Given their ability to communicate without the use of words, flowers can be said to have magical powers. It can heal bereaved hearts, build bridges, greet, beautify, and restore and rejuvenate tired minds. In many societies flowers are a means of expressing emotions of love, rejection and hate, by young couples, that otherwise would have been considered improper according to the social rules. For poets flowers have held special significance and importance. The poor shepherd Christopher Marlowe’s poem The Passionate Shepherd to his love offers his beloved a crown of myrtle to woo her: “And I will make thee bed of roses/ And a thousand fragrant poises/ A cap of flowers, and a kirtle/ Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.” The 18th century Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns famously compared his lady love to a red rose, “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose/ That’s newly sprung in June.”
Research proves that flowers haven immediate bearing on happiness across all age groups right across the world. It mitigates depression, anxiousness and feelings of agitation as well as leading to emotional bonding. It contributes in a substantial way to a person’s emotional well being for the medicinal benefits of flowers are many. To name a few, Begonia eliminates toxins and promotes blood circulation; Calendula is used in curing ulcers, canker sores, menstruation pain, gum disease, sore throats and tonsillitis; Cornflower is used for treatment of conjunctivitis and strained eyes; while Chrysanthemum cures colds, fevers, headaches, eye inflammations and hypertension. Regarding Chrysanthemum, it is believed that ancient Chinese had been cultivating them for over 2,500 years before they were brought to Japan in 400 AD by visiting Buddhist monks.
Divested with a wealth of beauty and fragrance, and mythical names like ‘Narcissus’, some flowers defy easy categorization and explanation. According to Greek mythology, Narcissus, a hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia, was renowned for his beauty. He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. In the final reckoning, he was punished for his excessive pride by Nemesis (a spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to pride) who attracted Narcissus to a pool where he saw his own reflection and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to take his eyes off his own reflection, Narcissus died. In Greek mythology, after Adonis (the god of beauty and desire) is killed by a boar, red anemones sprout from his shed blood. Since anemones also represent blood, there are anemone flowers in some paintings of Jesus´ crucifixtion. In Egyptian mythology the goddess Iris was born from a lotus flower, and Buddha is often drawn sitting on a throne made out of lotus blossoms. The poppy flower, used to create the sleep drug opium, is associated with the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos as well and the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus.
According to Celtic legend, the spirits of children who die in childbirth scatter daisies on the earth to cheer their grief-stricken parents. It is believed that each flower has symbolic significance; for instance orchids symbolize love and beauty, the lily is a symbol of fertility, rose symbolizes love and desire while sunflowers are symbols of warmth and adoration. Similarly, violets are considered good luck gifts. Perhaps for their temporal nature, they are associated with the beginning and ending of life in Eastern and Western cultures.
For a poetically-inclined person like me, among the first lines that come to mind whenever when we espy beautiful flowers is the rapture-filled verses that come from Wordsworth’s on seeing a field of daffodils:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
(I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud)
Flowers are universal messengers that convey a wide range of emotions and feelings. This is the reason poets will not tire of evoking them whenever they find themselves short of a muse.
The author teachers English Literature at Bharati College, Delhi University