The Traveller's Joy Poet
November 2, 1848
Today is the anniversary of the death of the English poet and Irish bishop Richard Mant.
Richard wrote a little poem about the wild clematis that happens to be England’s only native Clematis. In the 17th century, the herbalist John Gerard gave it the common name “The Traveller's Joy” (Clematis virginiana). The flower has no petals but offers four delicate creamy sepals along with a copious amount of stamens and carpels.
Most beauteous when its flowers assume
Their autumn form of feathery plume.
The Traveller's Joy! name well bestowed
On that wild plant, which by the road
Of Southern England, to adorn
Fails not the hedge of prickly thorn...
Even today in the English countryside, “The Traveller's Joy” rambles up hedgerows & trees, drapes down from branches and thorns to offer a profusion of fragrant white blossoms that transform into architectural wonders in fall & winter: feathery, silver ‘beards’ that flow from the seed pods. This is how Traveller's Joy ended up with so many common names, including “Old Man’s Beard.”
Folklore says that Traveller's Joy (Clematis virginiana) was sent by the devil to smother the earth's plants by trailing over them. Anyone who has grown this woody vine, a member of the buttercup family, knows this is one tough and persistent plant. Not surprisingly, it's considered an invasive plant in many parts of the world.
The poet A.E. Houseman wrote about the Traveller's Joy (Clematis virginiana) in his poem ‘Tell Me Not Here, It Needs Not Saying.’
Tell me not here; it needs not saying,
What tune the enchantress plays
In aftermaths of soft September
Or under blanching mays,
For she and I were long acquainted
And I knew all her ways.
On russet floors, by waters idle,
The pine lets fall its cone;
The cuckoo shouts all day at nothing
In leafy dells alone;
And Traveller's Joy beguiles in autumn
Hearts that have lost their own.