Tuesday, April 17, 2012


WORD NOTEroseRose, when the language was young, was the most beautiful word, being the name of the flower with the sweetest scent and the dark crimson petals with drops of fresh rain glistening in the afternoon as the lovers walked by. It was enough then to compare your love to a red, red rose and everyone could see the redness of the rose. The tenor could conjure up the young man destined to have his heart broken by the thorns guarding the rose he loved on the meadow. But a hundred years went by, and with each bouquet a little of the red rubbed off. The lazy continued to compare their love to a rose, but the word was bloodless, the cup held water instead of wine. A crisis ensued. The poet declared the rose to be “obsolete.” Then Gertrude Stein to the rescue rode declaring that “rose is a rose is a rose” and everyone laughed. She knew that people were making fun of her. “But I notice that you all know it,” she said of her famous line. “I'm no fool; but I think that in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years.”Two more recent instances of the restoration of red to the rose occur to me. A schoolchild was given the assignment to imitate William Blake's interrogation of the brightly burning tyger in the forest of the night. The result was “Rose, where did you get that red?” Kenneth Koch liked the phrase so much he made it the title of one of his books on teaching poetry to children. The second instance was the cover tag on Sports Illustrated the week that Pete Rose was hired as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1984: “Rose is a Red.”— DL

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