The garden of Carolus Magnus
Exalts that great exemplifier
While being famous for the slackness:
Not Holy, Roman, nor an Empire.
The tulip poplar — dainty, globular
Blooms of orange, lime-green, and satin —
Is Liriodendron, lily in Latin;
Not lily, tulip, nor a poplar.
Here King and Pope have buried their quarrels;
The cherry laurels face droughts in dry beds;
They’re not quite cherries, nor are they laurels,
But secular sorts of saintly hybrids.
Jerusalem Artichoke — the very words evoke
The flower of Christendom, its progeny united,
And glorious names that Renaissance poets recited:
Jerusalem Delivered, Tasso spoke.
What crosses in the field rise again,
Though artichokes they’re not, nor flags of Outremer,
But minnesinger food and fodder for trouvère:
“Le Rouge de Limousin,” “Le Violet de Rennes.”
Karl der Grosse subsisted in disasters
On Asteraceae — a gross of edible asters —
Through long Teutonic nights per aspera ad astra.
NOTES for Students of English
Carolus Magnus – The Latin name of Charlemagne, Charles the Great (742-814).
“Not Holy, Roman, nor an Empire.” – A famous description by 18th century French writer Voltaire of Charlemagne’s historic domain, the Holy Roman Empire, that had become an unstable group of mostly German states: “Ce corps qui s’appelait et qui s’appelle encore le saint empire romain n’était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire.” “This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
Liriodendron – The scientific name of the Tulip Poplar is Liriodendron tulipifera, “lily tree that bears tulips.” It is in the Magnolia family and is not related to lilies, tulips, or poplars.
Cherry Laurels – The common name “cherry laurel” is used to refer to two different trees: Prunus caroliniana, also known as the Laurel Cherry, and Prunus laurocerasus, also known as English Laurel. The two cherry laurels resemble the true laurel, Laurus nobilis, but are not related to it. Despite the common assumption that “cherries” are good to eat, the fruit of cherry laurels is poisonous.
Jerusalem Artichoke – The Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, has nothing to do with Jerusalem and is not an artichoke. It is an edible tuber related to the sunflower. Its relative, the true artichoke, Cynara scolymus, is a variety of thistle with edible flower buds. The name “Jerusalem” is variously explained as: 1) a corruption of the Italian word for sunflower, “girasole”; 2) a corruption of the Dutch name, Ter-Heusen, associated with a 17th century distributor of artichokes; and 3) a name given by North American pilgrims to this staple food of the “new Jerusalem.”
“Jerusalem Delivered, Tasso spoke” – A reference to the famous epic poem Gerusalemme liberata by Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544-1595).
“What crosses in the field rise again” – A play on different meanings of “cross in the field”: 1) a test plot for genetic crosses, i.e., a field for hybridization of plant types; 2) Christian crosses on graves in a field; and 3) the symbol of Christendom raised on standards in the field of battle during the Crusades.
Outremer – An English word originally from French, “(the land) beyond the sea”; in the Middle Ages, the region of the eastern Mediterranean that was the location of Jerusalem and the scene of the Crusades.
Minnesinger – A German troubadour of the 12th-14th centuries.
Trouvère – A French troubadour of the 11th-14th centuries.
Le Rouge de Limousin – Literally “the red (type) of Limousin,” a variety of Jerusalem artichoke from the Limousin region of France; here suggesting a red banner in the Crusades.
Le Violet de Rennes – Literally, “the purple (type) of Rennes,” a variety of Jerusalem artichoke from the area of the city of Rennes, France; here suggesting a purple banner in the Crusades.
Karl der Grosse – The German name of Charlemagne, “Charles the Great.”
“Subsisted in disasters” – Jerusalem artichokes, usually grown for animal fodder, were subsistence food in France during WWII.
Asteraceae – (Pronounced Ass-ter-AY-see-ee or Ass-ter-AY-see-ay, “ay” rhymes with “pay”) The scientific name of the sunflower family that includes both the Jerusalem artichoke and the true artichoke. The Asteraceae family includes edible plants such as lettuce and chicory; ornamental flowers such as asters, chrysanthemums, and marigolds; and weeds such as dandelions and ragweed.
A Gross – Twelve dozen.
Teutonic nights – A play on “Teutonic Knights,” an order of crusaders created in the 12th century, owing loyalty to both the German Emperor and the Pope.
Per aspera ad astra – A Latin phrase, “through hardships to the stars,” i.e., through suffering to renown.