Tag Archives: observation


I spent most of this afternoon looking at a buttercup.  An exercise in Goethe’s system of observation, I was testing my powers of perception and a wayward creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) on the edge of my lawn was a convenient subject.  I liked the idea of giving such an easily overlooked flower so much attention.  Although I did have a rival – an elegant bronze fly feeding on its pollen.  The process is that you look closely, paying attention to every single detail of the plant’s structure, its colour, habit and ‘feel’ – much in the way that a botanical illustrator might in order to be able to make an accurate representation.


As if part of me knew that it wasn’t a plant to touch or taste, I discovered when I looked it up later that the highly acrid buttercup is poisonous to cattle and can cause blisters in humans.  Beggars used to rub them on their skin to induce sores and elicit sympathy.  An old cure for lunacy was to hang buttercups in a bag round someone’s neck (probably a poet’s).  Its original name was butterflower or crowfoot. You can see from the photo that some creature wasn’t put off by the flavour…


Observing the buttercup so closely, in sunshine and under cloud, I hope I was able to enter into an intimate understanding with it and come to know what Goethe called its ‘archetype’ – a process not unlike the way I tend to approach writing a poem about a flower.  Unsurprisingly, what was suggested was a child-like quality, playful, radiant and very strong.  We used to hold a buttercup under each other’s chins to see if we liked butter.  I’m not sure children still do that, which seems a terrible pity.

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