Floral Symbols from Eliza Cooks Journal



Yh poetry of woods! romance of fields!

Nature's imagination bodied bright 1
Earth's floral page, that high instruction yields ;

For not, oh, not alone to charm the sight,

Gave God your blooming forms, your leaves of light;
Ye speak a language which we yet may learn—

A divination of mysterious might:
And glorious thought may angel eyes discern
Flower writ in mead and vale, where'er man's foot-
steps turn.

Charles Swain.

The Flower changed to Fractalius effect in Photoshop
Symbolism has been a prominent feature in the history of the human race, and has manifested itself in an infinite diversity of forms. Men have ever sought for the expression and embodiment of the sentiments and passions of their hearts, and have found them in the appearances of nature. The green world of nature, with its multiplicity of beauties,— whether of field or forest, of mountain, glen, or river,— has thus become a great allegory of the human mind in all its phases and manifestations; hence the invention of symbolic language, or the adoption of types as expressive of the hopes and fears and Protean sentiments of the human heart. This symbolism had its first origin as a system among the imaginative and luxurious people of oriental climes. Under a soft, serene, and intensely blue sky, glowing with unclouded sunshine during the day, and glittering with unnumbered stars by night, it is not surprising that the imagination, once kindled by the contemplation of beauty, should trace, in the varied forms of loveliness which adorned the bosom of the earth, a language expressive of the phases of the human mind, and a sympathy for human sorrows in the enchantments of the earth and heaven. And thus, in these sunny and luxuriant climes, the highest aspirations of the human soul,—religion and poetry, the veneration for beauty and holiness, found language and expression in the symbolic vocabulary of nature. From these lands, blessed with exuberance and fertility, this language has found its way to our own cold and cloudy shores, having been brought hither by pilgrims, who have toiled across the wide deserts, and through the fruitful valleys of the East, to pay homage at the consecrated shrines of nations and temples which have now no -other existence than as fragments in the history of the past. We may now linger over the beautiful features of these mystic languages, and dwell upon them till we become enraptured. If the divine passion of love stirs within us, we may read the history of the sentiment, as a part of the individual history of the universal soul of man, from the first spark which kindles a new emotion in the enthusiasm and fervour of youth, and which in due time becomes a great passion, heaving and pulsing within, till it expands and grows into universal philanthropy, and lights up all the world with its generous flames. Or if in melancholy mood, we can pity the despair which may be spoken by a present of myrtle, interwoven with cypress and poppies ; and whatever feelings may sway us, we shall find their prototypes among the flowers ; for this is but another mode of translating the universal language of nature, and will be cherished and cultivated as long as poetry exists.

Of these floral symbols, some are of such a general character, and they would be adopted and appreciated so readily by any people, that it would be difficult to recognize them as individual facts. The flower would ever be a type of all innocence and beauty. The lovely hues and symmetrical forms

which flowers display, would ever suggest an sesthetical or ideal beauty pertaining only to the soul. Their brief existence and decay would render them fit representatives of our own fleeting lives. Literature abounds with metaphors and symbols of this general character. Thus of Corinne, that warmhearted daughter of Italy, whose soul brimmed with passionate affection, as warm and pure as the sunlight of her native skies, Madame de Stael writes : "This lovely woman, whoso features seemed designed to depict felicity,—this child of the sun, a prey to hidden grief,—was like a flower, still fresh and brilliant, but within whose leaves may bo seen the first dark impress of that withering blight which soon shall lay it low. . . . The long black lashes veiled her languid eyes, and threw a shadow over the tintless cheek." Beneath was written this line from the " Pastor Fido : "—

Scarcely can we say this was a rose.

A similar passage occurs in a lament for Lady Jane Grey :—

Thou didst die
Even as a flower beneath the summer riiy,
In incensed beauty, and didst take thy way,
Even like its fragrance, up into the sky.

J. W. Ord.

In such a tone of subdued eloquence does the sister of Sir Philip Sydney mourn over the memory of her sainted and incomparable brother.

Break now your garlands, O ! ye shepherd lasses.
Sinee the fair flower that them adorned is gone;

The flower that them adorned is gone to ashes;
Never again let lass put garland on :

Instead of garland, wear sad cypress now,

And bitter elder, broken from the bough.

The language of deep feeling is ever poetical, and in every age of the world's history flowers have aided in giving force to the utterance of the heart's passion, whether of love, hate, sorrow, or joy. Perhaps love and sorrow have created more poetry than any other sentiments which have ever had birth in the breast of humanity.

If bliss be a frail and perishing flower.

Born only to decay ;
Oh ! who,—when it blooms but a single hour,—

Would fling its sweets away?

Among the many chaste and poetical allegories which occur scattered up and down the eastern literature, is the following:—"As this dark mould sends upwards, and out of its very heart, the rare Persian rose, so does hope grow out of evil, and the darker the evil the brighter the hope, as from a richer and fouler soil comes the more vigorous and larger flower." There is another of this class, which conveys in a most elegant form a symbolical embodiment of the refining influences of the pure and the beautiful. "A traveller, in passing through a country in Persia, chanced to take into his hand a piece of clay which lay by the way-side, and to his surprise, he found it to exhale the most delightful fragrance : ' Thou art but a poor piece of clay,' said he, ' an unsightly, unattractive, poor piece of clay : yet how fragrant art thou! How refreshing! I admire thee, I love thee ; thou shalt be my companion, I will carry thee in my bosom. But whenco hast thou this fragrance 1' The clay replied, ' I have been dwelling with the rose !' " In another Persian legend, we are told that Sadi the poet, when a slave, presented to his tyrant master a rose, accompanied with this pathetic appeal :—" Do good to thy servant whilst thou hast the power, for the season of power is often as transient as the duration of this beautiful flower." This melted the heart of his lord, and the slave obtained his liberty.

The well-known " Language of Flowers," was first introduced into this country by Lady MaTy Wortley Montague ; but in the modern system nothing is preserved of the fresh poetry and brilliancy of thought which characterized the floral symbolism of ancient eastern nations. The rich imagery and startling truth of the eastern metaphors and symbols, have crumbled into ruins, like the temples dedicated to their gods. Sickly and weak as is the modern language of flowers, it is yet as prevalent in use as ever, and has been rendered tame by its universal adoption in the intercourse of life ; instead of being preserved as a part of religious worship, and of the highest forms of poetry. Lady Montague tells us, that in Turkey, you may, through the assistance of these emblems, either quarrel, reproach, or send letters of passion, friendship, or civility, or even news, without ever inking your fingers ; for there is no colour, no weed, no flower, no fruit, herb, nor feather, that has not a verse belonging to it. So, too, no Turkish lady would send a congratulatory message, or a ceremonious invitation, without sending with it some emblematical flowers carefully wrapped in an embroidered handkerchief, made fragrant by the odours of flowers, which conveyed also an emblematical meaning. But these are merely fragments of the ancient customs of the eastern nations, where all was symbol, emblem, and allegory ; and where the imagination usurped the power and controlled even the affairs of the state.

These emblematic verses are in the form of enigmas, and are founded on a sort of crambo or bout rimi. M. Hamma has collected about a hundred specimens, but they are exceedingly untranulateahle. We quote three of the most manageable which we can hit upon.

Almond?.—Wer bana btr Omlnde.
Pear.—Let me not despair.

Rone.—You smile, but still my anguish (prows i
Stone.— For thee my heart with lore still glows.

Tea.—You are both sun and moon to me,
Tea.—Yoar's is the light by wbich I see.

But those are arbitrary and fancied similarities founded on the mere rhyming and jingling of words, and although occasionally conveying an idea, are upon the whole, mere frivolities to fritter away the hours which might be better spent in the growth of ideas, in tracing out the real symbolical expressions of nature, in establishing these as keys to the sestheties of all beauty, and as the frame-work of tho noblest poetry. Tho real language of flowers is as old as Adam, and the antiquity of floral emblems dates from the first throbbings of love in the human heart. Indeed, by love it is supposed to have been invented, as a parable speaking to the eye, and thence teaching the heart.' The bower of myrtles and roses was the first temple dedicated to love and beauty ; and to this happy spot the enamoured youth invited the chosen one of his heart by means of floral emblems.

To catch a glimpse of floral symbolism, when yet in its pristine vigour and poetical sublimity, we must go back into the dim vista of departed years, and search amid the mighty caves and temples where the early nations of India, Egypt, and Chaldea, knelt fervently in adoration ; and where superstition clothed all things with a wild and terrible grandeur, and rendered nature emblematic of the highest spiritual truths.

Amid these relies of former magnificence, and within the walls of these crumbling temples, are
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yet to be seen the sculptured symbols which embodied the ideas of their daily faith. Dread and mystical as many of these are, even when viewed in the calm light of reason, there is yet a bewitching poetry, and a sublimity of thought associated with them, as startling and wonderful, as they are beautiful and true. The history of the universe has been written in living characters upon the obdurate granite in which those mystic caves are hewn. The dawn of creation is represented by a leaf divided into light and darkness: when

The heavens and the earth
Rose out of chaos.

And the story of the ages has in like manner been written in symbols of leaves and flowers.

Of the flowers consecrated to religious deities by the symbol-worshippers of India and Egypt, none occupy a more prominent position than the Lotos. Its sacred leaf was the

Emblem and cradle of creative Night.

It was anciently revered in Egypt, as it is at this day at Hindostan, Thibet, and Nepaul, where they believe it was in the consecrated bosom of this plant that Brahma was born, and on which Osiris delights to float. Naturalists have differed in opinion whether the celebrated Lotos was a hero, a flower, or a tree. Some authors have affirmed that it was a rough thorny shrub, the seeds of which were used to make bread ; but the testimony of Herodotus, that the lotos is a species of water-lily, which grows in abundance in the Nile during the inundations, is so very conclusive, that no other solution of the question can be accepted. Herodotus bears testimony to the high antiquity of the Egyptian veneration for the lotos, and M. Savary assures us that at the present day, the degenerate children of the Nile are animated by the same feelings of worship and veneration. It was called the " Lily of the Nile," from its growing in abundance on the banks, and in the marshes which form tho delta of that river. It is a stately and majestic plant, of the Nymplue tribe, and rises about two feet above the water, having a calyx like a large tulip, and diffusing an odour like that of the lily. The wonderful physical peculiarities in the growth of this plant, rendered it an appropriate symbol in a worship of the most degrading and immoral character.

The plant grows in the water, and the blossoms are produced amongst its broad ovate leaves. In the centre of the flower is formed the seed-vessel, which is produced in the form of a bell or inverted cone, and punctuated on the top with little cavities or cells, in which the seeds grow. The seeds, when ripe, are prevented from escaping, in consequence of the orifices of the cells being too small, and so they germinate in the places where they ripen, and shoot forth into new plants, until they acquire such a degree of magnitude, as to burst the matrice open and release themselves ; after which, like other aquatic plants, they take root where the current chances to deposit them. This apparently self-productive plant became the symbol of the reproductive power of all nature, and was worshipped as a symbol of the All-Creative-Power,—the spirit which " moved upon the face of the waters," and which gave life and organization to matter. We find the same symbol occurring in every part of the Northern hemisphere where symbolic religion has prevailed. The sacred images of the Tartars, Japanese, and Indians are almost all represented as resting upon the lotos leaves. The Chinese divinity, Puzza, is seated on a lotos, and the Japanese God is represented sitting on a water-lily. The flatterers of Adrian, emperor o Rome, after the death of his favourite Antinous, endeavoured to persuade him that the young man was metamorphosed into a lotos-flower; but the emperor created a temple to his memory, and wished it to bo believed that he had been changed into a constellation. The plant is poetically described in the Heltopades, as "The cooling flower, which is oppressed by the appearance of day, and afraid of the stars ; ""—in allusion to the circumstance of its spreading its flowers only in the night. There is a beautiful passage in the Sacontala in reference to the palmistry of the Brahmin priests. " What! " exclaims a prophetic Brahmin, " the very palm of his hand bears the mark of empire, and, while ho thus eagerly extends it, shows its lines of exquisite net-work, and grows like a lotos expanded at early dawn, when the ruddy splendour of its petals hides all other tints in obscurity, "t

"This is the sublime, the hallowed symbol, that eternally occurs in oriental mythology ; and in truth not without substantial reason, for it is itself a lovely prodigy ; it contains a treasure of physical instruction, and affords to the enraptured botanist exhaustless matter of amusement and contemplation. No wonder, therefore, that the philosophizing sons of Mizriam adorned their majestic structures with the spreading tendrils of this vegetable, and made the ample expanding vase that crowns its lofty stem, the capital of the most beautiful columns. "J

The onion was held in similar esteem as a religious symbol in the mysterious solemnities and divinations of the mythologies of Egypt and Hindostan. Mr. Crauford has imagined that the delicate red veins and fibres of the onion rendered it an object of veneration, as symbolizing the blood, at the shedding of which, the Hindoo shudders. But astronomy has stamped celebrity on the onion ; for, on cutting through it, there appears, beneath the external coat, a succession of orbs, one within the other, in regular order, after the manner of the revolving spheres. We have the authority of Alexander,^ that the onion was worshipped as a symbol of the planetary universe by the astronomers of Chaldea, before it was adopted by either Egypt or India. The Egyptian veneration for plants and animals arose from their symbolical representations of the benevolent operations of Nature ; while there were some which were held in abhorrence, from possessing • opposite symbolic meanings. Thus the onion, as a symbol of the spheres, was held sacred to Osiris,—the soul of tho material universe, the energy that generates and nourishes all things ; and to his consort Isis,—the nurse and mother of tho world, the goddess of a thousand names,—the Infinite Myrionyma.

Notwithstanding the extreme veneration for the onion as a noble astronomical symbol, yet when a more minute attention to its growth and cultivation had taught that it flourished with the greatest vigour when the moon was in the wane, the priests of Osin» began to relax in their worship, and by the priests of Diana, at Bubastio, it was held in abhorrence and detestation. These floral symbols of the ancient nations have elucidated some of the most difficult questions concerning their history, and have made it certain, that most of the Indian and Egyptian customs originated in Chaldea,—that land of serene and tranqml skies, where the observation of Nature first grew into a science, and was cradled and cherished in the earliest ages of the world.

* Heltopadcs, p. 282.

t Sacontala, p. 89

I Maurice's Indian Antiquities, p. 527.

( Alexander ab Alexandre, lib. vi. cap. 20.