Ah lilac, one of those flowers seemingly doomed to be merely pretty in a world full of pretty flowers. The proper name for this hollow-branched plant is Syringa, from the ancient greek meaning ‘tube’; the name lilac is taken from the Persian word nilak, which literally means “bluish.” So far, so uninspiring right?
Except that this is where that special relationship between humans and flowers comes into play. We often like to think that the beauty of nature exists in a vacuum, completely separate from human interference - but just as we have the capacity to be destructive, so too are we able to imbue the seemingly more run-of-the-mill world around us with glorious meaning.
For starters Lilac tends to bloom during the Easter springtime, a time when much of the world is searching for symbols of rebirth and new life. Further more, it thrives in seemingly unappealing environments: in chalk-based soil, on old wood. It’s a fitting state flower for New Hampshire, “symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite state.”
Perhaps most beautifully of all, it acts as a metaphor for Abraham Lincoln in an elegiac poem written by Walt Whitman in the aftermath of the 16th president’s assassination, ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Whitman was in many ways the first in a lineage of American writers who found something profound and beautiful in the everyday: from the wild gothic romance of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy to the blue-collar epiphanies of Charles Bukowski and Raymond Carver. We leave you then with a line from Whitman, finding something uniquely powerful in the otherwise everyday nature of the lilac:
“I remember where I was stopping at the time, the season being advanced, there were many lilacs in full bloom. By one of those caprices that enter and give tinge to events without being at all a part of them, I find myself always reminded of great tragedy of that day by the sight and odour of these blossoms. It never fails."