall, it has only four petals. I’ll figure it out eventually.

      I just discovered today that I have photos of a native Texas canna; that was a real surprise. Photos coming up next!

  6. That’s a lovely lily and, like Robert, I haven’t seen any locally extend above the water as yours has. Even in times of low water they still float rather than tower. Although morphing to white as the season progresses, there still is a hint of the earlier blue to be seen, I think, unless that is blue shadowing instead. Subtle tints are lovely and if so here then a beauty of a flower.

    1. That is a bit of the remaining blue, rather than shadow. Here’s another flower (with a friend) that shows it well. From what I’ve seen, they never are completely or brilliantly blue, but they obviously are blue, rather than yellow or pink.

      That reminds me: I’ve discovered that we also have a pink version of N. odorata, although I’ve never seen it. Isn’t that the species that you recently photographed in both pink and white?

      1. Oh that is a very nice shot with the approaching bee. Yes, my waterlily shots have been N. odorata. I am sure there are other lilies to be seen but the only wild ones I’ve come across to this point have been that species.
        I recently posted some wild lettuce which appears blue form a distance but is in fact a combination of blue and white like your lily.

  7. Oh, that’s a lovely capture. I really like the movement and sparkle of the water juxtaposed against the structure of the lily and foliage in the background.

  8. Well, shoot, it’s obvious this beauty doesn’t grow as far north as Illinois. Still, it’s a lovely specimen, and you’ve found a perfect poem to accompany it. Its color fades from blue to white as it ages, huh? Sounds a bit like people!

    1. You’re right that this one doesn’t make it to your territory, but this one does. In fact, it grows all the way up into Maine and Massachusetts, which really surprised me when I learned about it.

      I laughed at your comment about people. Now and then I see a photo of myself when I still had nice, thick, brown hair, and it’s “Whoops! How did that happen?” Funny how quickly twenty years can pass.

        1. There are so many wonderful gardens in Chicago. I follow a blogger who goes to the Lurie garden, near Grant Park, in all the seasons, and it’s just beautiful. If I ever get up that way, wouldn’t it be fun to go?

    1. It makes sense that your cooler (colder?) weather might have finally finished off the bloom. We’re finally getting a front tomorrow, with a thirty degree drop in temperatures, so I’ll have a chance to see how that kind of weather affects the lilies. I’ve seen photos of pads that change color in cold weather — that would be a fun kind of autumn color to see. I suppose your leaves are turning already, but I hope you still have plenty of sunshine to tempt you onto the paths.

    1. I was pleased to be able to isolate it, Judy. The pond where I found it isn’t thick with lilies, but between the reeds, the duckweed, and all the assorted plants I don’t yet know, it can be hard to find a lily by itself with a nice background, and the right light. I tried waiting until later in the afternoon for this shot, when the sun was lower and behind me. It helped.

    1. Intense, and sensual. I keep returning to read it again. Soon, I’ll have it memorized, and can recite it for the water lilies — if I can get back to them before a suddenly arriving autumn sends them to the bottom of the pond. Our first real norther arrived today at noonish, and brought a 30 degree temperature drop. If you thought you heard cheering drifting up from the Texas coast, you’d be right.

      1. I bet! That’s good to hear. If you don’t get back to these lilies this year, there’s always next year. The poem isn’t an easy one. I love the last two lines, very mysterious. But it’s all mysterious, but not in the manner of someone consciously trying to be coy, rather it’s like the mystery that emerges from multiple layers of meaning. I guess that’s what one hopes for in any good poem.

    1. I think water lilies are gorgeous, and they’ve taken on such meaning in so many cultures. I especially like the way these stand up above the water a bit. The floating ones are equally beautiful, but these colorful, sturdy stems add just a little ‘something.’

  9. I like how you photographed it with blue reflections and moving petals. I know they open really early in the morning, then gradually close by noon.

    1. At least in my experience, these open later in the morning, and stay open until evening. I was at the refuge today, and many of them still were closed about 11 a.m. By the time I left, around 4 p.m., they were open wide, like this photo.

      It was windy on the day I took this photo — good of you to catch the movement. I’m not always adept at stopping motion, but in this instance it worked pretty well.

      1. There is the ‘Nelumbo lutea’ which is the native lotus from the U.S. but it’s very difficult to see. It’s distantly related to the one in India and I believe Steve has an image of it. It is very common yet I have not seen it.

        1. It grows at the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge across Galveston Bay, and probably elsewhere in the neighborhood. I’ve seen it in flower, but since beginning to carry a camera and seek out various flowers, I’ve only found the seed pods. They’re attractive, too. I like seeing them in dried arrangements.

          1. Sometimes they may bloom too far and a telephoto may be needed. It’s a matter of ‘being at the right place at the right time’ I guess.

    1. Isn’t it amazing how much difference reading aloud can make? Of course, poetry used to be a spoken art. When the poets began playing with the arrangement of words on a page, and designed their verse to be approached visually (hello, e.e. cummings) things really changed. I’m glad to find more and more poets who are going back to rhythm and rhyme, even if their forms are somewhat different.

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