I am thinking of the lilac-trees,
That shook their purple plumes,
And when the sash was open,
Shed fragrance through the room.
–The Old Apple-Tree by American novelist Mrs. Anna S. Stephens
Nothing smells more like heaven than lilacs. Maybe that’s why Manet and Van Gogh were moved to capture their likeness on canvas, and writers like Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Louisa May Alcott were inspired to put pen to paper. There is something about the sweet-smelling flowers that takes me outside myself, transporting me into a world where I’m reminded of my past, and my future.
As a child, I would lie under the lilac trees in our backyard and inhale deeply while I plucked the sweet blossoms from the branches. One by one I sucked the nectar from the tiny flowerets and nibbled on the petals while I read a book and watched my brothers chase each other. Their heads were in their game, while mine was in the flowers, dreaming of summer clouds and rhubarb pie.
Emily Dickinson wrote,
The Lilacs — bending many a year —
Will sway with purple load —
The Bees — will not despise the tune —
Their Forefathers — have hummed —
My mother died in May, just when the lilac trees were bending with purple blooms. That year the fragrance filled my yard with sadness I could taste, just like the sweetness I sucked from the flowers as a child.
I cannot bring back my childhood days anymore than I can bring back my mother. But as bees hum around the lilacs in my yard, I can remember those days with a smile in my heart and inhale deeply. Perhaps that’s what the artists experience when they put brush to canvas and pen to paper. A fine spring day, fragrant with eternal love.