Although we’ve had difficulty tracing it back to medieval sources, the snowdrop’s strong association with the Virgin and with feminine purity (see “Fair Maids of February“) had clearly gathered force by the eighteenth century. In his poem Kensington Gardens, Thomas Tickell invents a mythology for the snowdrop, with an enthusiasm that prefigures the modern British cult of the early blooming bulb. (The closely related spring snowflake does not seem to evoke anything like the admiration and affection felt for the snowdrop.)
A flower, that first in this sweet garden smil’d,
To virgins sacred, and the Snow-drop styl’d.
The new-born plant with sweet regret she view’d,
Warm’d with her sighs, and with her tears bedew’d,
Its ripen’d seeds from bank to bank convey’d,
And with her lover whiten’d half the shade.
Thus won from death each spring she sees him grow,
And glorious in the vegetable snow,
Which now increas’d through wide Britannia’s plains,
Its parent’s warmth and spotless name retains,
First leader of the flowery race aspires,
And foremost catches the Sun’s genial fires,
‘Mid frosts and snows triumphant dares appear,
Mingles the seasons, and leads on the year.