In Primula Veris, the lyrical voice explores the image of a flower by the same name. The primula veris, most commonly known as cowslip, is a plant with yellow flowers that typically grows in open fields and cliff tops. Primula Veris means, literally, “the little earliest one of spring” in Latin. Additionally, the species of the primula was really important in Celtic pharmacy and mythology, as the Celtic druids used it as an ingredient in their potions.
This poem was published in 1997 in Rana! Rana!, Randolph Healy’s second poetry collection. Rana! Rana! has twelve poems including Frogs, Jim, Spirals Dance, and Poem in Spring, among others.
Explore Primula Veris
Summary of Primula Veris
The lyrical voice notices the plant and makes a careful depiction of it and its surroundings. In the first lines, the lyrical voice describes the features and details of the plant. Moreover, later in the poem, the plant is related to a more comprehensive look of the world. This link with a more general sphere is made through the mention of the “Sister Mary”, which enables a meditation on different human actions and their relation to the plant.
You can read Primula Veris in full here.
Form and Tone
The poem has five stanzas, separated into an uneven set of lines. The first and fourth stanzas have three lines, the second and third have four and the fifth stanza has only two. There is no strict rhyme scheme or metrical pattern in the poem. Thus, Primula Veris is a free verse poem. Frogs is another poem by Randolph Healy that has a similar structure. Furthermore, the tone of Primula Veris is attentive and thoughtful, as the lyrical voice reflects closely on the images that are being described.
Analysis of Primula Veris
“Clustering atop a leggy stem
to blown about yellow pinafores”
The first stanza describes the primula veris. The lyrical voice mentions all the details that constitute the top part of the plant (“Clustering atop a leggy stem”). The flowers have “ten elf green bodices” with “yellow pinafores”. Notice how the lyrical voice describes flowers through the image of the “elf”. This opening description sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as this description will continue in the next stanzas.
“Near the ground a mob of blotched leaves,
and languages drift from grammar to grammar”
The second stanza of Primula veris furthers on the description of the plant. The lyrical voice now focuses on the bottom part of the plant (“Near the ground”). The lyrical voice describes the leaves as “blotched […] belching and gulping, stiff with liquor”. This sets a personification, due to the mention of drinking, that it is then developed by the idea that these leaves “watched constellations kink and bend/and languages drift from grammar to grammar”. This means that the leaves have been around for a great amount of time and, because of that, have seen different changes throughout the years. Also, this passing of time made leaves “blotched”.
“Sister Mary’s favourite flower
to various degrees of joined-up writing.”
The third stanza focuses on the figure of Sister Mary. The lyrical voice mentions that this plant is her “favourite flower”. Notice how the lyrical voice describes the cowslip throughout the stanzas but never mentions it directly, asides from the reference in the title. The lyrical voice reflects on those who gouged the plant due to Sister Mary’s wishes: “cast a light on all the gougers/that she coaxed, effing and blinding”. Moreover, Sister Mary’s ordinances are violent and deceitful (“coaxed, effing and blinding”). This can be read as a critical look at how men interact with each other and the power relations that are consequently established. It is significant, thus, that the female character belongs to the church.
“One great arching cadence
speaks to itself with epochs for clauses”
The fourth stanza of Primula Veris provides a more comprehensive meditation. The lyrical voice mentions a “great arching cadence” that lights over “the world as a double spiral” and brings “epochs for clauses”. This gives a broader reference to the setting of the primula veris and presents an idea of how the world works (“speaks to itself with epochs for clauses”. Notice how the focus on the plant, and then on the relationship of men around the plant, turns to a more general meditation on the world.
“root shoot and flower
[…] the heavens and the earth”
The final stanza of the poem goes back to the cowslip. The lyrical voice relates the general idea introduced in the previous stanza with the plant (“root shoot and flower/stitching together the heavens and the earth”). Moreover, these final lines further on the link that the plant has in a wider setting. The primula veris acquires importance that goes beyond the plant and its linked to “the heavens and the earth”.
Randolph Healy is an Irish poet and publisher. He was born in Scotland, but then moved to Dublin when he was only eighteen months. Randolph Healy has published 25 Poems, Rana Rana, Arbor Vitae, Flame, and Selected Poems, among others. His works have also appeared in The Beau Magazine, Gargara, Angel Exhaust, West Coast Line, and The Poet’s Voice.
Randolph Healy started Wild Honey Press, a remarkable Irish poetry imprint. In his poetry, he uses formal logic, mathematics, and scientific data as points of departure for his writing, as he has a background in mathematical sciences and taught mathematics at second-level.
You can find the analysis of Frogs, another Healy’s poem from Rana! Rana! here: Frogs by Randolph Healy.