I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valley

It starts with a striking variety of lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), a flower of the month of May and of weddings:


Photo from Liz Fannin, in Columbus OH, who found the plant at OSU’s Chadwick Arboretum plant sale last year.

On this blog on 9/6/15, #8:

Convallaria. The strongly scented bulb lily of the valley, or lily-of-the-valley, a delight of the spring garden

And from Wikipedia:

Lily of the valley, sometimes written lily-of-the-valley, scientific name Convallaria majalis, is a sweetly scented, highly poisonous woodland flowering plant that is native throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere in Asia, and Europe.

It is possibly the only species in the genus Convallaria (depending on whether C. keiskei and C. transcaucasica are recognised as separate species). In the APG III system, the genus is placed in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Nolinoideae (formerly the family Ruscaceae). It was formerly placed in its own family Convallariaceae, and, like many lilioid monocots, before that in the lily family Liliaceae. [I must say that I much enjoy the double-dactylic phrase lilioid monocots.]

Convallaria majalis is a herbaceous perennial plant that forms extensive colonies by spreading underground stems called rhizomes. New upright shoots are formed at the ends of stolons in summer, these upright dormant stems are often called pips. These grow in the spring into new leafy shoots that still remain connected to the other shoots under ground, often forming extensive colonies.

… The flowers have six white tepals (rarely pink), fused at the base to form a bell-shape, 5–10 mm diameter, and sweetly scented; flowering is in late spring

… At the beginning of the 20th century, it became tradition in France to sell lily of the valley on international labour day, 1 May (also called La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day))

Lily of the valley takes me to rose of Sharon, thanks to the Song of Solomon 2:1:

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

Rose of Sharon on this blog on 3/27/13, “Abutilon and its relatives” — on flowering plants in the mallow family, including rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus (photo in #3, some discussion of the origin of the name).

And then of course I go to shapenote settings of text from the Song of Solomon, in particular #254 in the 1991 Denson Sacred Harp, a setting by William Billings that stretches over six pages in the book (and there are repeats), from “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valley” (note singular valley, as in the English name of Convallaria) to the celebratory “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone” — truly appropriate for this time of the year in California (remember that when all four parts are singing together, the melody line is the tenor, the third staff down):


The text, in a format that’s easier to read:

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valley.
As the lily among the thorns,
So is my love among the daughters
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood,
So is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight,
And his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house;
His banner over me was love.
Stay me with flagons,
Comfort me with apples,
For I am sick of love.

I charge you, Oh ye daughters of Jerusalem,
By the roes, and by the hinds of the field,
That you stir not up, nor awake my love till he please.
The voice of my beloved,
Behold! he cometh, leaping upon the mountains,
Skipping upon the hills.

My beloved spake, and said unto me,
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.

You can watch a video of the song here, from the 2009 Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp Singing Convention. Note that such videos are records of singings, not performances; we sing for ourselves, not for an audience, and our singing style is loud, often harsh, in a tradition quite different from what’s taught to choirs. In the case of Rose of Sharon, you might find this style jarring, because #254 is clearly an art song, not white gospel music. (I have recordings by the William Appling Singers and Orchestra, by His Majestie’s Clerkes under Paul Hillier, and by the Sine Nomine Singers, all elegant choral performances. But that’s not what shapenote singers are aiming at.)

One Response to “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valley”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    William Billings’ Rose of Sharon is in The New Harp of Columbia, but we’ve rarely succeeded in singing it, though we’ve slowly mastered Easter Anthem.

    If you’ve ever had the chance to sing from Raymond Hamrick’s Georgian Harmony (he died a couple of years ago, at 99) – he managed to write easily singable music in Billings’ style. Something that eluded William Billings.

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