Image by Caroline Forbes

Snakeshead Fritillaries

Anne Ridler


Snakeshead Fritillaries

Anne Ridler


Poem introduction

'Snakeshead Fritillaries'. These are waterside plants that grow beside the Thames in Oxford, and very famously in the gardens of Magdalen College, and Geoffrey Grigson - I remember reading about them before I was aware of the flowers - saying that everyone should walk once in a fritillary field before he died, and that the best position to look at fritillaries was when the sun was low in the sky and you kneel down and get the light of the sun through their petals, which is quite true. They're called Snakeshead Fritillaries because with the dapple they are supposed to resemble the head of a snake. The fritillary has this, as I've remarked, this curious habit of coming out first with its head laying close to the ground before it begins to raise it on the stem, and when I first grew them in our garden, I didn't know this habit of theirs, and I thought "Oh damn, the children have trodden on them, and there I've lost another precious thing."

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