POETEY OF THE PANSY, VIOLA, AND VIOLET

POETEY OF THE PANSY, VIOLA, AND
VIOLET by Charles Jordan


A Bouquet of long ago is a memory vision of to-day. It is seen through a long vista of years, but appears fresh and fragrant as on the day when it was gathered. A sweet little posy it is in dainty white sheath. Along with a tiny red Testament it is proudly carried by a small child as part of her equipment for a great epoch in her history, her first day at church. It contains many choice blossoms, for the garden from which it was culled abounded in such. Viewed across the years, however, all have become shadowy and undistinguishable but one. That one is a dark purple Pansy. There is nothing vague or undefined about it. It is vivid in every detail of rich colour, velvet texture, deep yellow heart, and delicate odour. But that is not all. During the brief period of the child's intercourse with it, it became a memory page on which the record of the hour was written. The sights, sounds, circumstances, and even thoughts, of that far-off time have become indelibly impressed upon it. Pansies like it bloom year by year. In each that first Pansy lives again, and with it that sunny Sabbath morning of long ago. The garden in which the flowers grew, the church bells, the solemn hush within the sanctuary, the summer air without, voices long silent, forms long vanished—all rise out of the past, a living picture, exactly as presented to the infant consciousness.

That such an experience is not uncommon we may gather from the most casual survey of the poets. Take a few examples. In describing an old man's visit to a garden which had been the scene of a thrilling episode of his youth, Tennyson makes him say—

And now,
As tho' 'twere yesterday, as tho' it were
The hour just flown, that morn with all its sound
(For those old Mays had thrice the life of these)
Rings in mine ears.

Longfellow says of flowers—

Stars they are wherein we read our history.

Another, in describing a flower haunted by the "Flower Spirit," says—

The wanderer gives it Memory's tear
Whilst home seems pictured on its leaf;

And hopes and hearts and voices dear,
Come o'er him—beautiful as brief.

These passages all refer to flowers in general. Was then the Pansy's survival of the other flowers in the child's bouquet a mere accident? Had her attention fixed itself in the same way on some other blossom, would the result have been the same? The evidence of the poets seems to indicate that it would not. When they come to particularise they almost invariably assign the part here performed by the Pansy either to it or to its near relative the Violet. Evidently they consider them specially adapted to serve in such a capacity. Tennyson says—

The smell of violets hidden in the green
Pour'd back into my empty soul and frame

The times when I remember to have been
Joyful and free from blame.

Again he associates the remembrance of Maud with
Violets—

. . . the meadow your walks have left so sweet

That whenever a March-wind sighs
He sets the jewel-print of your feet

In violets blue as your eyes.

Another addresses the Violet thus—

Still doth thine April presence bring

Of April joys a dream
When life was in its sunny Spring—

A fair unrippled stream.

Yet another, who imagines that his happiest days are behind him, complains to the Heart's-ease—

But now thou only mock'st my grief
By waking thoughts of pleasures fled.

Flowers are Nature's poems. They supply no material needs; but, like all true poetry, answer in a way, none the less real that it is indefinable, to spiritual wants—

Silent they seem, yet each to thoughtful eye
Glows with true poesy.

But as there are various kinds of flowers and various kinds of poetry, so, it would seem, lias each particular flower its own particular type of poetry—

The violet varies from the lily as far

As oak from elm ; one loves the soldier, one

The silken priest of peace, one this, one that.

Thus we find that, as a rule, each has special characteristics and a special mission of its own which are recognised more or less by all the poets. All acknowledge the sovereign supremacy of the Eose. They extol her perfection of form, delicate gradation of colour, matchless odour. She is the emblem of love, royalty, and luxury. She is their Queen. The Lily suggests lofty grace and unsullied purity. She may be called their saint. Other flowers are more or less intimate acquaintances—some grave, some gay— and their appreciation of them varies with varying states of mind and circumstance. But the Pansy and Violet are familiar friends. They entrust them with their confidences, they revel with them amid reminiscences of the past, seek consolation from them in the stress and hurry of the present, and learn hope from them for the future.

As far as the Violet is concerned, we may question the correctness of the statement made in the verse just quoted, in comparing it with the Lily—" One loves the soldier, one the silken priest of peace." For the Violet's sympathies are universal. It loves "soldier" and "priest of peace" alike, and is loved by all in return. What Longfellow says of flowers in general, may most aptly be applied to the Pansy and Violet. They—

. . . expand their light and soul-like wings,
Teaching us by most persuasive reasons
How akin they are to human things.

There seems to have been no period in the world's history when they have not excited the interest and admiration of all sorts of people. Young and old, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, poetical or prosaic—all have been attracted to them by one influence or another.

Ancient fable makes them play a prominent part in the loves and wars of its gods and goddesses. Both it represents to have been nymphs transformed into flowers. It attributes the colours of the Pansy to a dart from Cupid's bow, in allusion to which Shakespeare makes Oberon describe the Pansy as—

A little Western flower,
Before milk-white ; now purple with love's wound.

The purple of the Violet is made the result of a similar encounter. In its case, however, the colour was sent upon it by Diana, not as a wound, but as a safeguard. Eapin thus describes the episode—

The goddess cried, "Since beauty's such a snare,
Ah, rather perish such destructive grace."
Then stained with dusky blue the virgin's face.

If these old legends were true, they would afford good examples of misfortune, borne so gracefully as to become the greatest good fortune. For among the attractions of these flowers their rich colour is not the least.

The Violet is said to have derived its name from the goddess Io, for whose behoof, when in the form of a heifer, Violets were made to spring from the earth. Whatever may have been the fabled perfections of that creation of old-world imagination, they could not have connected the name with associations so sweet and elevating, as those which it owes to the simple flower. The word "Violet" breathes music and poetry without reference to any goddess. It was so much esteemed in ancient Athens, that it was engraven on tablets all over the city. The citizens coveted no higher title than that of " Athenian crowned with Violets." The Eomans admired the flower too, and showed their appreciation of it in ways suited to their genius. They cultivated it extensively in their gardens, and were particularly partial to a wine distilled from its flowers. In the games of flowers held at Toulouse, in the picturesque days of the Troubadours, a golden Violet was the prize awarded for the best poetic composition. The Violet was the chosen flower of the lady who instituted the games. While undergoing imprisonment, she sent it to her true knight as a pledge of her constancy, of which virtue it henceforth became symbolic among the Troubadours. Thus early was it associated with poesy. Nor has the warrior disdained it. It was the chosen badge of Napoleon Bonaparte. During his exile his officers were in the habit of toasting him as "Corporal Violette, the flower that returns with the Spring." Even with the epicure has it found favour. A sherbet made of extract of Violets was much esteemed in the East, of which Mahomet is reported to have said that it surpassed all other extracts, as far as he himself excelled the rest of creation. Coming down to more recent times, we find it figuring largely in popular superstition, heing regarded as lucky in some circumstances, and as unlucky in others. A pretty fancy that the nightingale only sang above a bed of Violets is referred to by Milton in the lines—

In the violet embossed vale

The love-lorn nightingale

Nightly her sad song mourneth well.

It was also greatly esteemed for supposed medicinal qualities. In England in the olden time it was the recognised emblem of fidelity. Thus an old sonnet has it—

Violet is for faithfulnesse.

It is not surprising that so beloved a flower should have found a place on the bier. Especially for the bier of those who have died young it has been deemed appropriate. Thus Shelley says—

Violets for a maiden dead.

And Mrs. Hemans—

Bring flowers, pale flowers, on her bier to shed
A crown for the brow of the early dead.

For this in the woods was the Violet nursed.

Perhaps no flower could so well harmonise with such an occasion. The Eose speaks too much of
earthly pomp and ambition; and, moreover, seems peculiarly suggestive of the evanescence of all that is fair. The Lily is too pure, too apart from human sympathy. But that, beside the forsaken tabernacle of the spirit, should be laid the flower whose sensitive petals are written all over with its life-history, seems most fitting. Could any flower so well foreshadow the springtide that awaits humanity as that which has ever been associated with the Springs of Earth? It were surely no unwarrantable extravagance of fancy to imagine the closed eyes open in a happier sphere, and reading in the familiar face of the Violet the old tales of earth, in the light of fuller experience. So while men lay violet blossoms, which have been plucked from their roots, beside the human flowers which have been gathered from their place on earth, they also plant living roots of them on the graves of their beloved dead, there to speak, with each returning spring, of "life re-orient out of dust." Tennyson draws consolation from the thought that his lamented friend's body having been laid in English soil—

From his ashes may be made
The violet of his native land.

In this he was anticipated by Shakespeare, who says—

Lay her in the earth; and from her fair unpolluted flesh may violets spring.

That the attention given to the Pansy has been equal in universality to that bestowed upon the Violet may be gathered from the number and variety of its names, suggestive of rustic wit, poetic fancy, or human love and comradeship. Here are a few of them. Three-faces-under-a-hood, Love-in-idleness, Call-me-toyou, Herb Trinity, Heart's-ease, Forget-me-not. And there are very many more. The poet Barton thus apostrophises it—

And thou, so rich in gentle names, appealing
To hearts that own our common lot,
Thou styled by sportive fancy's better feeling,
A thought, the Heart's-ease, or Forget-me-not.

From its classical associations it has been described as—

Jove's own floweret where three colours meet.

Its three colours suggesting the Trinity, it was in old religious rites the flower specially allotted to Trinity Sunday. Hence the name, Herb Trinity. Of its many names Pansy is the one it has retained, probably because it has been found to suit it best. It is a corruption of the French pens^es, thoughts. Thus Shakespeare makes Ophelia say—

There's pansies, that's for thoughts.

Another poet says—

Are not pansies emblems meet for thoughts?
The pure, the chequer'd-gay and deep by turns:
A line for every mood, the bright things wear
In their soft velvet coat.

The- peculiarities of the structure of the flower have always struck the popular fancy, as some of its names show. On the Continent it is known as the stepmother. The upper petal represents the stepmother in her armchair, the next two petals her own daughters accommodated with a chair each, and the lower pair her stepdaughters sharing a chair between them. As a rule, the poets do not say much of their outward form. They are near and dear friends. Of the features of such, dear as they are to them, men do not speak nor even think much, so engrossed are they with the inner soul which they express. Most of them would therefore probably agree with Euskin's criticism of Milton's phrase, "Pansies freakt with jet." "Milton," he says, "sticks in the stains and puts us off with that unhappy freak of jet in the very flower that without this bit of paper - staining would have been the most precious of all to us. 'There's Pansies, that's for thoughts.'"

So, for " most persuasive reasons," the poets of all times have loved and lauded the Violet and the Pansy. Homer speaks of "Meadows purpled o'er with violets" as "a scene to fill a god with wonder and delight." Milton, with Eden's flowers to select from, requires " Pansies and Violets" to help in the formation of a couch in Paradise. Spenser refers affectionately to the "pretty pawnee." Shakespeare tells of "Violets dim, but sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes." Wordsworth, when he would convey an idea of the sweetness of a young maid, compares her to—

A violet by a mossy stone
Half-hidden from the eye,

Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

As for Tennyson, he is continually referring to the Violet. The sentiment he puts into the mouth of his May Queen is very emphatically his own—

0 sweet is the new Violet that comes beneath the sky.

William Howitt says—

Pluck the Violets blue,—
Ah pluck not a few.

Knowest thou what good thoughts from Heaven the Violet instils 1

So precious are they in the eyes of another that he sees them—.

Gleaming like amethysts in the dewy grass.

From the unpretentious habit of their growth they have come to be regarded as emblematic of modesty and unobtrusive worth. It is in this aspect that Barton views them in the lines—

Beautiful are you in your lowliness,

Bright in your hues, delicious in your scent;
Lovely your modest blossoms, downward bent,

As shrinking from your gaze, yet prompt to bless

The passer-by with fragrance, and express
How gracefully, though mutely eloquent,
Are unobtrusive worth and meek content

Rejoicing in their own obscure recess.

Mrs. Osgood thus praises the same qualities—

The Violet droops its soft and bashful brow,
But from its heart sweet incense fills the air.

So rich within—so pure without—art thou,
With modest mien and soul of virtue rare.

Violets are harbingers of Spring which few of the poets fail to mention in describing its advent. Shakespeare begins a list of Spring flowers with "Daisies pied and Violets blue." Bennet tells how

Violets' hidden eyes
Are watching May's sweet coming.

Mrs. Hemans, who dearly loves the "Violets darkly blue," in inviting the children to the Spring woods, holds out as an inducement:—

Where the Violets lie may now be your home.

Tennyson weaves them in a "Wreath of March." One of the first signs of approaching Spring he notices is that

Thick
By ashen roots the Violets grow.

In describing, in "In Memoriam," how, under the influence of advancing Spring, Spring had begun to dawn in his own soul, he says—

My regret
Becomes an A2»il violet,
And buds and blossoms like the rest.

We might have expected that in the new world beyond the Atlantic new flowers would usher in the everywhere - welcome season. But even there the modest Violet is not overlooked. An American poet, in proclaiming its return, couples the old-world flower with a new-world bird. He says—

The blue-bird and the Violet are with us once again.

Still do poets, children, and common care-laden
H people seek the faithful and beloved family in their sequestered haunts, and draw from them the comfort, inspiration, and hope they are so well fitted to impart. None the less do they appreciate them in garden precincts, where, in richer dress, but with the same friendly countenance, they welcome all who love them. In these latter days, the care and attention of which they are so worthy have been lavished on them as never before. That they have amply repaid such attention many a choice garden bears testimony. In such a garden there are beds of them which are true poems, expressed in tenderest hues, from deepest purple to purest white; and which contain many a blossom which enshrines memories as thrilling and thoughts as inspiring as its little woodland ancestor treasured for the poets of old. In such a garden the merry-hearted may stroll in the sunshine, chanting such lays as these:—

Deep Violets you liken to

The kindest eyes that look on you

Without a thought disloyal.
Pansies for ladies all! I wis
That none who wear such brooches miss

A jewel in the mirror.

The pretty Pansies then I'll tie,
Like stones some chain enchasing,

The next to them their near ally
The purple Violet placing.