To A Sunflower

A hint of autumn ~ Maximilian Sunflower

When I discovered the first Maximilian sunflowers of the season — a sure sign of autumn despite our current heat and humidity — my first thought echoed the first line of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To a Skylark.”  I had fun adapting some stanzas for the flowers; you can read the original poem here.

Hail to thee, blithe Flower!
Weed thou never wert
That from Heaven, or near it,
Shinest thy full rays
In spreading gleams of unpremeditated art.
A continuation of summer ~ Common Sunflower
Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a blaze of fire;
The blue sky thou seekest,
And seeking still dost grow, and growing ever singest.
Maximilian sunflower with Black-eyed Susans
In the golden lightning
Of the sinking sun,
O’er which clouds are bright’ning,
Thou dost bloom and run;
Like unbodied joy whose race is just begun.


Comments always are welcome.

49 thoughts on “To A Sunflower

    1. I added a link to “The Lark Ascending” to your comment in case someone doesn’t know it. You’re right about its beauty. I was introduced to Vaughn Williams in high school, when our state concert band included his “English Folk Song Suite” in our concert. His works still are played here in summer concerts from time to time.

  1. Given Maximilian sunflowers’ erect stature, the notion of ascending comes easily to a photographer’s mind, as in the way you looked up to the flowers in the first picture. And there’s no question you had a lark writing your parody of the Shelley poem.

    1. I still laugh when I remember how difficult it was for me to learn to identify the Maximilian sunflowers. One thing I like about this photo is that it shows so many of their distinguishing characteristics: not only height, but the leaf margins, the long flower pedicels, and so on.

      It was harder than I expected to rework the poem, but you’re right that it was great fun. Three stanzas were enough, though!

      1. The cover picture is a “stray,” by which I mean it’s not related to a story in the magazine. The same goes for the two Clematis drummondii pictures inside. I haven’t received my subscription copy yet and wouldn’t have known I have three pictures in there if Shannon hadn’t received her copy days ago and sent me an e-mail.

  2. Gorgeous set of photos, Linda! There’s just something so joyful about sunflower, no matter the kind, as your poem demonstrates.

    1. My favorite café in Galveston is named the Sunflower Bakery. It’s done in Van Gogh’s yellows, blues, and whites, and of course has sunflowers everywhere. In mid-winter, it’s worth visiting just for a shot of that sunflower cheer.

    1. Isn’t ‘unbodied joy’ a delicious thought? That’s all Shelley, and to my way of thinking one of the most evocative phrases in the poem. I’m glad you liked it — although I must say that ‘bodied joy’ isn’t so bad, either.

    1. That surprises me. You’re one of the lucky ones who has the Maximilian sunflower listed for all the counties around you. They’re so beautiful, but I do think of them as more of an autumn sunflower, so they may show up in September or October — not so far in the future, now!

    1. I love yellow flowers of any sort against a blue sky, and sunflowers are one of the best. I love the Maximilians, and could be tempted to call them my favorite, but we have another, coastal variety — the silverleaf sunflower — that has wonderful foliage: silvery/dusty, and very pretty.

  3. So many sunflowers in the world! So little time to see them.
    Percy would be proud of your homage. Skylarks and sunflowers have similar effects on the spirit.

    Come on, Autumn!

    (Of course, our forecast this weekend is for a tropical storm. Ahhh, the Sunshine State!)

    1. I see Fred is a little depressed this evening: good news for you, perhaps. Of course you have your favored weather sites, but if you’ve never come across Levi Cowan, the proprietor of Tropical Tidbits, you might want to take a look. He’s my go-to guy for all things storm related. I’ve known him since he was a high school student in Homer, Alaska, fascinated by tropical weather. Now, he’s Dr. Levi Cowan, and one of the most respected — and best — weather communicators in the business. He’s all business, too: none of that click-bait hype so many weather sorts engage in.

      I thought for sure you’d have the silverleaf sunflower over there, but it looks like the closest location is Volusia County. I like it as much as the Maximilian. Down around Matagorda Island, I’ve seen it dense along the dunes, and as much as eight or nine feet tall: impressive! Of course, there isn’t a single sunflower species that doesn’t bring a smile.

      1. Looks like Fred will bring us a little (more) rain. We appreciate all donations to the aquifer.

        Thank you for the storm link. Looks interesting and I really like the “all business” approach!

        It seems we run across a new sunflower species every couple of years! Which is NOT a complaint! My current favorite is the Swamp (or Narrowleaf) Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius). It can provide us with “fall foliage” in some areas.

    1. Sunflowers, coneflowers, silphiums ~ they all look wonderful against a clear blue sky. The verse for identifying a coral snake is “red and yellow, kill a fellow,” but I’d say blue and yellow pleases fellows and gals alike.

  4. Fun adaptation Linda. Being similarly inspired, I was out taking photos of our sunflowers yesterday. They are cheerful, to say the least. –Curt

    1. I’m surprised you have any sunflowers left to photograph, given what I’ve heard about deer’s affection for them. If your deer are leaving them alone, I suspect you’re as cheerful as the sunflowers.

    1. There’s nothing better than going off on a lark — however it happens. Shelley’s not a poet I generally seek out, but my 8th grade lit teacher would be pleased beyond words that she managed to implant a bit of his poetry in my subconscious — just waiting for the right trigger to bring it to the surface.

    1. There are all kinds of wordplay, and I enjoy them all. I’m glad you liked my reworking of one of ‘your’ poets, and of course we all love the sunflowers!

    1. Aren’t they great? It’s been so danged hot I’ve been reluctant to get out on the weekends after a full week of working in the heat, but one of these weeks things will get below 90, and there will be more tokens of autumn to see.

    1. If I were Percy, I’d just be happy to know that my verse still was being quoted and adapted a couple of centuries later. He might even be surprised, since he wasn’t immensely popular during his lifetime.

    1. Thanks, Derrick. In the process of messing around with the verse, I learned that adapting Shelley’s verse is a lot more complicated than having a go at Ogden Nash.

    1. It seems to me that the spirit of the poem (or at least these stanzas) and the spirit of the sunflowers have a lot of common; they made for a natural combination. I’m glad you enjoyed the result!

  5. Interesting how the petal color of some species of sunflower is a yellow that flirts rather brazenly with orange, and how others remain “pure.”

    1. There is such great variety. Yellow isn’t just yellow: not at all. Of course, the light can make a difference, too. The last photo here is touched with a bit of extra gold because it was taken relatively early in the morning, and the light itself still held a touch of gold.

    1. Me, too! I even love your sunflower-that-isn’t-really-a-sunflower: the Mexican sunflower, or Tithonia rotundifolia. I’d never seen it until you posted photos of it. Just this week I saw another photo of a butterfly on one, and smiled and smiled.

  6. Love it! ‘Higher still and higher/From the earth thou springest’ is very apt. You made me wonder why Shelley put ‘In the golden lightning of the sinking sun’ but following your link, I see the original one does not have that – quite. The Maximilian style of sunflower does appear to fly, especially when a clump of it towers above you.

    1. As lovely as the common sunflower can be, the Maximilian (and the silver-leaved) probably are my favorites. I’ve lost the field that used to be filled with the Maximilians, but I hope this weekend to find another stand of them intact. Even individually, they’re striking plants, and then they cluster together, there’s nothing more appealing.

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