Midsummer Memorial

Hypericum perfoliata

It was the Longest Day, so we went
into the mountains to see it through.
We sat for our feast of Midsummer
on a flat rock watching the river
running through deep channels
and the water-boatmen moving
on the surface of shallow pools
beneath the dappled shade of leaves.

Under the trees we found gold: eurinllys*
St John’s Wort with translucent spots
on the leaf edges, and the flowers
edged with a beading of dots,
small suns of the season to hallow the day
to keep from time its passing away.

*Eurinllys  : ‘golden flower’

In one of the medieval Welsh herbals Hypericum perforatum is referred to as Eurinllys gadwallawn, though it’s  Eurinllys trydwll in modern usage. Why this herb should have been associated with Cadwallon – the tyrannical usurper of the Mabinogi tales or the legendary Brythonic chieftain – I have not been able to discover. Certainly the associations of this herb vary between its beneficial link with St John, on whose day (24th June) it is in full flower, and its older link with the Midsummer season which, as Geoffrey Grigson puts it, “excited the fairies and spirits of the dead” and so became a herb which gave protection against these. Grigson also asserts that its association with St John the Baptist was quite late, though Banckes’ Herball of 1525 calls it Herba Joannis and says “the vertue of it is thus. if it be putte in a mannes house there shall come no wycked spryte therein”. Though Scot’s   The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) includes the plant in a charm to raise the ghost of a hanged man.

 

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4 thoughts on “Midsummer Memorial

    1. Yes, ‘herb of the Sun’.

      Midsummer as the time of the Solstice is a precise astronomical moment which can occur in different years anytime between the 20th and 22nd June. Although it’s the longest day of the year when this happens, it makes more sense to think of Midsummer as a season as day length is only marginally different either side of the solstices. But Midsummer in the legal calendar is also one of the ‘quarter days’ and occurs on the 24th every year as does the calendar day of John the Baptist.

      Calendars never quite manage to stay in phase with natural cycles which work to their own laws!

  1. The associations both with sun and gold make sense. I wonder if it might have been associated with wealth, wealthy chieftains, perhaps even gold gifted by the fairies and the risks surrounding it?

    1. An association with wealth (and so power) might explain the Caswallon connection and faery gold certainly fits the earlier Midsummer context as Grigson identifies it. And the risks too!

What do you think?