Saturday, October 17, 2009


Flowers smack of sentimentality. They’ve become a cultural symbol upon which an entire economy thrives—the flower shop. “Say it with flowers”—flowers presumably speak when words fail, yet can say more than the words themselves. The trouble is, flowers are maudlin, mushy, and mawkish, redolent of schmaltz and hokum. “I’m sending you a big bouquet of roses,” sang Eddy Arnold, “one for every time you broke my heart. As the door of love between us closes/Tears will fall like petals when we part.” In the 1960s, flowers were usurped by hippies and deployed as symbols of peace and love, rendered most famously by Scott McKenzie’s “Summer of Love” song, “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” as well as by the image of the flower placed in the barrel of a soldier’s gun. (Donovan’s 1967 album, A Gift From a Flower To A Garden, issued in December of that year as a lavish two-record set, was, according to a blurb by Rob O’Connor found on, “sincerely meant as a possible present for the hippie who has everything.”)

In “Daffodils,” poet William Wordsworth associated flowers—or rather, the daffodil—with pleasurable self-contentment. (That is, if you assume he actually wrote the poem. Ken Russell, in his 1978 Wordsworth bio-pic Clouds of Glory: William and Dorothy, includes a scene in which the Wordsworth character, played by David Warner, tells an admirer that “Daffodils” was a poem composed by his sister—that the poem consists of his “sister’s words.” In exploring the most unusual relationship between William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, it seems Ken Russell, more so than any other filmmaker, seems to understand that art can come from the strangest of places.) Of the dazzling field of daffodils, Wordsworth writes:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

In King Vidor’s film Duel in the Sun (1946), the place where the lovers died is marked by an unusual flower known to grow nowhere else: a cactus with a large red blossom. Drawing the motif of the lovers’ graves from folklore (and perhaps Wuthering Heights as well as the poem by Marie de France, “Chevrefoil,” meaning “honeysuckle,” referring to the vine that grows up intertwining the graves of Tristan and Iseult), the cactus-flower symbolizes the lovers’ souls have become mingled in death. Some years later, in John Ford’s magnificent The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), the film’s central symbol is the cactus rose, the John Wayne character’s favorite flower, an image of “wild civility” (Herrick).

A Bouquet Of Flower Songs:
Eddy Arnold – Big Bouquet of Roses
Patsy Cline – A Poor Man’s Roses
The Cowsills – The Rain, the Park & Other Things
Vic Dana – Red Roses For A Blue Lady
Elvis – Drums of the Islands
The Four Seasons – Watch The Flowers Grow
Ian Hunter – Flowers
The Kingston Trio – Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
Scott McKenzie – San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)
Mountain – Flowers of Evil
Neutral Milk Hotel – King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1
Phil Ochs – Flower Lady
Tom Petty – Wildflowers
Johnny Rivers – Mountain of Love
The Rolling Stones – Dead Flowers
Spanky and Our Gang – Lazy Day
The Statler Brothers – Flowers On The Wall
Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond – You Don’t Bring Me Flowers
Talking Heads – (Nothing But) Flowers
XTC – Summer’s Cauldron

1 comment:

Carlos Thomaz said...

A pity you don't understand portuguese, there's a samba called 'As Rosas não falam' (Roses don't speak) that would fit perfectly your article.