Monday, April 14, 2008

Flower power

Strew on her roses, roses,
And never a spray of yew! ~~~ Matthew Arnold

I was on the subway today when I saw a man carrying a bunch of flowers. I'm shy with people I don't know, so rather than looking at the man, I looked at the flowers. There were two red rosebuds, partly open, and several sprigs of baby's breath.

I wondered who the recipient of the flowers was. A wife or girlfriend or date, or maybe a family member? Difficult to tell, because the bunch - can't really call it a bouquet - was so generic. Red roses and baby's breath go together like macaroni and cheese, costing perhaps a bit more but taking just as much time to think of and prepare. They're polite and impersonal and unfortunately dull.

If I were receiving roses, I'd want any color other than red - perhaps salmon-pink or a white that's slowly ripening into cream. Then again, my favorite flowers are dandelions, so I should be getting plenty of those soon.

Flowers in fiction need to be as well chosen as those in real life, which is why I like the red carnation motif in Judith Krantz's Mistral's Daughter . At least it wasn't a red rose. If the heroine receives "a bunch of flowers" (which she did in Tim LaHaye's and Jerry B. Jenkins's Tribulation Force), that won't be as vivid and interesting as

stems of Hawaiian Torch Ginger, three feet tall; their large heads were cones of petals with the sensuous texture of soft leather and the color of blood.
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Flowers can be as exotic as this, or as those in Anita Desai's The Village by the Sea, which describes blossoms of hibiscus mutabilis that are white in the morning, turn pink by midday and darken to a crimson knot by nightfall. But a thoughtful description will lift even a rose off the flat printed page.

Maybe the rose is one of those which are naturally thornless, or it has heart-shaped petals. An armful of daffodils will mean something different from a vase of calla lilies - to me, daffodils are cheerful trumpets sounding the first notes of spring, while lilies are cool and dignified... beautiful, but also churchish and solemn.

Have anthuriums or daisies or a bunch of paper origami flowers. Just don't be generic and forgettable.

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