Protecting Thorns

Image:   Paramahansa Yogananda, 1924 

22.  “Protecting Thorns”

The speaker in “Protecting Thorns” is dramatizing the contrast between the attainment of beauty and the struggle for possession.

Introduction and Excerpt from “Protecting Thorns”

Nature offers the spiritual aspirant many avenues for inspiration and also the opportunity to make comparisons/contrasts between natural phenomena and soul qualities.  The great spiritual leader, Paramahansa Yogananda, was a great observer of the natural world.  His love and appreciation of all created things brought out in him the ability to report his deep observations as well as portray them in little dramas that inspire and uplift.

The great yogi’s poem, “Protecting Thorns,” consists of two rimed stanzas, each with seven lines, thus comprising an American or Innovative sonnet.  Its rime scheme is ABABBCC in the first stanza and AABBCDC in the second stanza.   The division into two rimed stanzas with variant rime schemes differentiates this sonnet from the English and Italian styles; its innovative differences account for its falling into the American sonnet category.

The speaker in this poem is portraying and dramatizing the beauty of the rose.  The title, “Protecting Thorns,” introduces the theme of struggle for beauty in terms of possession.

Excerpt from “Protecting Thorns”

The charm of the blushing rose
Hides its stinging thorns beneath.
Without some wounds from those,
Thou canst not snatch her wealth
E’en with stealth:
The rose that sprang from earthly sod,
Unplucked, with thorns unstained with blood.

In her defense the barbs do sting,
To keep thee out with thorny ring;
But perfumed petals’ beguiling show
Thy drowsing soul doth wake and draw.
If thou dost love the beauty alone,
Why would’st thou rush
To bleed from prickly thorns? . . . 

Commentary

The speaker in “Protecting Thorns” creates a drama, focusing on the theme of beauty and possession.

First Stanza: Colorful Beauty

In the first stanza, the speaker reports the natural phenomenon that even though the beauty of the rose comes streaming from its “blushing,” therefore colorful, petals, also projecting from that lovely form come “stinging thorns.”  The thorns remain “beneath” or hidden by the leaves like a snake waiting in the weeds ready to strike an intruder.  The speaker then remarks that anyone who tries to “snatch” a rose from its stem will suffer “wounds.” 

The rose protects its “wealth,” which is its beauty retained by its colorful petals, and even those who are very careful and act surreptitiously may be caught by those prickly protecting protrusions.  The speaker then avers that the rose was given birth by the sod of the earth.

If left “unplucked,” that flower will remain a whole beautiful entity, and its thorns will not become bloodied from protecting those beautiful petals. But the greedy, uncaring human being who rushes to steal the beauty of the rose will suffer, as those thorns tear through flesh, performing their dutiful function to keep the rose from being torn asunder.

The speaker is offering advice that if one is intent of taking the beauty of the rose as found in its petals, one must be willing to take some pain, perhaps even willing to lose some blood.  This insightful speaker is demonstrating the mayic nature of all things: that along with the positive there is always a negative to provide a balance.  

Even a natural object as simple as a flower dramatizes the duality or nature of opposites.  The human mind and heart may always prefer the positive and make the true and beautiful their goal, but as long as they exist in the world of maya, they must remain aware that creation exists in pairs of opposites.

Second Stanza:  The Duty of Thorns

The speaker then explains that the true purpose of the thorns is to perform the duty of providing the “defense” mechanism for the rose against all acts of enemies that would do it harm, such as plucking its flower, its lovely, colorful petals.  Every living creature has some defense mechanism.  The thorn’s only purview of duty and purpose is to “sting” an intruder as a bee would use its defense mechanism of stinging to protect itself.   

The rose, as do all flowers and living plants, desires to continue living until it lives out its natural allotted time span.  All living creations upon the earth are infused with the desire to live and therefore possess this laudable goal of self-defense for self-protection; thus, the “thorny ring” will perform its intended function even to the point of becoming blood-tinged.  

The speaker asserts the rose’s beauty as he avers that its loveliness and marvelous fragrance are intended to draw soul awareness in the human being’s observance.  Instead of picking the flower, the human observer would be better served if s/he is reminded of God’s gift of beauty. 

The speaker then avers that loving the “beauty” of the rose is perfectly fine and, in fact, it should be the ethereal beauty of the rose that one favors, not possession of its corporeal form. One is reminded that the physical encasement remains the temporary body of each being, and the spiritual level of being remains the most essential level because it is the permanent aspect of the Divine.

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A published collection of these commentaries is available at 
Commentaries on Paramahansa Yogananda’s Songs of the Soul.

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