The bright and stately Sunflower and its touching legend is a folk tale of Ukraine and a symbol for the inspiring resistance of Ukrainian people.
Symbols and imagery used in national customs and rituals are passed on through generations and become the unseen backbone that supports us in times of trouble.
The Sunflower Legend, a Folk Tale from Ukraine
Once upon a time, when trees still grew so tall that their tops bathed in the light of the stars, when rivers were so plentiful that fishes jumped from one stream to the next for fun, and when animals were all at peace… Once upon such a time each morning, after the Sun would rise, he would allow his daughters to drop unto earth. They would splash into cool streams, stroll through shady forests, and frolic among millions of different flowers. For on each hill, on each valley, on each piece of land a different kind of flower bloomed… And at the end of each day, when the Sun was readying his carriage for the road back home his daughters (all rosy-cheeks and arms filled with fragrant flowers) would return from their earthly strolls and join him, well behaved, heading home. The way it’s always been.
But one day, ah, one day the Sun’s youngest daughter remembered, just as the Sun was about to leave for the day, remembered that she had forgotten her wreath of flowers. ‘I worked so had on it, father,’ she pleaded. ‘It was a gift I’d made for you,’ she sighed, looking down, the tip of her blue shoes drawing a little circle in the sand.
How could the Sun be upset when his youngest daughter was so sad herself? ‘Very well, but be quick. Quick!’ he demanded.
The youngest girl dropped like a shooting star onto the earth and ran to the place where she’d life her flowery wreath. Only that it wasn’t there. It wasn’t there… yet, in its place, a fine young man stood. Smiling. Leaning against a birch tree, a blade of grass in the corner of his mouth… The flower crown tucked in his shirt (but the girl knew this not). All she knew, all she remembered, was the look in his eyes when he turned towards her – what color were they? Did it matter, they were… they looked at her… Making her forget what it was that she had return to earth for.
Making her forget all about her sisters. And her father, the Sun.
And when the young man began to speak, the girl thought his voice was like the song of the first morning bird, soft and sweet. Promising. Only for her ears… and just as charming. And the more he spoke to her, the more enthralled she was.
How was her life even possible so far, without the knowledge of such a voice? How was she ever happy-perhaps she’s never even been!-before meeting him? Basking in his presence, drinking his words… And as he kissed her, and promised to love her, only her, all his life… and promised her a life better than she’s ever known before, better the the life she had lived as the daughter of the Sun-she believed him.
The young girl agreed to live on earth, where nightingales sings, where cherry trees blossom, where springs dance over fields… where there is love. His love.
Of course, the Sun called his daughter home, ordered her back, implored her to return. How angry she became. How could her father not understand how difficult it will be for her to live elsewhere but on earth? And so the girl turned her back on her family and stayed on earth. Among humans. With her beloved. With her husband.
After all, there were other young girls leading happy lives here.
And, soon, life returned to normal. As life always does.
Each day, the husband showered his young bride with words, till one day when he forgot, and another day when he forgot completely about her. She tried to catch his gaze and even told him that she rarely ever saw him, they barely spent time together, and she missed him. She missed “them”.
A tear rolled down her silky cheek and fell, unnoticed, to the ground.
Had he already fallen out of love with her? She choked with pain as she asked him this, and her voice was a whisper in the wind. Lost before it even reached his ears.
He looked at her-his eyes of a color she still adored were focused on her-but how different was the man watching her… saying that earthly people loved differently, because the happiness of love is united with the joy they get out of work. Doesn’t she want him to be happy?
Of course, of course she does… More than anything else.
The girl wiped her wet cheeks ignoring the tears sipping in the dry ground.
Then, could she work too? Could she, too, know the twin happiness he’s embracing now, instead of her?
No words left his lips. His face even grew longer-or was it a shadow creeping over the sky? Over her life. Over her heart.
No words left her lips either but a thousand words streamed through her mind… mostly of how her father always did everything in his power to keep her and her sisters happy. How laughter was the main sound in her father’s home. How happy she’d been. There.
Things were different on earth. Life was different. Love was different. It was measured by a different scale. An unbalanced scale.
How she missed her father, her family and the simple life they shared! How she cried for her loss.
The girl turned and looked up, towards the sun. She forgot about pride and earthly love, instead she crept unnoticed towards her father’s kingdom. No human noticed her leaving, not even her husband. And the closer she got, the straighter she stood, and the happier she felt. Till the Sun said NO.
He could not take her daughter back. Can’t she see? She’d grown roots into the earth. Roots she’s nursed with her pain, with her tears.
And so, the girl remained rooted into the earth, neither willing to return to her husband’s barren home, nor able to join her father’s celestial kingdom. Forgotten by the other girls, just like her… Yet always looking up, through rain, and hail, and winds, following her father-her purpose-with her eyes, forever turning her head after the Sun. Hoping, knowing that one day she will return to her home. If only she was patient enough. One day. After all, she was a daughter, a flower of the Sun.
~ The Sunflower Legend, a Folk Tale from Ukraine, retold ~
The sunflower is Ukraine’s Floral Symbol.