Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Folly Of The Tulip

Folly Of The Tulip

In his first life,
he studied hard
these things: loving, giving
and forgiving, but
failed his ordination, and burned
the useless parchment of his notes.

In his second life, he found
a way to turn a flower to
a  florin, to a hundred thousand,
to raise gold from the dead dirt
and push the rumor of its breath
around the world.

He sold miracles in tulips 
before the big panic; dreams in
a single bright-flamed bulb,
its colors broken, at a price
that beggared any skill in
a workman's hands,

until the bust turned gold
to empty air, blown
to hell on the bloody
plague-ship's sails
and every coin was scattered
burned and blackened.

Feverish, he thought--
before the bright flames ate all thought--
the night wind brought
the smell of burning parchment
as the candle flickered out.

~April 2015

posted for     real toads

Challenge: The Folly
It's my privilege to host today's challenge, which was to write a poem inspired by the concept of the architectural feature known as a Folly, among other things. 
(For full details see the link above.) 
I chose to write to an historical parallel of J. Whitaker Wright's scams, the Dutch Tulip Mania of the 17th Century, the very first 'economic bubble' off which insubstantial and irrational fortunes were made and lost by market manipulation. It's possible it was, most appropriately, ended by  an outbreak of the Black Death.

Process notes: a 'broken' or 'flamed' tulip is one which has been infected with a (harmless) mosaic virus which produces streaks of two separate colors in the petals. These tulips today are usually called 'Rembrandt' tulips, to disassociate them from their rather dark history.

For those interested in more detail on Tulip Mania, see wikipedia.

Images: Semper-Augustus Tulip, artist unknown, 'famous for being the most expensive tulip sold during tulipomania,' Netherlands 17th century.
Flora's Wagon of Fools, by Hendrik Pot, 1640 "Allegory of the Tulip Mania. The goddess of flowers is riding along with three drinking and money weighing men and two women on a car. Weavers from Haarlem have thrown away their equipment and are following the car. The destiny of the car is shown in the background: it will disappear in the sea." ~wikimedia commons
Public domain


  1. Tight rapt tale conflating the folly of all bubbles -- kindled by belief, conflagrated by windy whims, snuffed in puncturing moment when markets crash to sober sense. Interesting and telling that Wright was briefly a Methodist preacher, then mined silver, then defrauded others of their bubbling minds. The very devil is a thing we must call our own as the ache to rise forever (remember how those in the tech boom said that their market could not crash?) comes, I think, from the parchment of truth we burned long ago. Wonderful prompt, Hedge, and a poem to set in a vase on the gilded mantle of a defrauding Internet billionaire.

  2. Ha! This comes quite delightfully full circle--perhaps he should have paid more attention to the loving and giving, on the other hand, maybe the tulip-crazed gave us some new varieties. This is kind of the classic folly--and so interesting--you have presented it as almost a fable, moral tale, as actually kind of a history lesson--very deftly. There was a wonderful book I had once--I think I only read bits and pieces of it--called Tulipomania and other etcetc--essentially crazinesses--a lesson in a bulb. A really lovely and interesting poem and object lesson--so gracefully conveyed. Thanks .k.

  3. Oh that mania of tulips.. such a folly if there were any before.. a miracle and mass-psychosis that has many similarities in history..

  4. Isn't it interesting how history does keep repeating itself, tulips, penny stocks, mortgages. Riveting writing!

  5. Haha! And yet, if not for a schemer's comeuppance, not funny at all. The tulips came back to economic prominence and started a fad for still life paintings of flowers for flower lovers who couldn't afford the bulbs or fresh bouquets of real life. Loving, giving and forgiving? Had this schemer outlived the times, he might have learned religion at a wealthy European table. I enjoyed this narrative glee and especially its final frame.

  6. I've always been fascinated by the whole tulip mania thing. You've done it brilliant justice here.

  7. Great poetic introduction to an historical event. Today, of course, those tulips still feed Holland's economy. A couple days a go I heard about someone who was going there for vacation "to see the tulips."

    1. The tulip fields are extremely impressive--and IIRC, the Dutch are still the biggest and best exporters of bulbs(and cut flowers) on the planet, Thanks, M.

  8. Really nice, Hedge, especially after reading your nice "Wright write-up" at the Garden. I liked the picture too, I was interested in the steering mechanism of the painter's sail wagon. But he evidently wasn't very mechanically minded as he hid all that from sight and painted a 'cardboard-toy-like' wagon.
    The tulip affair reminded me of our American Emu fiasco.

  9. Your research brought so much as I read again...brilliant writing, Hedge I enjoyed the facet of Folly that your poem brought. :) Thank you so much for the intriguing challenge!

  10. Excellent poem - love the historical context you provide. Also, I love the parable: when one practices avarice using the bountiful gifts of the Nature, one can get bit on the ass. A wonderful read.

  11. How interesting, to learn there was a tulip mania, a precursor to the fads of following centuries. I most admire the lines "He sold miracles in tulips....dreams in a single bright-flamed bulb." Very cool write, Joy. I went with a humorous bent, my life being rife with such material, LOL.

  12. Simply an amazing write... Got me thinking of an Alexandre Dumas book I need to re-read... Can't even remember the name of it now, but it's something along the lines of 'The Black Tulip'... Inspiring!

  13. I had never heard about this before! There's something wonderfully sardonic about this poem. I enjoyed the history lesson and the skilled words very much.

  14. Who would have thought tulips would signify an economic bubble burst. I love how you took a bit of history and created such a fantastic poem.

  15. I, too am fascinated with the folly and the history you shared~ I had no clue-a virus~
    Thanks, Hedge for an entertaining history lesson. I wish history was more poetic

  16. An amazing story, wonderfully re-imagined.

  17. those sneaky imperialists, the dutch, insidious invaders of jump-rope, living life below sea-level, as if anyone could hold off the sea. well, so far, they have. enjoyed this prompt, this pen, and still can't quite get a hang on how to write something of any value to the folly. already trashed 3 false starts. my brain's not big enough, I guess... ~

    1. Thanks, M. I know that feeling of liking it but not being able to deal with it all too well this April, so no worries. If anything does come up, I'll be there to inspect the premises.

  18. Love the tone. I can almost see you reading it, with one eyebrow raised (if you can manage that, I can't *sigh*). I learned of The Tulip Folly from the most boring community policing professor in the entire universe. I might have to send him a link to your poem. The lines are matter of fact and kind of playful, which I like.

  19. This is a such an excellent subject for a folly poem. You've pared down his story to it's essentials with a sharp tongue. Love your word choice that ties together flowers, money, greed, the Plague, and the way you close the circle, ending as you began with burning parchment.
    And after reading your notes, I'm chuckling a bit, thinking of the 'flamed' tulip as an early GMO. Of course I suppose humans have been genetically modifying organisms for as long as there have been humans. But I digress. This is an execptionally good piece, Joy.
    And, regarding you comment on my piece, I was wondering if I've done too many bad relationship poems too, lol.

    1. Ha! It's kind of a go-to thing for me, I'm afraid. Maybe we need an intervention? Thanks, Mary and laughin at the GMO's--true words.

  20. I had never heard of this particular slice of history. A fascinating insight into the way trends can make and break a generation.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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