Tag Archives: The Poetry of Flowers

My Old Friends: From Hyacinth to Birch


From Poetry of Flowers (A book Emily may have referenced), “Grief: According to mytholgists, this flower sprang from the blood of Hyacinthus, who was killed by a quoit, through the agency of Zephyr, who blew it fom its course as it passed from the hand of Apollo, and smote the unfortunate youth on the head.”

“I wish I could show you the hyacinths that embarrass us by their loveliness.” Emily’s letter to James D Clark.


I am in love with him
To whom a hyacinth is dearer
Than I shall ever be dear.

On nights when the field-mice
Are abroad, he cannot sleep.
He hears their narrow teeth
At the bulbs of his hyacinths.

But the gnawing at my heart…
He does not hear.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

There are so many things to which you could compare a garden, not the least of which is friendship. Each year it comes back, sometimes a little worse for wear, but you have a history–an investment in one another.

The pictures I’m sharing today are from my garden–it’s some of my dear old friends emerging from winter in mid-April 2012. They’re bursting out and embracing the day! Some of them are thriving, some are fighting for their lives.

Royal Star Magnolia (struggling)

Rock Daphne

Leopard’s Bane




“Elsa’s Rock” Daffodils to commemorate her death two years ago. What I realized during that time, a great epiphany for me, was that even when we want to hold onto our memories of lost loved ones–and Elsa was very dear to me having been raised from a puppy and sharing my trials and tribulations–our minds let them slip. I was horrified of that. Two weeks after her death, as I stood outside and tried to imagine her, it was hard. Then, a day passed without me thinking of her at all. This rock was placed there, over her burial spot, to remind me to think of her…and to give me a spot to sit while doing that under the Weeping Willow. I planted the daffodils because she died when they were in bloom. Every year they come up, they remind me of my loss–and my loss reminds me of my great gain–having her for thirteen years on this earth.

Daisies–Emily’s nickname was “Daisy”, and she refers to herself as such in the “Master Letters.”

Oh – did I offend it –
Didn’t it want me
to tell it the truth
Daisy – Daisy – offend it – who
bends her smaller life to
his, it’s meeker lower every day –
who only ask – a task –
something to do for
love of it – some little way
she cannot guess to make
that master glad –
A love so big it scares
her, rushing among her small
heart – pushing aside the
blood – and leaving her
faint and white in the
gusts’s arm –
Daisy – who never flinched
thro’ that awful parting –
but held her life so tight
he should not see the
wound – who would have
sheltered him in her
childish Heart – only it was’nt
big eno for a Guest so large –

(Letter 2 1861–Emily to “Master”–actual person is a mystery which stays unsolved.—Word choice changes were chosen by me. Example: bosom/Heart and other ommissions.)

Climbing Hydrangea


Birch & Pine

The Pleasure With Trees: Magnolia

O the farmer’s joys!
Ohioan’s, Illinoisian’s, Wisconsinese’, Kanadian’s, Iowan’s, Kansian’s, Missourian’s, Oregonese’ joys; …
To train orchards—to graft the trees—to gather apples in the fall.

O the pleasure with trees!
The orchard—the forest—the oak, cedar, pine, pekan-tree,
The honey-locust, black-walnut, cottonwood, and magnolia.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) from Poem of Joys–Leaves of Grass

My Royal Star Magnolia is living inside with us until after the last freeze.

In the Victorian era, it was associated with the symbolism: Peerless and Proud. The South.

In the book, The Poetry of Flowers, it says, “Of this splendid family of trees the American continent has many species. They are distinguished by their rich, smooth foliage, large, fragrant flowers, and aromatic bark. Some of them are of very exalted stature, taking rank with the highest tenants of the wood.’ In the Southern states, whole groves of the magnificent magnolia grandiflora are found scenting the air for miles around, with their rich and delicious fragrance. The large white leaf of the flower often serves the romantic southern youth for paper. He pricks upon it with a needle or pin the passionate thoughts of his heart, and commits his perfumed billetdoux to the care of zephyr to be wafted to the feet of his ladye-love.”

The Garden Within

The little garden within, though tiny, is triumphant. There are scarlet carnations, with a witching suggestion, and hyacinths covered with promises which I know they will keep.” (Letters 969, Emily Dickinson).

Funny, how one thing leads to another. The more you explore, the more you find–because it seems, everything is connected.

For my birthday I received an Orchid: (I assume Phalaenopsis–correct me if wrong)


This would be of the inside type that Emily could have grown in her Conservatory. However, after researching the flower as it relates to Dickinson, it turns out, she did not grow Orchids, but loved the wild Orchis.

The extraordinary popularity of orchids in Europe and the United States in the nineteenth centry and the ‘grand scale’ cultivation of orchids in England after 1818 and in Boston after the 1830s (coinciding with the ability to regulate temperature in greenhouses and with William Cattley’s experiements with the Catteya labiata or catteya orchid, named for him) give rise to an interesting question: Why did Emily Dickinson, who so loved the wild orchis, not grow its hot-house equivalent in her conservatory? Orchids were worn as lapel flowers, appeared in bouquets and on dining tables, and were celebrated in still lifes during her lifetime. John Bateman’s Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala (1837-1843), a volume weighing thirty-eight pounds that included fine lithographic plates, had stimulated production in the United States along of a great number of art books–many wirtten by women–devoted to tropical flowers, especially the orchid. Yether there is no record whatever of Emily’s conservatory housing any of the orchids available for growing in nineteenth-century New England.

Indeed, the orchis or wild orchid was not among those wildflowers such as the anemone or crocus that Emily chose to grow herself in the Dickinson garden. Still, it was one of only three examples of natural presences dear to her in the third letter she sent to T.W. Higginson: ‘I know the Butterfly-and the Lizard-and the Orchis-Are not these your Countrymen?‘ (L 268)” (Farr, 106)

In researching this in Farr’s book, I found a reference to a book by a poet named Frances Sargent Osgood–a paramour of Edgar Allen Poe and friend of the Transcendentalist, Margaret Fuller. Here is her picture:


It turns out, she edited and contributed to a book published in 1841 called The Poetry of Flowers, a beautiful, but out-of-print book that catalogs flowers with pictures, poetry and symbology. (You can own it for free from Google books–just click on this link and download it to your computer. The Poetry of Flowers.)

I looked for this book and found two priced at around 400 and the other at 250. However, on eBay, I found one with a raggity cover for $25.00. I ordered it. Here are some pictures:


Osgood does assign meaning to the Orchid and many other flowers. The Orchid is “The Belle” or Beautiful Woman.

In that era, with more travel and technology, people were discovering all kinds of new Edens with beautiful and exotic flora–it became associated with the mysterious. I was thinking today of how the Orchid reminds me of my Magnolia–and then I read in Farr’s book about the artist Martin Johnson Heade who traveled to Brazil, the country that some people believed really was the original Eden, to paint flowers. He painted two that I found interesting–one of Orchids and the other of Magnolia.

8361magnolias-on-gold-velvet-cloth-posters Martin Johnson Heade Magnolias on a Brown Cloth. Notice that he has them laying out, like a woman might pose on a settee?


Heade’s, Orchids and Hummingbird–he had to go to Brazil to capture this one.

So, you see how one thing leads to another in our journey. Seemingly unrelated things become related and meaningful. Birthday–Orchid Present–Emily Dickinson–Frances Osgood–Transcendentalism–New book about gardening symbolism and poetry I’d never heard of-introduction to beautiful art of the 19th century–Margaret Fuller–Hawthorne’s, The Blithedale Romance, which often compares the lead character, Zenobia, to hot-house flowers–like Orchids.

I’m really starting to see how much symbolism is assocated with flowers, and I’m amazed that I didn’t know any of this before. Each one is FULL of extra meaning–or at least is full of extra meaning to those who know. And it makes planting and tending flowers, both inside and outside of the house, a much more powerful experience. It’s like watching football, but not knowing anything about the players and teams–as opposed to watching people you know and care about.

Maybe it’s a lost art–this poetry of flowers. My daughter said today that one of her teachers told her that poetry is, essentially, dead. I disagree of course, because poetry is alive and well in music–it’s just not as popular on the written page. However, maybe he means that a certain kind of poetry is dead or dying–grand analogies lost because of our detachment from history, literature and the natural world.

What do you think?