Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 12, 2010

“Nine Nectarines” and Alphonse de Candolle

“Like the peach Yu, the red-

cheeked peach which cannot aid the dead,

but eaten in time prevents death . . .

. . .But was it wild?

Prudent de Candolle would not say”

Moore tells us in a note to “Nine Nectarines and Other Porcelain” that she has taken these lines from Alphonse de Candolle:

I will quote the article in which I formerly attributed a Chinese origin to the peach, a contrary opinion to that which prevailed at the time, and which people who are not on a par with modern science continue to reproduce. I will afterwards give the facts discovered since 1855.

” The Greeks and Romans received the peach shortly after the beginning of the Christian era. The names persica, malum persicum, indicate whence they had it. I need not dwell upon those well-known facts. Several kinds of peach are now cultivated in the north of India, but, what is remarkable, no Sanskrit name is known; whence we may infer that its existence and its cultivation are of no great antiquity in these regions. Roxburgh, who is usually careful to give the modern Indian names, only mentions Arab and Chinese names. Piddington gives no Indian name, and Royle only Persian names. The peach does not succeed, or requires the greatest care to ensure success, in the north-east of India. In China, on the contrary, its cultivation dates from the remotest antiquity. A number of superstitious ideas and of legends about the properties of its different varieties exist in that country.*

* Rose, the head of the French trade at Canton, collected these from Chinese manuscripts, and Noisette (Jard. Fruit., i. p. 76) has transcribed a part of his article. The facts are of the following nature. The Chinese believe the oval peaches, which are very red on one side, to be a symbol of a long life. In consequence of this ancient belief, peaches are used in all ornaments in painting and sculpture, and in congratulatory presents, etc. According to the work of Chin-noug-king, the peach prevents death. If it is not eaten in time, it at least preserves the body from decay until the end of the world. The peach is always mentioned among the fruits of immortality, with which were entertained the hopes of Tsinchi-Hoang, Vouty, of the Hans and other emperors who pretended to immortality, etc. (p. 221)

I laid stress, in 1855, on other considerations in support of the theory that the nectarine is derived from the common peach; but Darwin has given such a large number of cases in which a branch of nectarine has Unexpectedly appeared upon a peach tree, that it is useless to insist longer upon this point, and I will only add that the nectarine has every appearance of an artificial tree. Not only is it not found wild, but it never becomes naturalized, and each tree lives for a shorter time than the common peach. It is, in fact, a weakened form. (p. 227)

–Alphonse de Candolle. Origin of Cultivated Plants. New York:  D. Appleton, 1902. (Moore cites an 1886 edition.)

Alphonse de Candolle (1806-1893) was born in Paris but soon moved to Geneva with his father, a renowned botanist. He received degrees from the University of Geneva and, for fifteen years, directed the Botanical Garden and served as chair of Botany at the University. Elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1851, he retired from teaching; although concentrating on research, he continued to be active in civic affairs in Geneva. (His house there is preserved as a museum.) In 1883, he published Origine des Plantes Cultivées, a major contribution to plant geography. Of international renown, he was elected to both the Royal Society of London and the American National Academy of Sciences.

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