By Paul Christensen
Texas poets, the majority of them women, began writing about wildflowers the moment they crossed the Sabine River. Lindale native Lexie Dean Robertson, poet laureate of Texas from 1939-1941 and author of the book Red Heels (1928), recaptures Wordsworth’s exhilaration at the sight of a field of wildflowers in “Mesa Miracle”:
She was out of breath when she topped the rise,
And there lay a beautiful lake!
Dappled and bright, bloom spread in the sun.
As lovely as water could be:
And her mind found peace while she laved her heart
with bluebonnets, blue as the sea.
Annabel Parks, another early 20th-Century Texas writer, called bluebonnets “a part of the afternoon sky” in her 1935 poem “Texas Bluebonnets.” And Jean Pendleton, who was born in Virginia but came to Texas in 1914, wrote as if she were herself a yucca in “Yucca by the Roadside”:
Spite of all the loud new ways
Here my spiky leaves grow thick,
And from out their green I raise
Holy, white, my candlestick.
Pattiann Rogers may well be today’s best wildflower poet, an award-winning writer who lived in Houston but whose mind was always loose in the remnants of pure nature along the rivers and at the fringes of the Big Thicket. In her poem “Idee Fixe,” she observed:
What I wish is that the creeping
clover, in the integrity of its own pod
and purple peas and trailing stems,
actually contained something of me.
I wish the blooming chicory held
a silent, desert-consistent assent
to my presence right in the crown
and ovary of its blue-ray blossom …
Unlike the myth of the Wild West, where cowboys and ranchers are made to seem indifferent to the nature around them, the real culture of Texas has long cherished the glorious abundance of wildflowers thriving in often harsh terrains. Lady Bird spoke to this gentle side of Texas when she advocated planting vivid reminders that nature is not only “red in tooth and claw,” as the 19th-Century poet Lord Tennyson wrote, but fiery orange like the Indian blanket, deep blue like the bluebonnet, and yellow like the sunny coreopsis.