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Contemplation upon Flowers'

Beryl Clarke, Contributor (YOUTH LINK)

The speaker in this poem begins by complimenting the subject,
flowers. So great is his admiration, that he uses the word 'gallant',
which is both an adjective and a noun as a verb. In this way, he
gives the word, strength and force in order to emphasise his
appreciation. In addition, he remarks that flowers are not
conceited; they do not think too highly of themselves. He declares
that he wishes that he could be like them on both counts, that is,
courageous and yet not stuck-up!
He then explains further when he says that when flowers emerge
and attract attention (with their beauty) they make no problems;
rather they quietly return to the earth, from which they came,
after they are seen. There is the suggestion at this point that the
flowers do not feel important for they know that the earth is the
source of their beauty (embroidered garments) and so growing,
blooming, fading, withering and then becoming a part of the earth
once again is taken as natural and create no cause for concern.

The speaker now comes to a point that seems very important to
him as he continues to contrast the flowers' attitude, this time to
death. For him, the flowers follow life's cyclical pattern cheerfully,
without any regret, while he yearns to remain youthful, never to
grow old, never to die, and not even to contemplate the fact that
death exists.
And, so he next appeals for a lesson.

He wants to learn how not to fear death because he realises that

he cannot escape from death; he calls it 'my bed of earth'. His

desire is to get to a position where he can smile at death, where

he can make an agreement with death. Do you see the
significance of that statement? In order to do so you must know
the meaning of the word 'truce'.
Look it up and you will find that it means 'a temporary agreement
to cease hostilities'. This, therefore, tells us that he feels that he is
at war with death and is uncomfortable about it. Why do you think
I say that? I do so because if he were not, he would not sound so
anxious to be like the flowers and would not be talking about a

In the last four lines, our speaker brings the flowers which he
respects face to face with death, which he fears. The influence of
the flowers is great, for here he sees them as displaying no fear.
They look good; they brighten up the funereal atmosphere and
make the place smell fragrant. We, Jamaicans would say, 'sweet'.
The flowers are dying, but they do fulfil their purpose anyway,
and this is the attitude the speaker wants to achieve. He wants to
be able to approach death as if he were approaching a friend,
sweetly and with confidence.

Take a close look at the poet's style. Consider, the rhyming

pattern, the run-on lines, the use of the colon, the conversational
tone, the couplet with which the poem ends and the fact that
there is only one full stop used in the whole poem. Please notice,
too, how the seasons are used as symbols. Is there any
personification? Has this lesson assisted in your understanding of
this work? I would really like to think that it has. By the way, does
it surprise you that a bishop wrote this?


The persona wishes that he could be as brave as the flowers, who
know who they owe their life to - the earth. They know their place
and obey the order, or cycle, of life and death. The persona
wishes that he could be this way because he is the opposite, he
wants to live forever. The persona wants the flowers to teach him
NOT to fear death, but to accept it.

Stanza 1, line: The persona is wishing that he could be as

brave as the flower. This implies that the persona does not
think that he is brave, but a coward in the face of death.
Stanza 2, line 14: This is another comparison between the
persona and the plant. The persona wishes that he could
look death in the face and be cheerful, like the plant. Again,
this emphasizes that he lacks.
This phrase is a replacement for the word death. It softens death
and makes it appear welcoming and pleasant.
It is ironic that the flowers look so fresh and alive when it is facing
its very mortality, on the top of a casket. Death is a sad affair, and
the flowers are at their best when ushering people back to the

The persona is speaking directly to flowers and giving them

human qualities, therefore, the whole poem is an example of the
use of a type of personification called APOSTROPHE. He goes as
far as to ask the flower to teach him things that will make him be
like it.
5. 'galant'
This word literally means brave or heroic. The word, however, also
brings to mind adjectives such as charming and attentive, like a
knight would be in olden days. So the plants are not simply brave
in their acceptance of death, but they are also gracious.
5. 'harmless show'
The word harmless sticks out in this phrase because it implies
that the flowers are demure and quiet in their beauty.
6. 'bier'
This is a movable frame on which a coffin or a corpse is placed
before burial or cremation, or on which they are carried to the
7. 'teach me that my breath like yours may sweeten and perfume
my death'
This implies that if death is not feared, then the person will go
into deaths arms joyfully, without any sorrow, remorse or
The tone of the poem is admiration, because the persona literally
admires the flowers for its accepting attitude towards death.
The mood, or atmosphere of the poem is a pensive one. The

persona is thinking about death, how he relates to it versus how

others relate to it.

A contrast in this poem is the persona's fear of death, versus the
flowers' acceptance of it.
Death is the overwhelming theme in this poem. The persona
admires the way in which the flowers deal with death and wish to
emulate it. Death is a very scary prospect for the persona.

Answer these Questions

1. What do you think is the theme of the poem?

2. Select the qualities in the flowers that the poet admires.

3. What does the expression that I could gallant it like you


4. Embroidered garments suggest

(a) The flowers are very beautiful
(b) Even the most beautiful are subject to death
(c) Nature produces colourful things
(d) The petals of the flowers are adorned with a pattern

5. Why does the poet wish his life would be always spring?

6. What two lessons can the flowers teach the poet?

7. What makes it difficult for the poet to accept death?

8. The word which best describes the mood of the poet is

(a) Joyful (b) sorrowful (c) pensive (d) angry