Like the last green in the palette's colors
These leaves are without luster, rough and dry
Under umbeled flowers that were duller
But for a blue reflected from the sky
They mirror it, exhausted as with tears,
Vaguely, as if not wishing it to stay;
As old blue letter-paper which the years
Have touched with yellow, violet, and gray;
Washed-out like a child's apron, no more used-
Nothing else can happen to it now:
One feels how short the little life has been.
But suddenly the blue seems to renew
Itself in one last cluster-and see how
The pathetic blue rejoices in the green.
Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by C.F. MacIntyre
"Hydrangeas, we are expected to know, blossom in different colors, according to the chemical makeup of their soil. An acid soil, somewhat rare, produces blue or violet blooms, while a base soil gives rise to the more common pink varieties. Like many such flowers, they bloom in the late summer and fall, and although they go dormant and appear dead in the winter, they are perennials and develop fresh leaves in the spring. In addition, the blooms can either be sterile or fertile: the ones in Rilke's poem, described as forming an umbel, are most likely sterile; fertile blossoms are much smaller, less petal-like, and form a cluster rather than an umbel. Most importantly for Rilke is the process of colorization and aging in the hydrangea: the color, whether pink or blue, does not set in immediately: new blossoms are green, and the color gradually progresses from the outside edge. After a week or two, the color then fades to a washed-out gray, exactly as Rilke describes, and the green leaves of a new bloom are evident underneath the old. What we see in the poem, then, is this precise moment: the blue colorization has faded, and the flower appears to be dying; only on closer inspection can we peer between the dead leaves to see the new growth underneath."