The nubbed leaves
in a tease of green, thinning
down to the membrane:
the quick, purpled
beginnings of the male.
Then the slow hairs of the heart:
the choke that guards its trophy,
its vegetable goblet.
The meat of it lies, displayed
the stub-root aching in its oil.
-"Artichoke" by Robin Robertson
That is one tumescent flowering artichoke, you may be thinking after reading this poem by Robin Robertson. I thought of furniture, specifically the old custom of decorating the four posters of a bed with finials shaped like artichokes, as a symbol of hope. What makes the pairing of this poem and that woodblock print uncanny is that both Robertson and the artist Mabel Allington Royds share Scottish roots; Robertson was born there and Royds moved there to teach at the Edinburgh College of Art.
It turns out that Robin Robertson is far from the first person to connect the artichoke with male potency. In the 16th century, for a woman to east an artichoke was scandalous; this aphrodisiac thistle was reserved for men. It was Catherine de Medici who married King Henry II of France at the age of fourteen in 1533 who announced a change in mores: " If one of us had eaten artichokes, we would have been pointed out on the street. Today young women are more forward than pages at court."
And if you decide to enjoy an artichoke, why not prepare it as the ancient Romans did, with a combination of honey, vinegar, and cumin.
Mabel Allington Royds (1874-1941)- Artichoke, 1935, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.