Saturday, February 13, 2010

Carnations and the language of flowers

click photo to enlarge
Flowers have been used symbolically throughout human history. The ancient Egyptians used the lotus flower (water lily) to represent Upper Egypt and the papyrus Lower Egypt. The ancient Greeks saw the daffodil as a symbol of death and imagined that Hades, the underworld and abode of the dead, was covered in them. In contrast the Romans saw roses as symbolic of death and rebirth, and planted them on graves. The early Christian religion used the lily as a symbol of purity and it can often be seen on Byzantine icons and in Renaissance paintings being handed to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel. It's a moot point whether members of the early Christain church appropriated this idea from the Greeks and Romans who linked the lily with their respective queens of the gods, Hera and Juno.

Early nineteenth century and Victorian writers such as Charlotte de la Tour (Le Langage des Fleurs, 1818), Kate Greenaway (The Language of Flowers, 1885) and John Ingram (Flora Symbolica, 1887) popularised the notion that many flowers can be used to convey meaning through the ideas associated with them. Thus, a woman receiving anemones from a man, on consulting one of the books about the "language of flowers", would read the gift as a tribute of unfading love (or forsaken, or sickness, depending on the tome referred to.) Orange lilies, however, were a symbol of the giver's pure hatred for you, though candytuft implied mere indifference.

With that in mind I wondered what the symbolism of the carnations that fill a vase in my house at the moment might be. In the language of flowers they mean fascination and devoted love (in general), I'll never forget you (if pink), admiration (red), alas for my poor heart (deep red), capriciousness (purple), no (striped), innocence (white), rejection (yellow). Phew, I thought, that's too complicated for me; the possibilites of pitfalls are much too great for me ever to take the language of flowers seriously. I mean, what might I be inadvertently saying with these white carnations edged with red? I could hand them over to my true love and receive a slap on the face for my pains without ever knowing why!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro, (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/15
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: +1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off