The Earth Laughs in Flowers

Emerson

I was perusing Pinterest and came across this cross stitch design. It’s awfully pretty. The design makes you think the Earth is putting out flowers in joy, metaphorically, like humans laugh. But I can’t help but think that the designer didn’t read the Emerson poem that contains these words because the meaning of the poem is anything but. I’ll share the poem it its entirety below, but here is part of the poem that contains the quote:

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.

Perhaps if the design also included some memento mori-esque skulls, a burning candle, and/or an hour glass along with the flowers, it would evoke the poem’s message. It’s about how humans think we own the earth, but we don’t — we die. As the Earth song sings — How am I theirs/If they cannot hold me/But I hold them?

I do not want to single out this maker – do a google images search on this quote and your head will spin when you see field of happy flowers after field of happy flowers illustrating this quote.

As I implored with my Hamlet, To Thine Own Self Be True post, read. Please read. If you see a quote that interests you, look it up. Read the poem, play, essay, speech, or other source it comes from. Then, and only then decide if you want to paint it on your wall, embroider it on a sampler, or, dear me, tattoo it on your body. Honor its meaning, and not what you might think the five word excerpt means out of context.

Speaking of context, here is Emerson’s Hamatreya. It’s amazing and moving and so, so much more than a photograph of a field of flowers with a tired script font overlay.

Hamatreya

BY RALPH WALDO EMERSON

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 say:—

EARTH-SONG

“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,
Forevermore.

“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.

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2 comments

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings

    So true – people are desperate for little soundbites nowadays and don’t bother to read or understand the whole. Thank you for reprinting these here!

  2. KerryCan

    Excellent, just excellent, point! Although I’ve been guilty, at times, of the laziness of using pretty quotes, I so agree with what you’ve written. It seems to me there’s a trend right now, more than normal, of plunking some deep-sounding words over a moody photo and calling it philosophy. Tsk.

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