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Bellis perennis

Bellis perennis, known as English daisy or lawn daisy, is native to most of Europe and is widely distributed as a weed in North America. Although it has a long and broad use in folk medicine, its medieval associations with love and with the spring of the year were more significant than its practical applications. The white flower with the golden eye was the “marguerite” (a cognate of “pearl”) of the Middle Ages. There is considerable variation in the red coloration, which sometimes appears on the undersides and tips of the petals; sometimes it is very marked, and sometimes absent. Red and white were the colors of love, and may have contributed to the daisy’s amorous associations. Geoffrey Chaucer, in the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women, claims it as his favorite flower:

40   Now have I than swich a condicioun,
That, of alle the floures in the mede,
Than love I most these floures whyte and rede,
Swiche as men callen daysies in our toun.
To hem have I so great affeccioun,
As I seyde erst, whan comen is the May,
That in my bed ther daweth me no day
That I nam up, and walking in the mede
To seen this flour agein the sonne sprede,
Whan hit upryseth erly by the morwe;

50   That blisful sighte softneth al my sorwe,
So glad am I whan that I have presence
Of hit, to doon al maner reverence,
As she, that is of alle floures flour,
Fulfilled of al vertu and honour,
And ever y-lyke fair, and fresh of hewe;
And I love hit, and ever y-lyke newe,
And ever shal, til that myn herte dye;
Al swete I nat, of this I wol nat lye,
Ther loved no wight hotter in his lyve.

The poet uses the daisy as a symbol of ideal womanhood. In her study of the poem, Chaucer’s Legendary Good Women, Florence Percival notes that the cult of the daisy, or marguerite, was a minor genre of love poetry in fourteenth-century France and remained popular for decades, and that Chaucer makes creative use of the French tradition of marguerite poems in his work.

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