Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Language of Flowers

I recently finished reading Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s novel “Language of Flowers.” Story about a contemporary young woman, orphaned as a baby, with unsavory experiences through state adoption agencies/orphanages, and how she deals with life outside of the system once she turns 18. In one of many foster homes, she had acquired knowledge of flowers and their use during Victorian Era as messages, and memorized the meanings of flowers. She’s ill equipped to interact and communicate well with others, but unerringly knows just the right flower a person needs. The concept intrigued me.

Since I seem to take a lot of floral photographs, I thought it would be interesting to find out the meanings of the flowers around me in my sister Melba’s garden.

Right now on my desk next to my computer is a vase of exquisite peonies in full blossom. They take away my breath; they are so elegant and magnificent! There is a sense of abandonment to their full out blooming!

I googled peony and found several different meanings. For thousands of years the Chinese have revered the peony as representing Riches and Honor. The Japanese, too, have a similar meaning.

On a different tangent, there is a long history of use of peony in Japanese tattoos, where peony takes on a connotation of masculine disregard for consequence, or a devil may care attitude. However, it strikes me as odd that, as an element of tattoo, the peony is sometimes a reference to the Virgin Mary in Catholic societies. Although in retrospect, I suppose the Virgin Mary had to have extraordinary bravery in her time and society in carrying and nurturing Jesus.

Then in the Victorian Era, with its exchange of notes and letters, the meaning of peony became one of bashfulness or shame. One look at a peony and you’ll see there is nothing bashful about a peony, more like unabashed. I don’t understand the shame connotation, except maybe the flower is so lush, it was deemed that it should be ashamed.

I look again at all of these meanings that have been attributed to the peony and I can see similarities in meaning colored by context of different eras and social conventions.

The peony is going to be what it is, regardless of the era, regardless of cultural mores and human labels.

Then ... the Poppy ... I wonder about its back story ...

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