The Crocus: In Poetry & Symbol

I had 200 hits last week on my 2009 blog post about the Crocus, which makes me think there must be a lot of interest in this flower in early spring, but little information. And why not, its emergence signals the end of Winter and the ushering in of Spring–something, that by March, we’re all yearning for. For that reason, I want to dedicate a whole post to it–the poetry surrounding it, both Emily Dickinson’s and others, and the symbology associated with it. I’ll call this, Crocus Day at Emily Dickinson’s Garden.

First, it appears in the book, The Poetry of Flowers as the symbol of “Smiles”. Here is the poem which accompanies it by Miss H. F. Gould:

Down in my solitude under the snow,
Where nothing cheering can reach me;
Here, without light to see how to grow,
I’ll trust to nature to teach me.

I will not despair–nor be idle, nor frown,
Locked in so gloomy a dwelling;
My leaves shall run up, and my roots shall run down,
While the bud in my bosom is swelling.

Soon as the frost will get out of my bed,
From this cold dungeon to free me,
I will peer up with my little bright head,
And all will be joyful to see me.

Then from my heart will young petals diverge,
As rays of the sun from their focus;
I from the darkness of earth shall emerge,
A happy and beautiful Crocus!

Many, perhaps, from so simple a flower,
This little lesson may borrow,
Patient today, through its gloomiest hour,
We come out the brighter tomorrow.

From this poem, I would associate the Crocus with hope.

Emily Dickinson’s poem:

The feet of people walking home
With gayer sandals go-
The Crocus-till she rises
The Vassal of the snow-
The lips at Hallelujah
Long years of practise bore
Till bye and bye these Bargemen
Walked singing on the shore.

Pearls are the Diver’s farthings
Extorted from the sea-
Pinions-the Seraph’s wagon
Pedestrian once-as we-
Night is the morning’s Canvas
Death, but our rapt attention
To Immortality.

My figures fail to tel me
How far the Village lies-
Whose peasants are the Angels-
Whose Cantons dot the skies-
My Classics veil their faces-
My faith that Dark adores-
Which from its solemn abbeys
Such resurrection pours.

Emily Dickinson, 1858–#7

And, Louise Gluck, my favorite modern poet who often evokes the imagery of flowers in her work:


There was an apple tree in the yard —
this would have been
forty years ago — behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts —
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

— Louise Gluck

And another Gluck poem from her book, The House on Marshland:

For Jane Myers

Sap rises from the sodden ditch
and glues two green ears to the dead
birchtwig.  Perilous beauty–
and already Jane is digging out
her colored tennis shoes,
one mauve, one yellow, like large crocuses.

And by the landromat
the Bartletts in their tidy yard–

as though it were not
wearying, wearying

to hear in the bushes
the mild harping of the breeze,
the daffodils flocking and honking–

Look how the bluet falls apart, mud
pockets the seed.
Months, years, then the dull blade of the wind.
It is spring! We are going to die!

And now April raises up her plaque of flowers
and the heart
expands to admit its adversary.

Gluck’s work is the closest modern day comparison I know to Emily Dickinson’s, especially her book, The Wild Iris.  I want to highlight many of her poems throughout Spring and Summer. I have another reference book, Spiritual Gardening, which says the crocus is a symbol of spiritual renewal, a longing and theme of Gluck’s.

If you know of any mention of the crocus in literature, please add to this post in the comments section.  Or, if you have any thoughts about the crocus and what it means, please feel free to add that as well.

For more poetry and flower meanings, you may want to check out, The Bouquet–a book from Victorian America that focuses on poetic meaning in the garden. Follow this link.

Or this one–Emblems and Poetry of Flowers

In my opinion, the best way to become intimite with your garden is to paint it. I took an online watercolor course to help get a start doing this myself. I started a flower watercolor journal. This wonderful book of watercolor instruction can help you do that, too. It takes you step by step through the techniques of watercolor and the actual painting of many common flowers. Each flower is accompanied by poetry.

click here for details.

22 responses to “The Crocus: In Poetry & Symbol

  1. From Dickinson’s poem I see such religious imagery evoking ideas of rebirth, and life. Her word choices lead me to this, especially with the first lines evoking the Good Friday procession to the crucifixion, and her other references to resurrection and immortality. I love the phrase “Night is the morning’s canvas.” I can see so much with this … a painter at her easel, painting new life onto the dark canvas. I see the hope here that you saw in the first poem. Dickinson’s poem can be read more than one way; the literal way and figurative ways. That line seems like more religious imagery too, going from darkness to light. What a fitting poem for this time of year, Eastertime.

    And all these ideas “spring” from one word … crocus!

  2. emilydickinsonsgarden

    All good points, Joanne. I think you’re right on. And, I think a lot of the same thing is going on in the first poem–“Patient today, through its gloomiest hour,
    We come out the brighter tomorrow.” It could be looked at as crucifixion and resurrection as well.

    Gluck is very aware of Dickinson and she herself is an avid gardener and poet–so her use of crocus in both of the other poems is interesting. The one for Jane Myers, and I’m only guessing because I don’t know the story behind it–seems to suggest Jane is preparing for the future herself, pulling out her tennis shoes (a suggestion it’s spring) like large crocuses. Then, there are strong overtones of death–“the dead birchtwig–perilous–it’s spring, we’re going to die–adversary”. Again, what could be strong religious symbolism–Satan means “adversary”, what kind of adversary is Jane going to face?

    There’s a flower mentioned in this poem, bluet–a wildflower–it has four pale, blue petals with a circle of yellow in the middle. It grows best in rocky pastures where water is scarce.

    The other poem, Nostos, brings in the crocus of the past–a time when the tree bloomed every year on her birthday. But then a turn and ends, “We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.” It appears, in her adult-life, she has lost that hope–or certainly that feeling that good things happened to and for her.

    Just some thoughts–you got my wheels turning.

  3. There are so many thoughts and stories behind the flowers, and the poetry. The symbolism can actually help in designing a garden, choosing the flowers that suit our visions. Happy Spring 🙂

  4. emilydickinsonsgarden

    Yes, I think so. I sure have learned a lot more about flowers in literature and history through this. Now that I have them coming up in my own garden (minus snowdrops and crocus–at least this year) they have their own meaning through experience, too. Happy Spring and Happy Easter!

  5. I really like all these poems. My favourite has to be by HF Gould. The poem to me reminds of new things offering hope. I like crocuses i enjoy seeing them out in flower in my garden. They are a favourite of mine.

  6. emilydickinsonsgarden

    Helen–thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is the time of year where our flowers are like much-needed gifts, aren’t they? They’re gifts we give to ourselves in fall, knowing how special they’ll be in spring.

  7. emilydickinsonsgarden

    Another Crocus poem:
    Two Worlds by Raymond Carver

    In air heavy
    with odor of crocuses,

    sensual smell of crocuses,
    I watch a lemon sun disappear,

    a sea change blue
    to olive black.

    I watch lightning leap from Asia as

    my love stirs and breathes and
    sleeps again,

    part of this world and yet
    part of that.

  8. Rachel Wilkinson

    Hi, you have a beautiful site! Have you heard of the poet Mike Rupert?

  9. emilydickinsonsgarden

    No, I haven’t, but I’ll look him up. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Thank you for this very lovely blog! Besides loving the garden, too, I want to let you know that I mentioned & linked your site on my WordPress site.

  11. I am looking for a poem that my dad used to say a few lines from, he died last Thursday and we are cremating him next Tuesday 114th and I would really love this poem, if anyone can help me I would really appreciate it. the lines are.
    Crocus are lovely when there White and silky Blue, Crocus are lovely when there silky Purple too.

    hope you can help please.

  12. emilydickinsonsgarden

    I’ll continue to research those lines, but as of now, the closest I can find is one by Harriet Beecher Stowe:

    “The Crocus”

    Beneath the sunny autumn sky,
    With gold leaves dropping round,
    We sought, my little friend and I,
    The consecrated ground,
    Where, calm beneath the holy cross,
    O’ershadowed by sweet skies,
    Sleeps tranquilly that youthful form,
    Those blue unclouded eyes.

    Around the soft, green swelling mound
    We scooped the earth away,
    And buried deep the crocus-bulbs
    Against a coming day.
    “These roots are dry, and brown, and sere;
    Why plant them here?” he said,
    “To leave them, all the winter long,
    So desolate and dead.”

    “Dear child, within each sere dead form
    There sleeps a living flower,
    And angel-like it shall arise
    In spring’s returning hour.”
    Ah, deeper down–cold, dark, and chill–
    We buried our heart’s flower,
    But angel-like shall he arise
    In spring’s immortal hour.

    In blue and yellow from its grave
    Springs up the crocus fair,
    And God shall raise those bright blue eyes,
    Those sunny waves of hair.
    Not for a fading summer’s morn,
    Not for a fleeting hour,
    But for an endless age of bliss,
    Shall rise our heart’s dear flower.

    • Thank you for looking, I would really appreciate the one mum has asked for, as he liked that one.

      Kind regards

      Diane Barrie

      Date: Mon, 6 Jun 2016 21:37:04 +0000 To:

  13. Pingback: Happy Valentine’s Day!! – I'm a Writer, Yes, I Am!

  14. First of all love your site. Came for the lilies, stayed for the crocuses and look forward to exploring more!

    Another poem to add to the crocus pile is “Eurydice” by hd Hilda Doolittle.

    After Orpheus turns back and condemns her back to hell, this poem is Eurydice’s response. This is from II

    What had my face to offer
    but reflex of the earth,
    hyacinth colour
    caught from the raw fissure in the rock
    where the light struck,
    and the colour of azure crocuses
    and the bright surface of gold crocuses
    and of the wind-flower,
    swift in its veins as lightning
    and as white.

    I have always thought of the way the sun lights up the moon, when I read this. And now after reading your consideration I think maybe she is referencing crocuses because they are an early spring flower, what she herself could have been the most pure, re-newborn life, if Orpheus hadn’t made a mess of things.

    Later in the poem:

    Fringe upon fringe
    of blue crocuses,
    crocuses, walled against blue of themselves,
    blue of that upper earth,
    blue of the depth upon depth of flowers,

    if I could have taken once my breath of them,
    enough of them,
    more than earth,
    even than of the upper earth,
    had passed with me
    beneath the earth;

    if I could have caught up from the earth,
    the whole of the flowers of the earth,
    if once I could have breathed into myself
    the very golden crocuses
    and the red,
    and the very golden hearts of the first saffron,
    the whole of the golden mass,
    the whole of the great fragrance,
    I could have dared the loss.

    The whole thing is full of floral imagery and an utter rainbow of crocuses. This has been one of my favorite myths and poems for years, You have given it back to me like a fresh gift!

    • emilydickinsonsgarden

      What an amazing poem! Thank you so much for sharing it, along with your thoughts. Yes, crocuses do present themselves here, over and over, and the imagery really compounds the loss she feels.

    • emilydickinsonsgarden

      Reading it again and again, and I’ve only just discovered saffron comes from crocus—the stigmas and styles of the crocus. Even more amazing.

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