Opening The Drawer Of Violets
“Earth laughs in flowers.” - Much like Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “Hamatreya”, I have to say that taking the earth as an example I’ve taken a long inquisitive journey inside my being and I made up my minded to call upon the power of flowers, hoping that I would one day “laugh in flowers” too. And since there is a well grounded saying which states that one should “never put off till tomorrow what he can do today”, then I said to myself “Lady, what’s the use of keeping postponing things? Why not declare this very day a day of laughter and feast along with flowers?”
Those of you who decided to take a look outside their window and managed to notice the presence of snow and feel the sharp freezing wind touching their skin must probably welcome all my “enthusiasm” related to flowers by shrugging their shoulders and wondering how exactly will I be able to do all this, I have prepared a single answer: “By writing about them, kind sir and dear lady.” I’ve started it yesterday and I shall continue it today. After all I only need to grant permission from myself and once I’ve obtained it look for some divine inspiration that shall come down over me.
Forgive my babbling, but it is Saturday afternoon here and the tricky hand of sleep, therefore inaction, increased its efforts to grab me under its omen strike. This is just the reason why I shall now bristle up and try to regain control over my being. Laughter is laughter, flowers are flowers and I continue to be myself, in this case a person meaning to write about violets.
“Such a starved bank of moss Till, that May-morn, / Blue ran the flash across; / Violets were born!” – Robert Browning was the one who wrote these lines and I shall continue by saying that the birth of violets supposedly goes back to the year 500 BC when Greeks started cultivating them and thus spreading their beauty they started to become quite popular among flowers, wrapping their name in a whole captivating history which only needs to be unwrapped to catch one under their spell. And as far as evidences come to prove it there were quite a few distinctive characters, coming either from the world of politics, music, poetry, painting and many such more artistic domains that have been irrevocably conquered by their beauty and delicacy.
I guess most of you have come across one such flower and as such already know that violets happen to be rather small plants, reaching such heights as the “incredible” six inches one. The leaves were designed to take the shape of a heart and science has come to tell us that there have been discovered three common varieties of violet, namely the sweet violet, the wood violet and the so called dog violet. They all bloom either in early spring or later on, and when it comes to the sweet violets they are said to be spreading one of the strongest fragrances.
Violets are for sure to be considered flowers rather dual in their nature, mainly because of the meanings they have been assigned or better said they have been invested with along the time. When looking at the very violet flower you would not say unless you’ve heard it or read it somewhere previously that this flower happens to have been labeled as a symbol of imagination, spirituality and even peace and surprisingly enough even though this is not what the violet recalls to my mind, it is believed that they are to be envisaged as some sort of an emblem of sadness and mourning. I’d simply envisage them as a symbol of beauty, fragility and say that they should nevertheless be added to the list of flowers that carry along with them a pretty interesting story or better say hi-story.
And as a flower speaks volumes or fragrances and stories, so does the name of violet in the world of flowers. It speaks of faithfulness, promise, commitment, modesty, humility, candor and innocence. And it may as well speak of whatever you wish it to make it speak for you. Artists coming from various fields have used it to bring inspiration to them and it certainly managed to help poets cover whole pages talking about its beauty or it helped painters portray it in their paintings and even composers to sing its beauty. Da Vinci is said to have depicted violets in his painting entitled “Madonna Benois”, investing the flower with a meaning of humility, Giovanni Paolo did just about the same thing in his painting entitled “Madonna of Humility” and so probably did many artists who decided to sketch it down for eternity. As for the musical field, rumors say that the very Frederic Chopin inspired himself in his works from the land of flowers and of course he did not ignore violets in his artistic endeavors. How could he do this, meaning ignore them or pass by them without paying any attention to them, when one simply gets struck at the simple sight of their incredible beauty and delicacy? You may as well say that it all comes down to a matter of taste. I couldn’t agree more to you, yet I tend to think that nature has placed a grain of beauty in each and every flower that is to be encountered on this planet.
Therefore, violets have not been excluded from all this beauty favor as I may call it, have they? No matter the choice one makes in matters of flowers, when referring to the violet flowers one cannot but recall in his mind the myths surrounding its birth. I find them captivating and nevertheless interesting and as such there is no possible way I could fail sharing them to you too. If you happen to be a so called violet fan then there is possibly no secret left unfolded to you, yet if you are not to be included among what people generally call “connoisseurs” then you would surely find the furthering details captivating and equally interesting. If you approach the Greek side, trying to unwrap the legends surrounding the name of violets then you’d discover that the Greek word for violet is “io”. And going deep into this matter you’d see that this Io played its own role in Greek mythology, being the daughter of King Argos and one of the many sweethearts of the rather fond Zeus. The story tells that being preoccupied to hide this secret affair from Hera, Zeus transformed Io into a heifer and afterwards being equally concerned about her culinary needs he created the sweet scented flowers, flowers which we all came to know today under the name of violets.
When it comes to myths and violets I prefer the Greek legend accounting for their birth but I find the Roman myth equally interesting. This one involves some very beautiful maids who happened to be lucky or perhaps unlucky to be judged by Cupid as being more beautiful than the very Venus. Such an audacity could not but inflame Venus and once she got angry there was nothing that could stop her from beating the maidens until they were vivid carriers of the blue color and as such there was but one step left until they turned into violets. Interesting stories as there happens to be the flower finding itself included in them, don’t you think so?
It all went further on and violets reached a certain point when they came to be associated with the ancient city of Athens. When referring to Athens the Greek dramatist Aristophanes made use of such words as “violet-crowned city”, probably referring as it was later on believed to the name of the king who was crowned there at that time “ion” and the coincidence with the name these flowers carried. I found it written somewhere that the name “viola” is in fact “a corruption of “Ion”, a name which came to be further on extended to some other plants as well. Yet, I guess there is one single unique violet flower which most of us have come to know and wither like it, love it or dislike it or hate it.
Violets certainly had its fans across the time. It is even said that Napoleon declared himself a devout fan of the violet and that Josephine, his wife, apart from her love for roses she also happened to like violets too. As such, Josephine chose to wear some violets at their wedding and things did not stop here as even though people may not be able to deem any romantic side in Napoleon, evidences come to prove that he kept well hidden this more poetic side of his. Did you know for example that Napoleon used to send Josephine a bouquet of violets on every wedding anniversary? It is even said that before leaving for his exile in St. Helena he wanted to pay a last tribute to his beloved wife and asked to be allowed to visit Josephine’s tomb. There, he picked the violets from her grave as if wanting to remember her forever and carry her presence into his death as well. As such, it comes as no surprise when hearing that Napoleon came to be nicknamed “Corporal Violet”, mainly because he certainly happened to love or at least have a weakness for violets, an affinity which he certainly was not afraid to hide and openly expressed.
“Aimez vous les violettes?” or else « Do you love violets? » – This came to be at a certain point the question on the lips of the women who started selling violets on the streets of Paris, in the very moment when Napoleon was believed to have landed at Frejus. Behind these words, there was some sort of a secret code and as such there happened to be as well a right answer. Therefore, the name of violets came to also be associated with secrecy and coded language.
I guess you have already heard about the rather famous Parma violet. It is this violet that provided to the world one of the much sought scented fragrances, at a time when the demand for essence of violets proved to be far greater than the poor manufacturers could supply for. Therefore we could say that in the whole history of violets there existed a moment when their name was on everyone’s lips, not to mention here their scent which was no doubt whatsoever highly appreciated and devoured. The scent of violets has often been described as evanescent, elusive and at the same time fleeting but perhaps the best description is to be offered by Shakespeare himself who once talked about it making use of the following words: “Forward, not permanent; sweet, not lasting. / The perfume and suppliance of a minute.”
How could one forget the lines once written by Byron who said that “The sweetness of the violet’s deep blue eyes, / Kissed by the breath of heaven, / Seems color’d by its skies.”? You may be acquainted to the already grounded lines which say that “Roses are red / Violets are blue / Sugar is sweet and so are you.”, yet strangely enough the flower of the purple violet is often viewed or better said remarked for its “azure tint”. In point of fact, the flower which came to be known under the name of violet due to its purple color may equally display a palette of nuances ranging from the rather washed out lavender tone to the dusty indigo. Therefore, if you happen to hear anyone talking about a rather azure violet then be sure that the purple color took a vacation and came to be replaced by “the color of the skies” as the poet would say.
And since I mentioned poets I could not fail to mention the famous composer Frederic Chopin who came to be known for his music, for the rather special relation he had with George Sand, the famous novelist who is said to have been one of the few persons who understood him and of course later on for the violets that accompanied him in death being spread on his grave by his piano student Jane Sterling. Therefore, it could be said that violets certainly played their part in the artistic life. After all it could be said that beauty calls for more beauty and that special works call for special elements such as flowers, including here the delicate violet flower.
This flower was regarded as the symbol of affection and mourning in ancient Rome and there was even talk about a Festival of Violets, occasion to which people simply covered tombs under what resembled a blanket of violets. When was this festival celebrated? The answer to this question brings into discussion the month of March. In the Middle Ages, violets became the symbol of faithfulness in love. I even managed to read somewhere that when offering as a gift to someone, in this case the loved one a bouquet of violets, this bouquet could be envisaged as a mixture of “a song sung and a lyric whistled through the magic wand of Nature.” And since I mentioned such things as faithfulness I cannot fail to quote a very well known proverb which states that “Violet is for faithfulness, / Which in me shall abide, / Hoping likewise that from your heart / You will not let it hide.” Therefore it could be said that violets are to be envisaged as some sort of epitomes of constancy and togetherness.
Some people there did not avoid mentioning a so called “mauve dream” brought over by the presence of violets into our lives. And by saying this I can make use of John Moultrie’s lines which makes reference to the all prevailing by now violet “sweet as the roses and blue as the sky, / Down there to the dear little violets lie; / Hiding their heads where they scarce may be seen, / By the leaves you may know where the violet hath been”. We could conclude it all and bring over the following rather common saying: “Dream of violets and advance in life.”
Apart from their evident beauty, violets have been assigned culinary and medicinal uses as well. Surprisingly or not, violets have been used in syrups, creams and even teas that one could introduce in his daily routine in order to treat coughs, lung disorders or colds and even insomnias. If you find yourself haunted by the passion for beautiful things and wish to surround yourself with them then most surely you’d love to adorn cakes or any other sweet pastry with this purple little flower. The petals and even the leaves of this flower could be used to enrich the taste of salads and provide irresistible flavors to other dishes as well. Therefore it could all be paraphrased all by saying that “On the page or on the sheet a sweeter flower you’ll never meet.”
Are you looking to discover a new aphrodisiac meant to impress the loved one? Do you feel like intoxicating yourself with the beauty of violets? Do you wish to ward off some dizzy spells or bothering headaches? You can do all these things by simply making use of some violets. In case you did not know the ancient Greeks considered the Violet to be a symbol of fertility and love as such being used as a main ingredient in some love potions. I have to admit that I do not know if these love potions had the expected result or not, yet I can suppose that they must have had some effect since people continued to use them for such purposes. Either horizontally or vertically love carries the same name, from time immemorial if I may say so. As for the unbearable or bothering headaches and dizziness, Pliny was the one who recommended the use of a garland of violets; this garland should have been worn above the head as some sort of a crown…therefore we could say that one needed to crown himself just to regain health and good spirits. Am I babbling nonsense here? If I am forgive me and understand that I spent almost the entire day digging for words in my head that would better define violets.
And just to wrap it all in delicacy and poetry as I tend to think that these two came to characterize violets to a large extent I shall now leave place to Shakespeare’s words: “If music be the food of love, play on; / Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken, and so die. / That straight again! I had a dying fall: / O’it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound / That breathes upon a bank of violets, / Stealing and giving odour!” (Twelfth Night)11