Saturday, August 11, 2007


A beautiful water plant, lotus quite naturally symbolized important ideas in ancient civilizations.

For instance, one of the Egyptian creation myths featured a huge lotus which rose from the infinite ocean of inert water and marked the beginning of time. The sun then rose from inside the lotus. Later, when the Egyptians discovered that lotus flowers open at dawn and close at dusk on a daily basis, they made it a symbol of rebirth in addition to creation and sun.

In ancient India, the lotus flower represented spiritual enlightenment--a blessed state in which the individual transcends desire and suffering and attains Nirvana.

In ancient China...not a single myth involved a lotus. Not even any (documented) folk lore. It only appeared sparsely in ancient folk songs (before 476 B.C.), usually in the introductory lines. For example, there is a song named Lakeside which begins with:

Close to the lakeshore
In the marsh
Cattails and lotus flourish

The author then moved away from the water plants and described how deeply he or she missed a beautiful person--the universal and eternal theme of folk songs.

In Han Dynasty (202 B.C. to 220 A.D.), the central government of China established the Department of Music (I almost typed Magic!) to collect and compile folk songs. Selected songs were then rehearsed so that they could be played, sometimes alone, but mostly with dancers, in front of the court. Although most of the scores got lost over the following two thousand years, most lyrics (poems) have survived to this day. Many earliest acquisitions were unbelievably simple; so simple that they could not have been selected in later years. A most famous one depicts a lively summer scene:

Lotus pods are gathered in the South
Where the round leaves spread and thrive
With fish playing underneath them
Fish are playing to the east of a leaf
Fish are playing to the west of a leaf
Fish are playing to the south of a leaf
Fish are playing to the north of a leaf

The last four lines must have been a chorus, and dancers might have to throw their long sleeves to the four directions accordingly.

I should stop talking about the cultural values of a lotus plant before it gets too long. By the way, the Lotophagi, or the lotus eaters in Odyssey must have been eating something different. The lotus seeds that I am familiar with are neither gathered from a tree, nor are they narcotic. When taken freshly from the pod, they are actually sweet and juicy with a touch of a uniquely clean fragrance.

Coming back to knitting--last time I showed you this WIP in a lavender shaded 4-ply cotton yarn. I actually had a lotus plant in mind when casting on. Not just a flower, mind you, but flowers, leaves, and seeds. And I had set a restriction to myself: I would do it with cables and ribbing only. The knitting process has been painful, which is very rare for me. I kept on ripping out rows and the yarn became splitty. Finally everything worked out, in my mind first, then on the needles. The seeds are not here yet, but can you see the flower(s) and the (single) leaf?

It may look like another fingerless glove but it is not ;-). Alas, I had planned to finish it this afternoon, yet translating the simple poem had taken me so long.

The text beneath the WIP has nothing to do with the poem; it's just a book that I have been reading--for more than 10 years now, oh my!
These beautiful lines were sent to me by Shui Kuen:

From mud-
Lotus flower emerges:
Clean and fragrant.

I feel extremely honored, thank you SK!


sk said...

Iris: discovered your blog resently. Love your art work!

sk said...

To your beautiful knit:

From mud-
Lotus flower emerges:
Clean and fragrant.

Probably Jane said...

What an interesting and inspiring post. Beautiful work as ever.

Connie said...

Very pretty beginnings of a sleeve, Iris. And I like how you draw inspiration from nature. A totally ribbed or cabled sweater in 4 ply cotton sounds like a lot of work! Between the unyielding nature of cotton and the small gauge, you definitely have lots to deal with. Can't wait to see this as it evolves :)

Just call me Ruby said...

Your cabled cuff looks beautiful. Fascinated by your post, for some reason I always presumed that the Lotus flower would feature heavily in chinese folk lore. I am constantly learning from you.

fleegle said...

Iris, that purse is the color of your name, and it is cool, elegant, and lovely. Making it into a purse is inspired! Hope you share the pattern.

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