Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Spidergrrl, or the Pot of Basil

I love my husband. He knows me well and he knows what tickles my funny bone. He said that one reason our marriage runs so smoothly is that I am so easily delighted.

As blog followers know I’ve been trying to grow a herb garden on the kitchen window. I have bought plants and replanted them into terracotta pots and have managed to keep them alive for nearly a month (which has to be a record for me).

After payday I purchased a pot of aromatic basil for the windowsill garden. I dutifully replanted it in a larger terracotta pot and placed it beside its brethren on the window. When Spiderman came home from work he commented about it. I replied with stars in my eyes and discussed the possibility of vegan pesto….mmmm pesto. I thought he had taken no notice.

The next day he was in the kitchen cooking rice and I was on the sofa reading. I walked into the kitchen and let out a SHRIEK!

There was a skull on my basil plant!

What did this mean? Was it now the Herb of Death? And then I twigged it.

I laughed and laughed.

And laughed and laughed.

I squealed with mirth and did a little hoppy dance around the kitchen (which if you know the size of our kitchen you know this was no mean feat).

It was a reference to a poem by Keats called Isabella, or the pot of basil which was featured in some of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite paintings. You can read the poem here   If you can’t be bothered to read all LXIII stanzas of that poetry nonsense then read on for a summary.

In the poem, Isabella falls in love with the poor clerk named Lorenzo who works for her brothers.

Click to enlarge and see the detail

Lorenzo and Isabella was the first painting by John Millais that he exhibited for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. You can see one of her angry aggressive brothers in the foreground cracking the nuts and kicking the dog.

Her brothers murder Lorenzo and leave his body in the woods and tell Isabella he has abandoned her. His ghost appears to her and she goes out to find the body. Being only a weak woman she cannot carry the whole body back so she cuts off his head and puts it in a pot of basil. Like you do.

click to enlarge and see the detail
This is my favourite painting by Holman Hunt, another member of the PRB. It shows the bit where she goes mad, watering the basil with her tears. The brothers take the pot and find the head of Lorenzo and having been exposed as murderers went with “blood upon their heads, to banishment.” Without the pot and the skull of her beloved, Isabella cries until she wastes away and dies.

I loved it so much I was afraid that watering the plant would dissolve the sticker so we put a layer of clear sticky backed plastic (that’s contact paper for my American peeps) over it to protect it. .I don’t know if that will work. How well does anything stick to damp terracotta anyway?

If you are a literary type and you actually read the poem by Keats and admired the paintings then you might be interested to know that Hans Christian Anderson also wrote a story with a similar theme entitled The Rose Elf in which the girl places the skull in a pot and covers it with a sprig of jasmine. The story says, As the girl became paler and paler, the twig stood there fresher and greener. Eventually the girl dies from grief and the evil brother takes the beautiful pot of flowering jasmine to his bed chamber. The Rose Elf speaks to the souls that inhabit every flower as well as to the bees and the evil brother is killed by them in revenge. Because Hans Christian Anderson was all about comeuppance.  You can read it for yourself here:

I love my pot of basil.

My husband knows me well.

He knows both a literary and art reference will make smile.

I love that he knows the reference and knows that I will know the reference.

I adore my Herb of Death.

Thank you for making me cackle with laughter.




  1. Found this link to transfer print images to pots, canvas, wood...

  2. Once again, I quote your grandmother Sweetie. "You're a queer kid, Heather." This was so delightful and I can just see the entire incident as it unfolded. That Thomas is so good at surprises. Unlike your father, who didn't understand the concept. HA.