Camas Lilies by Lynn Ungar

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”
Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
I was captured by this poem from the first time I read it. Despite the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, these lilies do not grow in our part of the world, I can envision them in all their glory. Besides, we have our own wildflowers that grow in such abundance – tiny blue starflowers, deep purple violets, even the extravagant orange day lilies.
After the opening line from the Bible (Matthew 6:28-29), inviting us to contemplate these flowers, Ungar creates such a strong visual image with the blue banks of camas opening / into acres of sky along the road. When she speaks to the longing to lie down / and be washed by that beauty, I recognize the longing I feel at times to submerge myself in nature’s aesthetic gifts. I know nothing of the usefulness of these flowers and no, it does nothing to diminish the desire to lose myself in their beauty.
And then her unexpected question: what of your rushed / and useful life? Well yes, what of it indeed? Are we not often rushing to be productive? Imagine setting it all down for a time, leaving this note: “Gone / to the fields to be lovely. Be back / when I’m through with blooming.” Such an invitation to immerse oneself in beauty, to become beauty – can you imagine??
These flowers, unneeded and uneaten, continue to exist even without our attention. Meanwhile, Even in sleep your life will shine. So we, too, continue to exist and our work matters, is useful. But what matters most, I believe, is that we take the time to stop and open ourselves to this wild, transient beauty around us.
She ends with the remainder of the quote from Matthew, a reminder that it is not the material things of our lives that matter most, that nothing can match the value of these wild and glorious blossoms.
So I invite you to leave a note one day this summer – literally – “Gone / to the fields to be lovely. Be back / when I’m through with blooming.” Then go and be lovely, let yourself bloom.
And don’t forget summer solstice, our longest day, tomorrow, Friday June 21. Let yourself be washed by the beauty.

16 thoughts on “Camas Lilies by Lynn Ungar

  1. I, too, have loved this poem for a long time. Thanks so much, Jan, for the chance to revisit it. This time, what resonates most is the acknowledgement of the beauty that is around us and in us – to be noticed, affirmed and savoured.

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  2. Hi Jan

    loved it loved it loved it…just was marveling with a blooming clematis this am in my garden tour…and your post arrived to put it all into words…

    thank you dear one
    gail

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  3. Ah, Jan- I am again so sweetened by your sharing of this poem and your pointing to the essence of our time/space/joy continuum in these bodies. Thank you. Much love. Candy

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  4. Jan, I love this one…thanks for sharing and your own writing is so developed. I enjoy it all. It is so important to lie down in beauty. I, too, was taken by her lines of “your rushed and productive lives”. Really? Best… Claudette

    From: Heart Poems Reply-To: Heart Poems Date: Thursday, June 20, 2019 at 9:46 AM To: Claudette Mclennan Subject: [New post] Camas Lilies by Lynn Ungar

    WordPress.com janfalls posted: “Consider the lilies of the field, the blue banks of camas opening into acres of sky along the road. Would the longing to lie down and be washed by that beauty abate if you knew their usefulness, how the natives ground their bulbs for flour, how the settle”

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  5. As always, the poems you choose speak to so much that matters in life– the beauty around us, the need to let go of human-created strictures and structures, and the value of just being. Thank you, Jan.

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  6. Dear Jan
    I’m very touched by this poem. I want to leave that note and head to the fields and truly experience how it feels to be lovely and to bloom…. in the beauty of the Camas Lilies. And I am very moved by the depth of what you wrote. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. Lisa ❤️

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  7. Dear Jan – as always, you choose exactly the right poem for deeper reflection. Thank you! Although I live in the country, I’m shocked by how much time I spend inside. This poem takes me by the hand to wander outside. Love and gratitude — Mary Lou

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