Romancing the Rose

Ryan Gainey extols the virtues of the rose as muse in poetry, art, and personal reflection
rose as muse
A Gainey vignette celebrates the rose as muse. A deep-red ‘Francis Du Breuil’ rose along with a ‘Fairy’ rose share a small wire basket with an antique nosegay holder filled with ‘Ballerina’ rose, honeysuckle, rose-scented geranium leaves, as well as ‘Iceberg’ roses nestled into an antique silver lapel pin.

Poets, painters, performers, and perfumeries have succumbed to the beauty and fragrance of the rose.

Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet questions “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” Robert Herrick’s poem “To the Virgins, to make much of Time” gives us one of the best-known quotations in literature: “Gather ye rose buds while ye may, / Old time is still a-flying: / And this same flower that smells to-day / To-morrow will be dying.”

Peter Coach, English garden writer and friend, offered me the most romantic explanation of Gertrude Stein’s phrase: “A rose is rose is a rose.” The simple rhythmic phrase reminds us that a rose, for all the legends and symbolism, is after all a flower “whose simple doom is to be beautiful.”

rose as muse
‘Fairy’ roses frame the poet’s cupboard

In my own garden, beauty is cultivated for the sake of beauty but flowers are grown not only for their beauty but for their fragrance, which is the mainstay of my garden throughout the seasons.

Antique roses bring me both and include Rosa ‘Fantin Latour,’ named for the artist who used the rose as a favorite subject.

Rosa ‘Félicité-Parmentier,’ a more pale pink bloom scented like honeysuckle, but like most old rarities blooms only once.

Rosa ‘Francis DuBreuil’ is the reddest and quaintest and essentially fragrant of all and is a new addition from my friend, the rosarian, Pat Henry of Roses Unlimited.

When Nijinksy danced in Fokine’s ballet Le Spectre de la Rose, he had rose petals sewn onto his tights, so that when he appeared on stage, “the rose actually [came] to life,” as Coach described it.

rose as muse
‘Iceberg’ roses in antique silver lapel pin and intricately-crafted nosegay holder

Though no rose has been named for the great choreographer, perhaps the house of Guerlain in Paris might bestow his name on one of their fragrances. They are one of the few perfumeries that still use essential oils in the making of their perfumes. Such an oil is emitted by roses, called the attar of roses. Legend has it an Indian princess had her bath drawn in the confines of her private courtyard, to be heated by the sun, and filled with rose petals from her garden. When she arose from her bath, her body was sparkling with drops of rose oil, released by the heat of the sun, the attar of roses. What a delightful thought, to come out “smelling like a rose!”

By Ryan Gainey | Photography by David Schilling

Can’t get enough roses? We love The Rose by David Austin.

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