When You Really Mean It

When you send flowers, it is customary to include a note. How many times have you sat there with your pen (or fingers over a keyboard) poised in mid-air wondering, “So, what should I say here?”

If you want to get beyond “Dear … I love you madly … Much love, ….”, then you might consider reading a little poetry. And why not narrow down your reading to verse about flowers? It will soon become apparent that the poetry written about love, death, betrayal, and other significant events and mistakes is full of flower imagery.

Robert Frost is a reasonable place to start. He is well known for his nature imagery and also for penning simple-seeming lines that somehow dive into quite deep waters.

A tree’s leaves may be ever so good,
So may its bar, so may its wood;
But unless you put the right thing to its root
It never will show much flower or fruit.

Robert Frost

The first stanza of “Leaves Compared With Flowers” is an example. The implication in the context of a note with a bouquet is that the recipient is the “right thing” and they are needed for your life to “show much flower or fruit”. Now that is telling someone that they matter.

It is, of course, a complete mistake to browse quickly through some poetry archive, find a poem that mentions a flower and scribble it into your missive. Even if you attribute it to its true author you would be inviting disaster if you sent the following Shakepeare sonnet to a lover.

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory;
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thout that are now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

Pablo Neruda

Accidentally or not, here you would be telling someone “Well, you look good now, but with the way you treat yourself, you’re not going to look like much pretty soon.” If you are going the rather progressive route of the “break-up bouquet”, then this might be just the thing. Otherwise, you’re digging a bit of a hole.

Pablo Neruda was a great sensualistic poet. In the 1994 movie Il Postino, an Italian peasant gets relationship advice from Neruda, who is living in exile on a small Mediterranean island. Here is the last stanza of Poem #14 from Neruda’s collection 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair. The translation is by W.S. Merwin.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.

I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

Walt Whitman

Neruda is expressing a rather possessive attitude here, but his canon is filled with all manner of rapturous yearning and exhilaration.

Speaking of rapturous, Walt Whitman is hard to surpass when it comes to cascades of imagery. The second half of “Roots and Leaves Themselves Alone” recalls Frost’s connection between good conditions and the health of flowers.

Frost-mellow’d berries and Third-month twigs offer’d fresh to
young persons wandering out in the fields when the winter breaks up,
Love-buds put before you and within you whoever you are,
Buds to be unfolded on the old terms,
If you bring the warmth of the sun to them they will open and bring form, color, perfume, to you,
If you become the aliment and the wet they will become
flowers, fruits, tall branches and trees.

The merest grazing of the virtually endless canon of poetry will lead you to not only write a more heart-felt note to go with that bouquet of flowers, but maybe even lead you to think more deeply about why you are sending them.