The conditions that favour poppy seeds are simple – the seeds lie dormant, deep in the soil, until something comes along to plough and break that soil up, allowing sunshine, warmth and moisture to reach them so that they spring into vibrant, astonishing life.
Their overwhelming association with the trenches of WW1 is because, in land that had been ripped apart by shells and fighting, they were the first sign of life to reappear. It must have been a poignant sight – the blood of the fallen springing up as dancing red flowers. The poppies symbolised both the huge loss of life and shedding of blood, but also the triumph of life over death, of beauty over man-made devastation.
I wish the link with war wasn’t so strong. The poppy is the most joyful of flowers – to come across fields like the ones in these images is something that lifts the heart. But then – for me, at least – the symbolism kicks in and it’s impossible not to think of Flanders fields, in the same way that I can no longer see a plane flying towards some skyscrapers without thinking of 9/11.
However, these poppies were busily creating their own little pocket of joy – the small layby next to the fields housed an ever-changing parade of cars whose occupants had stopped to gaze in awe at the poppies stretching into the distance, and more often than not, to get out and take pictures. Everyone was smiling at everyone else, and exclaiming how wonderful and amazing it was. These poppies were bringing people together.
I searched the web for quotes about poppies that didn’t refer to war. It’s almost impossible to find any, so this one stood out:
‘That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.’
The quote is from John Berger who – coincidentally – wrote extensively about the theory of photography. I do believe that there’s something about nature’s spectacular beauty that connects us more strongly to the world, puts our problems into perspective, and opens our hearts to the simple pleasures that lie in looking at something as gorgeous as this.
The title quote is taken from an article in the Guardian by Lea Leendertz.