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Thomas Hood Poem - The Language of Flowers
THE POET JACOBUS
SUPPOSED HE HAD FOUND A SUBJECT FOR AN EPIC POEM.
THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS A SUMMARY OF EVERY THING WHICH THE ANCIENTS AND MODERNS HAVE WRITTEN ON THE
LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS.
THE FLOWERS CONVERSE
The Pansy* was wandering about the earth, not knowing where to find a home.
*La Pensée, --Thought. “And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” [OPHELIA, in Hamlet.]
She had knocked at door after door, and found no admittance. Then she offered herself as lady’s companion to a celebrated
blue-stocking, and was refused.
A philosopher of high renown declined receiving the Pansy, even as a housekeeper.
Repulsed successively by an academician, a minister of state, a preacher, a painter, a novelist, and a sculptor, poor Pansy
determined to leave the town, and resume her wanderings.
It was a fine spring morning when she set out on her journey. She had not much to carry – but she was firm, resigned, and
prepared to endure bravely the inconveniences of her lot.
Plunged in meditation, the Pansy walked on, unconscious of the length of the way. Evening at length overtook her; she began to
feel weary, and casting her eyes around, she looked for some place where she could seek refuge.
She saw, at a short distance from the road, the front of a château brightly lighted up, and towards it she turned her steps. The
owner, seated at his table, which was spread under a tent of silk upon the terrace, was singing, drinking, eating, and laughing
with his friends.
“Admit me,” said a feeble voice, which reached, nevertheless, the ears of the guests.
“Who are you?” said the host. “if you are a merry companion, and know how to lighten the heavy hours, come in.”
The voice replied, “I am the Pansy.”
“Servants, shut the gates, Drive away this dull intruder – this troublesome companion, who causes us to remember. Let us
forget! Let us forget!”
The master of the château filled his cup, and drank to Forgetfulness.
“I noticed, yonder, a modest cottage,” said the Pansy, who, to rest herself, had leaned for a moment upon a marble vase, that
stood near the entrance of the château. “The poor are always hospitable: I will seek there a shelter for the night. I am fatigued,
and begin to feel the cravings of hunger.”
She took the path to the cottage.
Knock! – knock! – knock!
“Who is there?
“If you can content yourself with a morsel of bread, a glass of water, and a little fresh straw, come in: -- but first tell me who
“I am the Pansy.”
“Accursed one, avaunt! You come to disturb my slumbers. I have to-day been watering with my sweat my master’s fields. Now
he is indulging in the pleasures of the festive board, while my wife is weeping, and my children have not bread to eat. If, to-
morrow, I would have strength to resume my toils, it is necessary that I should forget. You disquiet both mind and body.
Begone! I shall not open the door.”
So, neither the rich nor the poor would have any thing to do with the Pansy. She sat down on the edge of a ditch, and supported
her head with her hands.
A young man happened to pass that way. As he walked, he gazed at the stars, and uttered, in a low tone, words and phrases
which made him open his mouth wide and stare wildly.
A stifled sigh from the Pansy apprized him that some sufferer was in need of his aid. He went up to the traveler, took her by the
hand, and, seeing that she was handsome, though serious and thoughtful, he asked her, with a slight lisp, why she wept.
The Pansy replied, that she had traveled a long distance, -- that she had in vain sought the hospitality of the cottage and the
castle, -- but that no one had been willing to receive her.
“Poor child!” said the young man, making at the same time a sort of tragic gesture.
He put his arm about the waist of the Pansy, and assisted her to rise. He then directed her attention to a faint light, which shone
through a distance clump of trees.
“That is the small house in which I live. Come – you will there pass the night in safety. By what name shall I introduce you to my
“They call me,” said she, hesitatingly, “the Pansy.”
At that the youth clapped his hands in gladness, and went forward to show Pansy the way to the house.
The Pansy, in her turn, wished to know the name of her host. “I am a man of fancy,” he replied, “known in the country as
Jacobus the Poet.”
He lived in a small house in the midst of the woods, with no one but his mother, who entertained him with fairy-tales and witch-
stories. These narratives still delighted him, for he was scarcely eighteen years old. He had rosy cheeks and fair hair, and his
large blue eyes seemed starting from his head. In the country he was considered handsome.
When the mother of Jacobus learned the name of her guest, she proceeded herself to set the table for Pansy. It will be strange,
indeed, thought she, if this does not give my son the idea of some capital great book, that shall bring us money, and give him
access to the prince. But the pansy objected to having much done for her. A slight matter served for her refreshment. She soon
recovered her vigor, and found herself in a condition to notice the scene about her.
The room in which they were, resembled a greenhouse, so full was it of flowers and shrubs. Some of those climbed up the
walls – others hung in arabesque from the ceiling. Buds scarcely opened, were seen side by side with full-blown flowers. The
petals of others, already faded, were gradually dropping off, but did not, for this, seem less beautiful. Books, open or shut,
marked in some places by green leaves, to keep the favorite passages, were scattered here and there among the vases. The
shelves in the library of Jacobus were either the branches of shrubs, or tufts of flowers.
With his eye fixed on Pansy, the poet forgot to eat. Never had he seen a woman so handsome, or beauty so attractive. He was
especially pleased with her calm, deep eye, which had only, it seemed, to rest upon any object in order to give it forthwith a
delightful charm, and a sort of genial glow.
The Pansy felt it her duty to thank her entertainer, but at the first word of acknowledgment, Jacobus checked her.
“The house which thou enterest is blessed,” said he, taking care to give each phrase its proper stop, and its due measure; “thy
presence alone confers on man every good. Thou impartest vigor to the soul of the young; thou canst make young the heart of
the old. In thy company the hours flow on, without our feeling weariness or satiety. Without thee, the days seem tedious, and
Time, having wings no longer, crushes us under his feet. Stay in my house; whatever it contains is thine. Remain with me, fair
traveler. Where canst thou do better?”
Jacobus did not add, that his mother’s notion was also sprouting in his brain, and that he hoped to derive profit as well as fame
from the sojourn of the Pansy.
She smiled at the simplicity of the youthful poet, but this did not prevent her from fully appreciating the kind reception he had
given her. She determined to show herself grateful.
All that night, Jacobus was unable to close his eyes. The thought of having received the Pansy under his roof, threw him into a
kind of fever. His heart beat quick – his temples were hot – and an unnatural luster shone in his eyes. Finding that he wooed
sleep in vain, he rose and went down to his library, thinking that the sight of his flowers would calm his spirit.
He entered and went up to a Hawthorn. As he bent over to inhale its perfume, he thought he heard a gentle voice, which
proceeded from the depths of the white corolla.
“Draw in my breath, friend. A single one of my branches, hidden in the midst of the hedge, is sufficient to scent the whole
neighborhood. I am the flower of early spring, -- I am Hope.”
“Jacobus! Jacobus!” said a clear voice.
The young man turned, and saw a Bindweed, which was looking at him with its little blue eyes, and which said, -- “I yield myself
to every passing breeze; I run this way and that, as may happen – hanging from the branches of the oak – winding among the
heather – living sometimes with the great, and sometimes with the little. Do not forget me. I am Caprice.”
“I represent the ties of love,” exclaimed a Honeysuckle.
A Clematis then attempted to speak, but was interrupted by a Maple.
“I am the Maple, with brilliant flowers and strong limbs. I am the symbol of Reserve. Listen to my advice, Jacobus. Trust not the
Clematis, which climbs slyly up the walls, and shows her little head at the edge of the window, where young maidens go at
evening to talk. The artful Clematis gets possession of their secrets, and then goes and makes sport of them, with her
comrades, the giddy Almond and the perfidious Ebony.”
The Clematis was about to reply, but the Fern prevented her, and took sides with the Maple. The sincerity of the Fern is so
notorious, that the Clematis did not venture to engage with such an adversary. She held her peace.
Jacobus could not get over this surprise. The flowers were alive; they talked to him; he could not hear too much from them.
“Think of me,” said the Lilac. “I bear green leaves, and bunches of fragrant flowers. My countenance has an air of simplicity,
and at the same time of coquettishness. I bloom early, and fade soon. I am the first love!”
"While the snow yet glistens on the gnarled branches of the oak, and on the turf of the meadows, a fringe of flowers appears
on the border of its white mantle. Is it spring already? Or is it winter still? It is the time when the Primrose shows its saffron-
tinted tufts. Come, gather the flower of early youth.”
"With the first notes of the nightingale, I shed upon the air the perfume of my ivory flowers. I am the Lily of the Valley, Brother to
the Lily, I love, like her, the banks of the stream, the deep shade of woods, the solitudes of the valley. When men see me, they
think of springs that have passed away, and of former happiness, -- and I comfort them by assurance that this happiness will
“Bees come and buzz in my blossoms, and young couples love to walk beneath my fragrant shade. From my dried leaves men
obtain a wholesome drink. My qualities are mildness, goodness, and utility. I am the Linden – the flower of conjugal affection.”
“Everywhere my white stars are seen to sparkle in the midst of my branches. I allow my supple and flexible limbs to be trained
as men please. They stretch me on palisades, -- they twine me around arbors, -- they spread me out like a curtain along the
terrace of the castle, or make me wind round the windows of the cottage. I comply with every demand – I am happy in every
situation. I am the jessamine – the flowers of Amiability – the friend of the butterflies and the bees.”
Every flower, in its turn, spoke some word in the ear of Jacobus.
“I shall be,“ he said, “great fool, forsooth, if I do not commit to paper what I have just heard, With the aid of all these charming
things, I will write a short epic poem of sixteen cantos, which will secure to me the place of minister, or at least, of first-valet de
chamber to the king.”
Jacobus did as he proposed. He passed a large part of the night in listening to the flowers. As they all spake in a learned style,
-- that is, somewhat diffusely, -- he adopted the plan of abridging their discourse. Being quite methodical in his habits, he
reduced to alphabetical order the following notes, which were to aid him in composing his little poem of sixteen cantos.
Jacobus passed the rest of the night in his arm-chair. He dreamed of being crowned in the capitol; that he was arrayed, as he
marched, in flowing robes, and held in his hand a lyre of gold
The first person he saw, on awaking, was the Pansy, who greeted him with a smile. He told her what had happened to him, --
and wished to know whether he had been imposed upon by a dream, or whether flowers could really talk.
“It is I,” said the Pansy, “who speak in them. Henceforth you will surpass every rival. The secrets which I have communicated,
and which you were the first to know, will be a fruitful source of poetic inspiraton.”
Jacobus kissed Pansy’s hand, and asked leave to read the notes which he had written during the night.
But he had hardly finished the reading, when, crushing the manuscript in his hand, he threw it at Pansy’s head.
“Wretched creature!” said he, “is it thus that you requite my hospitality? What would you have me do with the miserable stuff?
It is, indeed, a flower-language which you have communicated to me; but it was invented more than a thousand years ago, in
Persia, by an academician of Bagdad. Little children would laugh in my face, if I should repeat to them such nonsense. Know
that we have altered this entirely. The flowers have now a different signification; and, to begin with yourself, let me tell you, that
you are nothing but an old intrigante. Your name comes from paonsée,* solely on account of the resemblance which exists
between your shape and colors, and those of the peacock.
*Paonsée, -- Untranslatable; derived from paon, a peacock.
The literati discovered your true origin a long time ago. They are now employed in deciding to what flower belongs the right of
representing that phenomenon of mind which we call thought. For the personification of that other intellectual faculty, which is
called memory, we have the myosotis – a flower which all persons of intelligence call vergiss-mein-nicht.”*
The mother of Jacobus, attracted by the loud talking, and discovering what was the matter, prudently set aside the eggs,
coffee, and cream, which she had prepared for the traveller’s breakfast. “My honey,” cried she, “you are trying to humbug us
with your flower-language. You must take us for Picards or Percherons, when you come here with such stories. I perceive that
you are merely an intriguer, whom we must drive away. But first, to show you that you cannot impose upon us so easily as you
imagined, I shall tell you a short story. You are now, my son, to learn how it happened, that your father had the end of his nose
After having coughed and spit, the mother of Jacobus commenced the flowing narrative:
"Where we Show that the Language of Flowers may cause a Man to loose the tip of his Nose"
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