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Symbols in Literature

  • The Secret Garden (by )
  • Sonnets from Hafez & other verses (by )
  • Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusio... (by )
  • The Language of Flowers, In Verse, And O... (by )
  • Flowers and Flower Lore (by )
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“Flowers are the friends of all, and we look with amazement at the person who cannot find some amount of pleasure in their study,” begins Hilderic Friend’s book Flowers and Flower Lore. Indeed, flowers have always held a special place in the heart of humanity. They have remained evocative and highly symbolic for many different reasons to peoples throughout the ages. 

Just like colors, animals, gestures, types of food, names, and sigils, flowers have been a sensible literary and poetic device. In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book The Secret Garden, the young orphan Mary Lennox finds herself tending to a forgotten garden of roses as she simultaneously heals the garden, herself, and her broken family. 

Mary’s interaction with the garden is a more general symbol of regeneration, but there have been many other more specific symbolic uses of roses. The Persian poet Hafez was known to use the rose as a symbol of a type of beloved, one who is proud, beautiful, and often cruel as well. The rose is a not too uncommon designation for the love-hate relationships often found in literature, but in terms of political symbolism, roses will often associate with anti-authoritarian or socialist parties. 
Some flowers have meaning shaped by peculiar economic events. The tulip, for instance, even basked in a brief period of time in the 1637 Dutch Golden Age where certain varieties of bulbs were the most expensive object in the world. Charles Mckay talks about this in his book Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and dubs it the “tulip mania.” Tulip mania is now used as an idiom for when an item’s asset price stray from its intrinsic value. Another example of tulip mania occurred with the hyacinth, although the craze did not last as long.

For more direct correlations, one J. Fincher Trist compiled lists of flowers and their meanings in his late 19th century book, The Language of Flowers, in Verse, and Other Poems. A few of these buried within his book of poems are: Syrian Mallow meaning “I am consumed by love—I pine”, Burdock meaning “Importunity—Touch me not”, Asphodel meaning “My regrets will follow you to the grave”, Maiden Blush Rose meaning, “If you love me you will soon find out”, and Japan Rose meaning “Beauty is your only attraction.”

by Thad Higa

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