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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Earth laughs in flowers?

Patricia Youngquist uses words and images to tell stories about her passions. Based in New York, she currently is authoring a series of nature books on birds of the city. Now in Apple’s iBooks store @

Even now, as we are in the first week of the end of December, in New York City, where I live and have a terrace garden, my Tropaelum majus's (Nasturtium) flowers (in the image to the right) are still going strong; and they were in a particularly whimsical mood yesterday morning (when I took this picture), inspite of the torrents of chilly rainfall that we were experiencing. 

These red and yellow flowers like my "famous" no-slave-to-fashion herb, the White Swan Echinacea, and my CoCo Chanel loving ornamental grass varieties, Ophipogon planiscapus (Black Mondo Grass), which also grow in my garden, were joking about "rules" regarding what was fashionable, what was in style, and what was passé, when the Hamatreya skirt (pictured below, image credit is here) came up in their conversation.

The Hamatreya skirt has the same name as a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which has a line in it that is often (mistakenly) attributed to e.e. cummings, and the aforementioned line is this: "Earth laughs in flowers".
This quote has been appliquéd to mugs, plaques, and decorative stones for many, many years, in an effort to market it as a happy-fluff quote, which I suppose it can be when it stands alone; however, in the context of the full poem, Hamatreya, that could not be farther from the truth, and that is what my Tropaelum magus's flowers were discussing yesterday as they recited the poem in full as posted below.

      Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
      Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
      Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood.
      Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm,
      Saying, "'Tis mine, my children's and my name's. 
      How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees!
      How graceful climb those shadows on my hill!
      I fancy these pure waters and the flags
      Know me, as does my dog: we sympathize;
      And, I affirm, my actions smack of the soil.'
      Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds:
      And strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough.
      Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
      Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
     Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
     Clear of the grave.
     They added ridge to valley, brook to pond,
And sighed for all that bounded their domain;
'This suits me for a pasture; that's my park;
We must have clay, lime, gravel, granite-ledge,
And misty lowland, where to go for peat.
The land is well,--lies fairly to the south.
'Tis good, when you have crossed the sea and back,
To find the sitfast acres where you left them.'
Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth says:--


'Mine and yours;
Mine, not yours, Earth endures;
Stars abide--
Shine down in the old sea;
Old are the shores;
But where are old men?
I who have seen much,
Such have I never seen.

'The lawyer's deed
Ran sure,
In tail,
To them, and to their heirs
Who shall succeed,
Without fail,

'Here is the land,
Shaggy with wood,
With its old valley,
Mound and flood.
"But the heritors?--
Fled like the flood's foam.
The lawyer, and the laws,
And the kingdom,
Clean swept herefrom.

'They called me theirs,
Who so controlled me;
Yet every one
Wished to stay, and is gone,
How am I theirs,
If they cannot hold me,
But I hold them?'

When I heard the Earth-song,
I was no longer brave;
My avarice cooled
Like lust in the chill of the grave.
Hearing the poem in its entirety prompted a big discussion among the things which I grow in my terrace garden; and now, dear reader, upon my having heard my Tropaelum magus's thoughts on this poem, I'd like to hear yours.


  1. Good for you! I began running across the sound bite "Earth laughs in flowers" on various websites last year. Like you, I tracked down the source and was intrigued to find that those words in the original had a very different sense from the one that they seem to convey in isolation. That's the Internet: someone puts something up that's either incorrect or misleading, and hundreds of people copy it with no attempt to verify its validity, even in cases where the original is easy to find.

  2. Hi, Steve, thanks for taking the time to visit TLLG on Blogger and for your thoughtful comment. The things I grow in my urban (NYC) container garden and I truly appreciate it!

    As for the "earth laughs in flowers," quote, well . . . you know what "they" say about having the last laugh . . .


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