Shell-entangled, bright-hued seaweed,
From what mermaid-haunted bowers
Wert thou cast? did rude waves tear thee
From thy beauteous sister flowers?
Or did glittering star-fish tempt thee?
Did the Nautilus say, Come?
Did they whisper ‘neath the crystal,
Of a fairer, brighter home?
–S.E. Tonkin, “Seaweed” (1866)
Michael Innes’s 1977 mystery novel Honeybath’s Haven sees eccentric artist Edwin Lightfoot drowned in a saline pool of cultivated seaweeds. A pet project of Lady Munden, a fellow inmate of the retirement home in which Lightfoot lived, the pool is thick with great sea tang, whose stems are “as thick as a cable,” and sinewy bull-head kelp. It was this latter plant that proved Lightfoot’s undoing. So ensnared did he become in it, a policeman at the scene noted, that “the body had to be cut out of the stuff.”
Hop-picking is over! Thank God, it is done!
I’ve wished myself dead ever since it begun.
—Henry H. Johnson, “Hop-Picking Time” (1902)
September marks the beginning of the end of the summer and all the open-air activities that attend it. Yet a century or two ago the arrival of September signaled, to England’s downtrodden and overworked souls, the beginning of an exhilarating and exhausting variety of rustic vacation. Wire- and shoemakers, match girls and costermongers alike marshaled their families and tramped off to Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, or one of the other English hop-growing regions. They came in such numbers the railways ran special lines, and the roadways were thick with their rough-hewn carts.
“It was not exactly a story,” said the Elder-mother; “but the story is coming now, and it is a true one. For out of the truth grow the most wonderful stories, just as my beautiful elder-bush has sprung out of the teapot.”
—Hans Christian Andersen, “The Elder-Tree Mother”
For people of millennia past everything crackled with meaning. The fire that burned in the soul was “of the same essential nature as the stars,” the twentieth-century Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács wrote, for the world was for those living then “new and yet familiar, full of adventure and yet their own.” Even plants were rich in significance. The humblest weeds had indwelling spirits both familiar and strange.