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The secret life of figs.

By GERRY CORDON [ from That’s How the Light Gets In] — THE FIG VARIETIES grown in Britain (like our Brown Turkey)  develop fruit develop without flowers or  the need for pollination. That’s helpful, since we don’t have any fig wasps here to do the pollinating.  Because the remarkable thing about figs is that the flowers are inside the fruitlets that develop like little buds on the stems.  Elsewhere in the world, the flowers inside the fruitlets must be pollinated by a female fig wasp (a creature that lives for only two days) which must enter the fruitlet via a tiny opening at its apex.  The female wasp then proceeds to pollinate the stigmas of the fig before exiting the fig in search of other young receptive figs to complete the cycle. Once the fig wasp has left the fig, it ripens.

I mention all this botanical detail because there’s a lubricious poem about figs by DH Lawrence, from his collection Birds, Beasts, and Flowers, published in 1924, that has at its heart a couplet that reveals Lawrence’s knowledge of the fig tree’s strange botany: ‘There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward/Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb’.

In terms of todafigy’s gender politics, Lawrence’s poem might raise eyebrows.  He represents the fig as a bearer of female mystery. But in the current age, as women assert themselves, he appears to say, the mystery of females is being destroyed: ‘the bursten fig’ is a ripe fig, and ‘ripe figs won’t keep’. Nonsense, of course, but this was a man who raged in verse and in prose against censorship and prurient attitudes toward sexuality, who was steadfastly anti-pornographic and who wrote passionately about nature and human experience. WH Auden once commented on  Lawrence’s poetry: ‘Whenever he…describes the anonymous life of stones, waters, forests, animals, flowers, chance travelling companions or passers-by, his bad temper and his dogmatism immediately vanish and he becomes the most enchanting companion imaginable, tender, intelligent, funny, and above all, happy.’

The ‘Fruits’ section of Lawrence’s collection is all about eating fruit and being changed by its sensual properties. In the case of the fig, its suggestively dangling fruit holds a mystery that can’t be understood intellectually, only experienced with the senses….

Continued at That’s How the Light Gets In | More Chronicle & Notices.

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