The Language of Flowers

I have, in my various intellectual crusades and what have you, brought up this very subject from time to time, and the most common response I get is a condescending roll of the eyes accompanied by some dismissive rhetorical question such as “when are you going to start living in the present or in real life?”  Of course this question is rhetorical, for both I and my companion know well before it is asked that the answer is “never.”  In fact, I’m not sure I can say I understand well why you people spend so much time in either of those two realms; they are both excessively boring and arduously laborsome˚.  But with considerations of my romantic and quixotic mind aside, I urge you, nonetheless, to consider this idea most carefully before you dismiss it; it certainly can’t hurt, for “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it†.”

And now a quote from the most compelling tragedy I have ever read:

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.  Pray you, love, remember.  And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. … There’s fennel for you, and columbines.  There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays.  You must wear your rue with a difference.  There’s a daisy.  I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.  They say he made a good end.”

-Hamlet IV.v.199-209 (Ophelia)

What is this crazy lady talking about?  (Or is she crazy?)

Our dear Ophelia is here, in her “madness,” referring to the Victorian concept of the “Language of Flowers” or “Floriography.”  It’s quite simple–each flower is symbolic of a certain sentiment or feeling that cannot be or, perhaps, is not appropriate to put into words.  Rosemaries and pansies she explains for us, but as for the others: fennel represent flattery and deceit*, rue, sorrow and repentance, daisies, dissembling˚, and violets, faithfulness†.

As I have implied, this “Language of Flowers,” didn’t really take off in England, or get its name for that matter, until the Victorian era (1800’s), though it really has been around as long as history can record, and will probably continue to exist while humanity still possesses its sovereignty of reason.  However, what has gone extinct is the use of flowers as a means of communicating that which cannot or should not be said in words.  It was common practice, in the Victorian era, for a lover to express his feelings to his lady via the gift of flowers.  He might assemble a bouquet and give it to her as a gift, and she, upon receiving, would not only acquire the lovely, physical gift, but also the immeasurable meaning behind it.  This was especially useful and popular in those days when it was considered unbecoming of a gentleman to take the hand of a lady without her offering it, or impolite for a lady to be too forward towards a gentleman, among other things.

Perhaps this whole idea sounds ridiculous to us in today’s world; after all, who knows, or has time to know, what a chrysanthemum symbolizes? or even what a chrysanthemum is?  That all is perfectly understandable; it is not up to us to ensure that culture stays exactly the same over hundreds of years; in fact, it should grow and change over time.  But allow me to raise this question: what has it grown into?  Has society blossomed into something better than it was before thanks to all the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices of so many over the years? Or have we declined?

I don’t think I should bother to answer this question, because if you have read very much of my writing at all, then you probably already know my thoughts on this subject.  But what do you think?  Is it better, today, that we can be in constant communication with people online and via text messaging?  that we can tell people all kinds of thing without even thinking about it?

Today, dating is much easier than it was a few hundred years ago.  A guy can tell a girl he likes her however he pleases, and the two–and God save them–can meet as often as they like and wherever they want, and do many other things with, or in utilization of, each other that I do not care to mention here.  And even when they part, they are always just a text message away.  What used to require hours of careful planing and consideration followed by the labors of acquiring flowers now is done in a matter of seconds.  The forming of a bond is no longer dependent on a structure laid down by the protocol of a rich, authentic culture, but on the base, animal impulses of a homosapien.  It is culture that makes us human, for culture is the collection of the highest parts of a society.  Animals do not have culture because they do not communicate ideas, but we have culture because the ideas we communicate are shared and developed into better ones collectively.  We require a language; without it, we are just moving piles of flesh*.

Now, I am by no means sharing this merely to depress you.  Of course none of us is capable of making society suddenly regain consciousness, and that is not what we are called to do.  We are, however, each called to do our part in the healing of our broken world, and that means we are called to be human.  As for now, in a world that lacks common sense and cultural depth, I might even go so far as to say that our calling is to be something much more than human.  We are in fact, all required to be Sons of God.  And though this is a task never to be achieved on this side of death’s door, the virtue is in the strife.

And so, don’t be human, requiring a culture to tell you what to do, but be a Servant of Christ Himself.  As I have described elsewhere, it seems we have come to a point where God is no longer using the pagan faculties (such as culture) to develop immortal beings (or at least not doing so to the extent He used to).  Rather, as humanity as a whole ascends further and further up to la cima del purgatorio, our models become more and more refined.  We are less dependent on our means of knowing Him, and more acquainted with Him directly.  We no longer need to believe that Jesus is literally sitting on a pearly-gold throne in the sky somewhere at the right hand side of His Dad.  And likewise, we don’t need to be told how to live through a well-crafted culture, but can start taking orders from God Himself, as we find Him in His Word and in His body˚.  The risk in all this, of course, is that instead of refining our models, we throw them out all together, which is, as I have already implied, what the rest of the world seems to be doing.

Maybe we don’t need a language of flowers to practice artful communication, maybe relationships can even be richer without it, but let’s make sure they are.


˚ laborsome: -shax    (thank goodness it’s a word!)

† -Aristotle

* perhaps referring to her boyfriend killing her father–“I was all the more deceived”

˚ possibly implying that Ophelia’s madness is just coded sanity

† the faithfulness of Hamlet and Ophelia’s father that “withered when he died.”

* this is me not answering my questions.

˚ again, I am not suggesting that humanity has, in this way, completely changed from one thing to another, but rather that we have further progressed from here to there.

One thought on “The Language of Flowers

  1. I once gave a friend a rosemary plant after her father died. I believe it may be part of the evergreen family. I find many things done and said today have their root and meaning in the past, if only we look for them. Thanks for being there to constantly remind and enlighten us of this.

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