Come September
naturally we dry hydrangeas

all those mop-head pompoms
on the ancient hedge that keeps out
strangers like an overbearing mother
to the native sedge along the drive.

Naturally, the timing must be right:
late morning when the dew has dried

on a cool sunny day when blooms
no longer in their prime (not quite passé)
hint at new colors and a bit of stiffening like
paper in the petals gives a mild forewarning.

Catch it now
the ghost still breathing in the flower

whispers to a knowing hand—
strip off my superfluity of leaves then
stand me to repent in crystal water
so my cut stem grieves a bit

until all tears are spent
and I am all evaporated power.

104 responses »

    • Yes, do, Yvonne. My grandmother always made the most beautiful dry floral arrangements with her hydrangeas. As a wee lass, I thought she called them “hydr-angels”. When I see some now, their subtle vintage colors always remind me of her.

  1. Subtle transition for the flowers that still retain much attraction but a bit frozen and stiff, yet honored to be cut for a vase.
    I ‘took up the word sedge. c ‘is a plant of wetlands and acids. This is the case where you live?
    I am glad you are back, Cynthia.
    Love ❤

    • Yes, Michel, the hydrangea is well suited to being dried for floral arrangements, especially in the autumn and winter. Many people combine it with evergreen boughs in centerpieces around the holidays.
      Sedge is a native kind of grass that does grow mostly in the wet, acidic areas, and since we have many rivers and lakes, here in the western foothills of the state, there are many grasses and lupines to be found as you go out in your canoe or kayak. Some people these days are also preferring sedge as a maintenance-free alternative to lawn grass.

      We do have good soil for potatoes, and grow a lot of them, especially in the northern part of the state. In fact, the children are let out of school for a couple of weeks in autumn, in Aroostook County, to help with the huge potato harvest!

  2. It is unfortunate Cynthia that you are brilliant.
    But there it is.
    You are.
    Always will be, time without end.
    I dried hydrangeas.
    They are in a vase of honor in my bedroom.
    I have no idea how I did this.
    I cannot replicate it.
    But it doesn’t matter.
    There they are.
    I did it.
    You would be proud.
    I am just surprised.
    Especially by you.
    My namesake.
    But you, a poet, who TS is eager to meet.
    My dea

    • A veritable emily-the-dickens you are! It’s really easy to dry them, Cindy. Just don’t pick them in their prime….but then, don’t wait too late or they’ll get brown edges. Kind of like people, eh?

      I just cut off a stem about 12 to 18 inches, remove all leaves, and stick them in water about a third of the way up the stem. When the water evaporates—could be 10 to 30 days— they’re done. You know they’re fully dried if you can snap a bit of stem off. They last indefinitely as dried flowers… however, it’s good to replace them with new ones because they do accumulate dust…achoo!
      Thank you for your splendid comment!

  3. Come April naturally we dry hydrangeas …… just depends where in the world you live really……… 🙂 I used to do this then, as summer wound down……. It’s such a lovely poem, Cynthia – it makes me feel a little sad for you that soon enough your days will be short and cold. I am shaking them off, as I watch the daffodils come up and set their buds – some are opened but there are many more to bloom for us yet. Tomorrow it is September here, the first day of Spring and it will bring my faraway daughter to stay for a week to celebrate my birthday – the daffodils are always a sign 🙂 Hugs!

    • Oh, don’t feel sad for me as our autumn approaches….it is my favorite season. Summer is my least favorite season, so I’m glad it is winding down now. The equinox times are so much nicer than the solstice ones in my book. In the end, I am happy to live where we really do have four very distinct seasons….as soon as you get tired of one, there’s a distinctly different one on the way! And we still keep the old-fashioned astrological dates, so the first day of fall, here, won’t be until around September 21. Now what’s this about a birthday? Is it next week? I hope you don’t go all daffy and dilly about it, and that it’s a most happy occasion!

      • I am with you 100% about the seasons – I think this year I am over-reacting to a long harsh winter that knocked my socks off! I don’t know when, why or how the first of the month was decided to mark the change in seasons here – I take note of it purely for the expedient fact it makes me a spring baby 🙂 My birthday is always over celebrated by my daughters and close friends, there is an extended pyjama party that goes on, the tiny house rocks and Siddy has a ball!! 🙂

        • Nah, a birthday can’t be over celebrated. I hope it will be a wonderful time. I shall join in spirit, if you tell me the day, and meanwhile I can enjoy the image of Siddy in pyjamas.

          • It would indeed be wonderful to have you along on the celebrations, even if just in spirit! Every day for the next 10 are dedicated pj days 🙂 [not really, but you get the gist] Sept. 5 is the actual date, no idea what day that is this year…… Siddy in pj’s huh? Oh, the ideas you plant!! 🙂

            • Okay, that’s monday next….I’ll be thinking of you and raise my wine glass to toast you. (Though it may be the day after, since we are in different hemispheres). It’s unlikely Siddy will put up with wearing people clothes, but he could appear pyjamistically attired as an objet d’art in a journal…. After all, in an art journal, anything is possible. 🙂

  4. This is a wonderful poem, and conjures up images and feelings in all directions at once (as poems are oft meant to do…) I associate dried hydrangeas with women born in the late 19th century who had names such as Myrtle and Mabel and Minnie! Grandmas indeed! It’s funny how such a thing as dried hydrangeas (naturally) evoke the past – both long-time ago and just-last season. You have beautifully captured the ghost nestling in the flower.

    • Thank you very much, Bruce. I love the Myrtle-Mabel-Minnie association; it’s exactly right. My own grandma, Imelda, —who dried hydrangeas brilliantly—-was born in the last decade of the 19th century and had friends with exactly those names….plus Agnes, and Ada, and Gertrude. I don’t know where the Imelda came from but her mother ‘s name was Cédulie, so it’s not that surprising. (Like you, I’m fascinated by names.)
      I’m happy to hear that you sense levels to this poem beyond the factual description and recipe. It warms the cockles of the heart.

  5. I regret to say I wouldn’t know hydrangeas from hyacinth if they bit me (which I feel safe in saying because I don’t think either is carnivorous). But I do know something about the call of September:

    • Well, we all know about different sets of things, don’t we….and one certain expertise of yours is the ability to find just the right song for any occasion, especially among beautiful old songs that might be nowadays forgotten.
      September Song happens to be an all-time favorite of mine; I didn’t realize it went all the way back to 1938, and it’s good to hear it rendered by a voice that sounds like it comes from that time. It’s really a timeless song, though, a beautiful one of the kind of longing that autumn can bring. The photo of the pond in this video reminds me of one here in Maine near where I spent many happy childhood days.

      • It pleases me to know that the video brought back “golden memories,” Cynthia.

        The voice is that of Walter Huston, and the lyrics he sings here vary somewhat from those in his old 78 rpm record. Huston, as you probably know, was primarily an actor….and if you’ve ever seen him in DODSWORTH or TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, you know what a great one he was. As I recall, SEPTEMBER SONG is from the play KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY, in which he starred. I may be wrong, but I believe he recorded few, if any, other songs.

  6. We dry hyrangeas ? – I have never seen that … But your images are wonderful, of course. So is the background theme of what is happening to the likes of you and me, Cynthia.

    • I would have thought everyone knew about the hydrangea as a pre-eminent dried flower, But that’s probably another one of those things I should not assume…(there are so many of such!). Anyway, you’re not about to see some now, since it is springtime in your neck of the woods and those dried blooms are a thing of autumn. I’m glad you tuned into the background theme—our background theme—as you say, and I do think it could be interesting to be an” evaporated power.”.. I cherish your readership and commenting, M-R, thanks. xo

        • I had to ask Barney Google what flannel flowers are, since I never heard of them before. I’ve heard of flannel pajamas,( my auto correct won’t let me write pyjamas without giving me trouble) and flannel shirts, and flannel sheets, but never flannel flowers. They look nothing like hydrangeas, but they are delicate and quite beautiful. So now, in the arena of never-heard-of-it, we’re even!

  7. Lovely to see you and I enjoyed the poem very much. Hydrangeas are magnificent flowers but a little particular about where they like to grow. They need shade and space. I loved reading that your Grandmother made floral arrangements of them. What a good memory to have. ❤

    • I think you’re right, Sharon. Hydrangeas like a dappled light and don’t usually thrive with a whole lot of sun beating down on them. They also do need space, as they can grow into sizes similar to little trees. But I’m glad you enjoyed the poem and it is so nice to find your comment here after what I guess is our mutual blogging hiatus during the month of August. (I always like to call a break a hiatus, like the movie stars call their breaks between movies…).Just as you mention, the image of the floral arrangements and the memories still abide, and that’s always a good thing. Thank you for coming by! 🙂

  8. Hello Cynthia, there was a longer gap in your poems than usual and I was waiting….waiting and then arrived your poem. What a beautiful poem and thought Cynthia. And 31 Aug is my mother’s death anniversary and with her love of gardening and flowers and the concept of “evaporated power”, I take this as a tribute to my mother. Thanks so much. There were tears in my eyes as I read the last two lines….

    • Can you believe this, Shubha….my mother also died on 31 August. That was in 1990. Hard to believe it was so long ago, because—as is true of any such loss—it can sometimes seem to have occurred only yesterday. I think that one who loved gardening and flowers always remains even more poignantly with us as we contemplate the changing of the earth’s seasons. I’m pleased and moved by your reception of “evaporated power”….it is the most inspired phrase that happened— coming as if from “somewhere else”— as I worked on this poem, and the last lines just seemed to drop by themselves into place. Tears are a tribute that makes me humble and grateful….thank you very much for your heartfelt comment.

  9. I like the description of the ghost in the flower and the idea of evaporated power. Somehow, though, I’m staying on the surface of this one and I know it has a hidden depth. It may be that the actual function and description is so familiar that it spurs memories and then I’m off–in a house with dried flower arrangements in the winter…

    • I like that play you see of surface and hidden. It’s always gratifying for me to find more insight into how my own poems work, through the comments of readers. I hope you’re enjoying that house with the dried flower arrangements in the winter….its easy for me to be right there with you!

  10. Oh Cynthia, we share a bond……and “evaporated power” that you say came from “somewhere else”, I believe it came from your love for your mother.
    On another note, my mother used to preserve the flowers of ” Sone Chafa” – sone ( pronounced like lone) and Chafa ( Cha as in charge and fa as in the musical note fa). I was reminded of it after reading your poem. I googled it and the botanical name of the flower is Michelia Champaca. There was something that she would add to water in various shaped glass bottles and dropped the flowers in to preserve them. She would then seal the bottles and there’s many a bottle she has given away to friends. She would also thread a few of these flowers to wear on her braid. Sone means Gold and Chafa is another name for the Hindi word Champa. And the perfume is divine.
    And Cynthia, your poem is truly beautiful. I have read and re read and heard and re heard…..

  11. If anyone asked me “What is a poet?” I would say that a poet is a person who can see an over-bearing mother in a hydrangea bush. A poet is a person who can cause another’s eyes to well up over a picked and leaf-stripped stem repenting in a vase until all its tears are spent. I get that, Cynthia.

        • I know you weren’t trying to be funny….it’s my own weird sense of humor that suddenly pictured the overbearing mother in the hydrangea bush and set me to giggling! You have a nice way of saying what you think and see, Ginene, and it often tickles me for its “spot on” quality.
          I’m so glad you like the poem. August has been a very tough month for me, but I’m glad to be back writing and posting….especially glad for my readers, like you!

  12. Ah, I got caught up with the practical aspects of this poem, looking at my Paniculata Pink Diamond (white flowered, but with a pink afterglow as it ages) and wondering if it would keep if I cut it now. It fits your beautiful line – the ghost still breathing in the flower. I love how this line turns the poem so the flower and the writer become one and speak directly.

    • Just across the street from me, in the middle of my neighbor’s lawn, is a huge hydrangea which I think could be like the Pink Diamond variety. I watch it go from chartreuse in Spring, to bright white in Summer, then tinged pink and, at last a deep purplish brownish pink that I would call mauve. I’ve heard that hydrangeas can live for half a century, and this one I think is quite old. I enjoy watching it mark time, as I can see it through the large window near where I usually sit with my laptop. It may be that your own blossoms are ready for drying now, Hilary. The time is right, just now, In Maine but I’m not sure about your climate there in England. I would cut some, if I had a lovely specimen like yours.

  13. You have captured the destiny of hydrangeas with Hardyesque precision. The brief yet gradual onset, symbolised by a new tint and papery texture, leading to decapitation and crystalline burial is a certain Moira. The question is, is that a motif of life?

    • You’ve got me thinking. If the blossoms are left on the tree, they will eventually shrivel and drop to earth, to decay and become part of the ground that feeds new blossoms next year.
      If I cut them from the tree and treat them in such a way that their form and color is preserved through evaporation— as if time has stopped and they seem everlastingly in bloom— they become artifacts for human delight and contemplation.
      Which is more tragic? Perhaps it’s only a difference in the time it takes for life to go and come full circle, for they too—like everything else—will eventually succumb to the same Moira.

  14. I’m really excited by this one, Cynthia. From that commanding beginning (“naturally … ” !) right through those carefully balanced 2-line and 4-line stanzas, and all those half-grown rhymes hiding in corners, to that sudden transformative conclusion, it is exquisite and compelling. Wow! ….. I should have begun with Wow!
    This one should be published somewhere. It shouldn’t get forgotten.

    • And Wow! is my response to your comment, John. I know that you, as a poet yourself, give great attention to things like stanzaic structure and turns in a poem, so it really pleases me that you think this one works well. As you probably know by now, I am a fool for rhyming so I’m glad when I can sneak them in successfully, during these times when end-rhyme is out of grace…and glad you noticed!

      As to publishing somewhere other than here….I would do that if an appropriate opportunity should appear, but hustling and marketing poetry to places where it won’t be forgotten (if there be such places!) take as much time as the writing itself, and make me oh so weary….

      Meanwhile, thanks a whole bunch for your lovely, enthusiastic response.

  15. Cynthia, I’m so happy to read this latest poem of yours. So delicately beautiful – and poignant. My favorite lines:

    “Catch it now
    The ghost still breathing in the flower ”

    I’d love to have a whole book of your poetry. This one captures my heart somehow and again it’s the multi-layering of meaning that you do so well.

    • That particular line you mention pleased me when it came to mind because it enabled me to turn the poem. As I’m sure you know, the process of writing comes to a place (or places) when you need to turn where you’ve been into where you want to go next, and that can sometimes be a sticking place. I needed that ghost, and there it suddenly was! Thank you so much for being such a loyal and insightful reader, Betty.

      • Cynthia, I’ve been meaning to get back to you on your reply. Thank you for pointing out that place of “turning” in a poem. You know, I’ve never actually thought about that in the poetry-writing process (!) and wonder if it’s either been an unconscious thing (with my own poetry) or if I’ve missed it completely. You have taught me something new, and given me a new awareness of how a good poem is constructed. It might be ONE reason the line stood out for me in your poem. (But mainly I loved it just because I loved it. 🙂 )
        The place of turning… that might be a good subject for a poem in itself. A good metaphor in our life-journeys.

        • I’m not sure every poem needs or has a turn, Betty, but it’s a pretty traditional part of the structure. The writers of Petrarchan sonnets called it the “volta” and prescribed that it should occur as the octet shifted into the sestet of the poem. Shakespearean sonnets were meant to make that shift—kinda like a summary—in the last couplet. I think it was a device of logic, thought, and meaning, above and beyond the prescribed meter and rhyme. I often find that when I want to get beyond mere description—as much of a delight as that is—into some sort of point I am trying to make, I need that turn, or shift, as I like to call it, if I want readers to catch my thinking as well as the feeling. As you say, the place of turning is a good subject in itself. 🙂

  16. I planted a hydrangea called “limelight” in mid-August. It steals the scene at this time of year when so many other perennials are fading. The irony of course that in their fading blooms they live again, like the ghost still breathing in the flower. There is so much to mull in your lines as always like this “stand me to repent in crystal water” which I’m struggling with. Is it the idea of repenting before dying, drying until there is nothing left to repent? Oh how I hope! So happy and relieved to have you back, Cynthia.

    • Hydrangea Limelight is a wonderful one. I used to have one at the end of my driveway in New Hampshire…so bright and greeny fresh in the heat of summer, then I could watch it turn, from my kitchen window, into wonderfull shades of pink and red and burgundy in the fall.

      I like your thoughts about the end of the poem, Suzanne, and thank you for the kind words about my recent absence. I probably won’t post every single week, as I used to, but I am indeed back.

  17. What a great poem, Cynthia. You should go to Bennison Books ( and submit it to their anthology project. My favorite lines are: “Catch it now/the ghost still breathing in the flower . . .” That seems to me to be the perfect reflection of fall, the still breathing of the summer earth, but the dying that is already in process. That’s a profound thought. Then there is the idea of preservation that starts with the title. Good work.

  18. Evocative poem, I think our summer lasts a bit longer than yours what with the moderating effects Lake Michigan has on our weather. I’ve been adding things to the soil to maintain colors in my hydrangeas but all I’ve done is muddy the colors. Perhaps they will be best if I just cut them and dry them.

    • In southern New England—mostly on Cape Cod—blue hydrangeas are all the rage. They seemed strange to me, when I first saw them, but because I love the color blue I researched how to get my white hydrangeas to turn blue. Mainly it was to add aluminum, or alum….maybe even nails to the soil to change the ph balance.
      It didn’t really work. I finally realized that I was not going to teach my old hydrangeas new tricks and figured I’d have to buy a new plant that was intended to be blue. As time went by and I got into the habit of drying them at just the right moment, and came to love the subtlety of the natural colors.
      I still don’t have a blue hydrangea, but by now I’ve seen so many, especially in Massachusetts, that they’ve lost their special allure, and I don’t need one! Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I don’t know much about the area near Lake Michigan, but I’ll be over to your blog to learn more.

  19. Dear Cynthia,

    Rather than evaporating, your power as a soundstress is solidifying. The word ‘cut’ was so trenchant I had to look to see where I was bleeding.

    As such, my time in I.C.U. was unremarkable. And whereas mauve is nice for hydrangeas, I prefer hospital walls that hint prophetically at the sleek blackness of an otter’s back. All is for naught when the medications start to kick in though–you hardly notice the window treatments. Note to self: cancel Jello from desert menu for the foreseeable future. Blame Bill Cosby for the debacle.

    • Now you remind me of our mutual friend Oscar Wilde who, when he was dying in a cheap hotel on the Rive Gauche, said: “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.” Well, the wallpaper won the duel, as it usually does.

      As to Bill Cosby, I think he’s had to swallow his full pudding pop of blame lately, but that’s what comes of too much wigglin’ and jigglin’.

      Just for the record, I haven’t had jello for dessert since 1962.

  20. What a wonderful poem! I love the transition from “mop head poms poms” to “native sedge”. As Wallace Stevens says piercingly: “Death is the mother of beauty”.

    • Thanks, Gubbinal. I too am among those who believe that thoughts of time”s passage, and therefore of death and the impossibility of everlastingness, prompt the sense of beauty. On the other hand, the human imagination has often gone off in the direction of death-as-ugliness, as well.

  21. Hi Cynthia, hydrangeas have been on my mind since I read your poem. The house that we downsized out of 2 years ago had beautiful blue hydrangeas that I’d taken for granted like many other gifts in my life. I looked at photos of the house and garden the other day with affection. Now that we are in an apartment with a very beautiful wrap around balcony and spring is here in Sydney, I am going to plant hydrangeas in a pot!! Will I dry them naturally? I may try!

  22. I love hydrangeas – never have dried them – must try sometime. Saw the most beautiful (apparently very rare) white ones at Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford this summer and every garden had them in NZ but they don’t seem to do well here in Texas. I assume that they flourish aplenty in you neck of the woods. Great evocative poem of an activity fast being replaced by silk make believes.

    • I would imagine that the Texas climate is not very hydrangea friendly, as you say, though on the other hand you have your own special blooms to enjoy, that wouldn’t flourish here in the Northeast. As to the silk ones, I’d rather have none at all than to play make-believe with those.

  23. Cynthia, I so love your beautiful poetic instructions for drying hydrangeas! 🙂 I picture in my mind the pastel poetry of colors, and the delicate, almost transparent petals. Hydrangeas do look like pompoms, but I like to think they are royal orbs :). September is my favorite month.

    Hope all is well. I have been busy helping my daughter with the new baby, but will go back home next week. Wishing you all the very best!

    • Thank you so much, Inese. Royal orbs….that’s nice. I like September, too, and October. Autumn is my favorite season.

      It’s amazing how you’ve been able to post such lovely photographic walks, and keep up so well with comments and reading while there has been so much excitement with your daughter and the new baby…and traveling! Do have a safe trip and a happy return home.

      • Thank you so much, Cynthia! I too hope for a safe return. Flying is not my idea of fun. The blog posts were written long ago and scheduled. The only thing I do is answering the comments, but usually it takes a few attempts 🙂 Visiting other blogs doesn’t work out that well. Hope to catch up in October.
        Autumn has a bittersweet fragrance that I love, and the colors are so comforting. Most of the birds are leaving, but all the little critters that stay are fat and furry. Hazelnuts, acorns and horse chestnuts are ripe, all ready to feed them over winter. Every living creature is content, so am I 🙂

  24. A time honored tradition Cynthia for many on the East – I have several saved from years past. A great segway into Autumn as the dried and gray colors start becoming the norm again. Except of course the brilliance of the Leaf season. Speaking of which we are trying to make it back East for that, would have had the plans completed by now, save for my little episode – hope it is still in the cards for us. Nice to see (and hear) your work again my friend ~

    • You always warm the cockles of my heart, Mary. Thank you. I hope you do get back here for leaf-peeping. Sometimes I think the glorious fall is the main (Maine) reason people continue to live here!

      • We had a large tree in our backyard, right outside our Maine house, that would become so bright in the Fall that you’d think the spotlight was on. The entire room would be aglow in a gorgeous bright yellow. We miss the colors and smell of Fall.

        • I know just what that is like….we had a tree with golden leaves in the back yard of our house in Hyde Park, MA, that made the whole yard look like a mystical golden world once the leaves started to fall…golden still in the tree, golden on the ground….to walk out there was to be in a magical golden place….it was amazing!

    • Hello, my friend….It brings a warm feeling, to hear that a line or even a word in a poem becomes memorable for someone. ( Stranger hydrangeas must have been used before me, for the sound came out of nowhere, ready-made, in the composition process.) Thank you so much for stopping by to say that.

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