Is your cherry blossom out yet? Is the bloom pink or white? Maybe yours has even come and gone. In Edinburgh, it is a little late this year. A few have burst forth; delicate, pale pink confetti, the thinnest scraps of tracing paper, anxiously clinging on as the spring winds push through. Many have yet to bloom, like the little triangle of green at the top of The Pleasance, in the south of the city, where about ten mature Tibetan Cherry trees will soon bring some far-eastern grandeur to Scotland. I went to see B. at the weekend and, as we stood at her kitchen window waiting for the kettle to boil, we admired the profusion of blossom on the tree in her back garden. “I’ve never even noticed it before,” I told her. “I can believe it,” she nodded, “It’s here for two weeks, that’s all. I look at it every day and I love it, but I can’t help dwelling on the fact that each day is a day closer to the flowers being gone. So short.”
In Japan, the annual cherry blossom is seen as the definitive symbol of the transient nature of life; or, if not life, then those things within our lives that we might (but ought not) take for granted. The cherry blossom’s fragility, coupled with the short window of its bloom, is the ultimate metaphor, teaching us that life is a series of spontaneous, natural and sometimes speedy changes that are pointless to resist. There is simply no way of prolonging the bloom. All acts of will and effort are futile, serving only to create sorrow. Let reality be reality, love the fleeting without rushing to anticipate its hasty end, let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. We know the cherry blossom is here for a just a few weeks, so we learn to stop and take it in, to cherish the cherry. If the wind whips through and takes it down earlier than expected, then we can skip like Dorothy through a much prettier equivalent of a yellow brick road – a pink petaled path.
Socrates tells us that ‘beauty is a short-lived tyranny.’ Socrates is the last person I would want to get into an argument with, but surely it is only a tyranny if we cling to it. If we know that beauty is fleeting, and we stand at the kitchen window admiring and appreciating what nature has bestowed, knowing it is short-term, then there is no tension, no struggle, no grasping for it to remain. Let your heart beat faster at the sight of something (or someone) beautiful. Walk through a bluebell wood in the coming weeks, take it in and love it all the more for its reliably fleeting annual visit. Watch the wild garlic wilt and happily say to yourself: well that’s that for another year.
‘One Art’, by Elizabeth Bishop
‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.’