The Flower by Alfred Lord Tennyson
“The Flower” is a poem written by one of the greatest English poets of the Victorian period, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He was the longest-serving Poet Laureate ever; he held the title from 1850-1892. Tennyson’s poetry is as versatile as extensive; he had an extremely fruitful and long literary career. His works show extreme depth and richness in style and themes. He is best known for his mastery over lyrical poetry of varying lengths and his ability to weave the form with others.
“The Flower” was first published in 1842. It deals with the idea of achievement and denigration, how society often criticizes those who create beautiful things and belittles their efforts. Tennyson extends the flower metaphor throughout the whole poem, comparing the idea of growing a flower to a personal act of creation, discovery, and writing.
- Read the full text of “The Flower” below:
The Flower by Alfred Lord Tennyson Once in a golden hour I cast to earth a seed. Up there came a flower, The people said, a weed. To and fro they went Thro' my garden bower, And muttering discontent Cursed me and my flower. Then it grew so tall It wore a crown of light, But thieves from o'er the wall Stole the seed by night. Sow'd it far and wide By every town and tower, Till all the people cried, "Splendid is the flower!" Read my little fable: He that runs may read. Most can raise the flowers now, For all have got the seed. And some are pretty enough, And some are poor indeed; And now again the people Call it but a weed.
In “The Flower,” Tennyson uses an extremely simple yet effective comparison to point out the value of individual effort in a materialistic, excessively critical society. Through the image of planting and tending to a flower, he says how people will scorn individuals who work hard to create art just because they don’t realize its true beauty. The speaker in the poem says he planted a seed in the ground, which grew to be a flower, and people called it a mere “weed”. They kept deliberately criticizing his beautiful creation every time they went around his garden, muttering to themselves in scornful resentment.
Then, as the flower grew taller and more beautiful as if it were wearing a “crown of light,” some thieves stole his seed and planted it everywhere. These stolen seeds, when they became flowers, were met with praise and renown by the same people who criticized the parent flower. The speaker says that everyone can recreate the beauty of the flower now because they possess the seed (idea) that was originally his.
However, Tennyson points out the flighty, transient nature of popularity in society through the ending. Now that everyone can access the seed, it has become a common phenomenon. The flower has lost its uniqueness, and therefore, the very people who marveled at it for a fleeting moment now go back to calling it a “weed.” Artists can never receive or expect complete praise for what they have created. Their art is subject to the judgment and criticism of all the people who witness it.
Form, Rhyme Scheme, & Meter
Tennyson’s “The Flower” is a lyric poem narrated in the form of a “little fable”. Tennyson uses a straightforward premise to communicate a deep, resounding parallel to reality. He writes the poem in the first-person point of view, and it appears as if Tennyson could be the speaker himself. He talks of public renown and praise as fleeting and unpredictable, and these are ideas that closely relate to Tennyson’s own life as a poet and the Poet Laureate of the UK.
The poem consists of a total of six quatrains, stanzas having four rhyming lines each. Its meter is rhythmic and somewhat adds consistency to the poem; however, Tennyson introduces some variations and shifts in between to break the flow of the perfect metrical pattern. He does this to an otherwise perfect rhyme pattern, too; the last two stanzas deviate from the overall rhyme scheme of the poem.
Tennyson contrasts the metrical deviations by maintaining a consistent rhyme scheme throughout, except in the last two stanzas of the poem. The rhyme scheme of the first four stanzas is ABAB. However, in the last two stanzas, it changes to ABCB. It means in the first four quatrains, the first and third and the second and fourth lines rhyme, respectively. In the rest of the stanzas, only the second and fourth lines rhyme. The rhyming pair of words from each stanza are mentioned below:
- Stanza One: “hour” and “flower”; “seed” and “weed”
- Stanza Two: “went” and discontent”; “bower” and “flower”
- Stanza Three: “tall” and “wall”; “light” and “night”
- Stanza Four: “wide” and “cried”; “tower” and “flower”
- Stanza Five: “read” and “seed”
- Stanza Six: “indeed” and “weed”
Tennyson writes “The Flower” in iambic trimeter. He uses a combination of iambs (unstressed-stressed) and acephalous feet (a stressed syllable lacking another syllable at the beginning) throughout the poem. However, the combination differs in the very first line, which begins with a trochee (stressed-unstressed). By using different metrical feet while keeping the primary scheme intact, Tennyson creates a beautiful flow in the poem.
The lines differ in length too. For the most part, Tennyson uses 5 and 6 syllable lines in differing combinations throughout the stanzas. Most of the lines are in iambic trimeter, consisting of three iambic feet. However, he also places occasional stray 7 syllable lines in stanzas five and six to break the sound pattern a bit, as these sections contain the main idea of the overall poem.
Tennyson was known to be the master of perfect rhetorical versification, so the fact that he introduces these wee deviations is essential. Perhaps the unpredictable twists in the meter allude to the shifty, unpredictable critiques of society to art and innovations undertaken painstakingly, which is the central theme of the poem. Let’s have a look at the scansion of the poem that would give make the reading more interesting:
Once in/ a gol/-den hour
I cast/ to earth/ a seed.
Up/ there came/ a flow(e)r,
The peo/-ple said,/ a weed.
To/ and fro/ they went
Thro’/ my gar/-den bow(e)r,
And mutt/-(e)ring dis/-con-tent
Cursed/ me and/ my flower.
Then/ it grew/ so tall
It wore/ a crown/ of light,
But thieves/ from o’er/ the wall
Stole/ the seed/ by night.
Sow’d/ it far/ and wide
By eve/-ry town/ and tow(e)r,
Till all/ the peo/-ple cried,
“Splen/-did is/ the flow(e)r!”
Read/ my lit/-tle fable:
He/ that runs/ may read.
Most/ can raise/ the flow/-ers now,
For all/ have got/ the seed.
And some/ are pret/-ty e-nough,
And some/ are poor/ in-deed;
And now/ a-gain/ the people
Call/ it but/ a weed.
Poetic Devices & Figurative Language
In “The Flower,” Tennyson uses the following poetic devices:
This is the most important poetic device in this poem. Tennyson uses an extended metaphor by comparing the act of growing a flower to the idea of creating art, writing poetry, or some invention.
- Firstly, he compares a novel idea to a “seed,” cast to earth in a “golden hour,” a metaphor for one’s prime or most productive years. Whereas “weed” (in the first stanza) stands for a change in people’s thought patterns or a theory still in the testing and validation phase.
- In the second stanza, “flower” is an extended metaphor for the speaker’s work. It associates a number of ideas that include but are not limited to poetry, scientific theory, and discovery. It’s simply a manifestation of any novel idea or “seed”.
- In the third stanza, “crown of light” is a metaphorical reference to worldwide acceptance, validation, and the associated glory. Crown is compared to “light,” a conventional symbol of awareness and knowledge.
- In the last stanza, the “weed” serves a different purpose. It is an extended metaphor for an outdated idea that once stunned the world. As the world progresses, new ideas, inventions, and discoveries take place. Thus, the old “flower” which compelled others to move in a specific direction is rejected after discovering a new “seed” of a better flower.
The repetition of similar sounds at the beginning of neighboring words can be seen in the following lines:
- “Cursed me and my flower.”
- “Stole the seed by night.”
- “By every town and tower,/ Till all the people cried,”
- “He that runs may read.”
It’s the recurrence of the same consonant sound in a specific line. It can be seen through the following lines:
- “I cast to earth a seed.”
- “Up there came a flower,/ The people said, a weed.”
- “And muttering discontent”
- “Then it grew so tall/ It wore a crown of light,”
- “Read my little fable:”
- “He that runs may read./ Most can raise the flowers now,”
This device is used in the first three lines of the last stanza for the sake of emphasis. The first two lines begin with the phrase “And some are,” and the third one only contains “And” at the beginning.
And some are pretty enough,
And some are poor indeed;
And now again the people
Tennyson uses personification in the poem to endow the flower with human qualities. This can be seen in “Then it grew so tall/ It wore a crown of light” and “Most can raise the flowers now.”
Inversion or Hyperbaton
The poet uses inversion for the sake of the metrical flow and rhyme scheme. It is also used to make his ideas sound more enticing. Let’s have a look at some instances where it occurs:
- “I cast to earth a seed.”
- “Up there came a flower,”
- “Splendid is the flower!” (An example of a rhetorical exclamation as well)
Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation
Once in a golden hour
I cast to earth a seed.
Up there came a flower,
The people said, a weed.
In the first stanza of “The Flower,” Tennyson lays down the basic premise in a climactic sequence. The speaker’s act of sowing a seed and its transformation into a full-grown flower can be equated with the inception of a work of art, the vigorous toil that needs to be put into creating a piece of art. Tennyson’s persona took a seed, a raw blueprint, and transformed it into a full flower with care and tenderness.
However, the last line reveals how people’s reactions to this “flower” of the speaker’s labor are entirely contrary to expectations: “The people said, a weed.” This shows the sad reality of creating something beautiful/novel in a materialistic world. People who witness it neglect entirely the hard work and sweat that has gone into its making. They rather find it acceptable to slander and ridicule artists’/inventors’ work by dubbing it as trivial and ordinary, “a weed.”
To and fro they went
Thro’ my garden bower,
And muttering discontent
Cursed me and my flower.
The second quatrain continues the narrative further; the speaker further explains how society reacts to his creation. He says that the people who disregarded his work have now gone to at lengths marching up and down his garden and commenting on the flower as well as the speaker. This highlights the amount of negativity and jealousy that society harbors towards individuals who actually put their work out into the world. The fact that these people seem to hate the speaker’s creation so much that they don’t just ignore him but also overlook the novelty or value of his creation.
They instead find it necessary to keep looking at the flower and then comment on how much they dislike it. That attitude is very telling of the kind of ignorance they nurture. It is evident that their hatred for the speaker and his work stems from innate jealousy and lack of knowledge – because the speaker was first to discover the flower, and they weren’t the ones to find it first.
This reveals how humans react to each other’s achievements in real life – rather than helping each other grow and celebrating mutual successes, people resort to cursing and denigrating the creations they themselves failed to nurture. They only consider their own way of doing things to be of importance and value.
Then it grew so tall
It wore a crown of light,
But thieves from o’er the wall
Stole the seed by night.
In the third stanza, the speaker says that his creation that people scorned and cursed at has grown even taller and more beautiful. This points out that the beauty and value of art are independent of people’s notions of its worth. Even though people called the speaker’s flower ordinary and trivial, their comments did not prevent it from reaching its full potential. The line, “Then it grew so tall/ It wore a crown of light,” – highlights the fact that the flower has now reached full bloom and beauty.
The external world may have a million negative things to say about something born out of relentless efforts; it does not have the power to negate the inherent worth of art. Art will remain beautiful and continue to grow despite the hurdles and harshness it is subject to. As long as the artist considers it to be of value, that is all it needs to be considered beautiful.
However, the speaker then says in the next two lines that some “thieves” have now stolen the seed of the beautiful flower. It is important to note that the “seed” has been stolen, and not the flower itself. This shows that the people have taken away the root, the genesis of the speaker’s creation. They will now recreate his idea and pass it off as their own; which would take away its novelty. The fact that these thieves could be a part of those very people who previously criticized the speaker shows how deep the roots of jealousy and hatred permeate. The hypocritical society concerned only with greed and self-aggrandization does not care for the harm it inflicts upon others, as long as it obtains material benefit.
Sow’d it far and wide
By every town and tower,
Till all the people cried,
“Splendid is the flower!”
The fourth quatrain provides some respite from the mystery built up in the previous lines. Tennyson takes the story-like feel of the poem ahead and moves the action from the speaker’s small garden to the external world. The speaker says that the people who stole his seed (which is a metaphor for an idea) have blatantly started growing the same flower in their own gardens and all over “town and tower.” Here, “town” is a metonym for ordinary people, and “tower” stands for those who are in powerful positions in society. It shows how the idea is accepted not at the ground level but also at the official level without giving due credit to the prime mover.
Tennyson brings out irony through the lines, “Till all the people cried/ Splendid is the flower!” The very same individuals who scoffed at the speaker’s work and did not consider his “flower” to be anything unique; now praise and marvel at the same flower when it has been dishonestly replicated. Tennyson tries to point out that the world never values sincere originality and beauty; rather, it erroneously rewards thievery and plagiarism. He also tries to highlight that no matter what toils one laboriously undertakes, to expect credit and praise from others will only lead to disappointment. People’s reactions and opinions are often unfavorable, unfair, and unpredictable.
Read my little fable:
He that runs may read.
Most can raise the flowers now,
For all have got the seed.
The fifth stanza deviates a little from the previous ones, as Tennyson breaks the fourth wall between himself and the readers to enhance the parallel of the poem to real life. He personalizes the “fable” that the poem talks about and expands on the notion of the “idea” being the “seed” of all creation. He says that every single person who now has access to the flower’s seed, since it has been stolen, can replicate and keep growing flowers that will be just as beautiful as the one the speaker originally grew.
The fame and credit of hard work will never belong to the person who first possessed the seed, the idea; rather, it is the people who have tricked and robbed the speaker of his due praise who will continue to bask in false glory. Also, the fact that the unconventionality and creativity of the idea are now lost due to its rapid replication is what Tennyson draws attention to. While everyone reaps the benefit of the inventor’s efforts, they also take away the originality and make their own criticism come true – the art is now as run-of-the-mill as any other since everyone can replicate it.
And some are pretty enough,
And some are poor indeed;
And now again the people
Call it but a weed.
In the last stanza of “The Flower,” Tennyson goes back to the idea introduced at the beginning. The poem thus moves in a circular manner, which enhances the idea of repetition and replication. However, in these lines, he yet again blurs the lines of fiction and reality. As he does not bring the readers explicitly back to the story, it can be assumed that Tennyson is himself vouching as a poet and an artist, rather than merely the speaker of the poem.
These lines suggest that while the speaker’s original idea has been replicated and multiplied the number of times, all the results aren’t the same; “some are pretty enough/ And some are poor indeed.” This statement points out that art isn’t merely a formula to be followed. The speaker’s “flower” was the epitome of creativity because it was original, but also because he cared enough to put his heart and soul into nurturing it. In contrast, the others who recreated the “seed” focused primarily on credit and acclaim. Hence, this highlights art as a deeply personal and creative endeavor that doesn’t operate on a fixed method.
The last stanza also points out how fleeting praise and renown are in a society that operates on negativity at the core. The people who criticized the speaker in the beginning now go back to doing that with the others too. Now that the novelty and initial wonder of the product are lost, people find it common and trivial once again. It is ironic, however, to note that it is only now that this criticism seems to be valid. As people went on creating the flower, again and again, it indeed did lose its charm and originality. At the core, however, Tennyson tries to throw light on a society that is never satisfied with individual effort and instead finds joy in bitter criticism and unfair judgment.
About Alfred Lord Tennyson
Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a Victorian poet who is widely renowned as one of the best poets in the history of English literature. He had a long and versatile literary career, spanning almost his entire life. He published his first collection of poems while still studying at Cambridge in 1827; it was a collection of his and his brother’s poetry, Poems by Two Brothers. He wrote till the end of his life, and all his works are considered poetic masterpieces.
His most important and breakthrough work is widely considered to be “In Memoriam A.H.H.”, which is a collection of lyrical, elegiac poems written upon the death of Arthur Henry Hallam, whom Tennyson met at Cambridge. Hallam became an inseparable part of Tennyson’s life, and his death had such an effect on him that he was depressed for several years. He wrote this collection as a tribute to Hallam, as well as to make sense of his own life without his closest companion. The work also deals with the major Victorian dilemmas of the time and looks inward, delving deep into loss and longing. Queen Victoria was deeply moved by this collection and found strength in Tennyson’s verse after the passing of Prince Albert.
Tennyson was known for combining complex ideas in vivid, simple imagery. His works also contain a lot of allusions to mythology, especially the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. “Morte d’Arthur” and “The Lady of Shalott” are examples of his inclination towards the Arthurian legends. He also wrote a number of patriotic poetry during his tenure as the Poet Laureate of England. One of his best-known poems, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” is an instance of this.
Questions and Answers
“The Flower” is about the value of art in a society that often criticizes and belittles people’s efforts. Tennyson talks about personal achievement, creation, and art through the extended metaphor of a “flower.” The poem throws light on people’s innate hypocrisies and how the worth of art/creation does not depend upon external praise; rather, it depends upon its inherent beauty and value.
The extended metaphor most apparent in the poem is that of a “flower” grown by the speaker in his garden bower. It stands for art and creation and is representative of the effort artists/inventors put into their work. The other metaphor which is also important is that of the “seed,” which depicts the idea, or the root, that is the essence of any and all creative work. Last but not least, the “weed” is a metaphor for a novel work discarded and discouraged by society for their ignorance and jealousy.
This poem is not about any other flower; it’s about “the” flower, a metaphor for one’s novel work, creation, or art. Through the title, Tennyson glorifies the “art” before the “artist” who thought of creating at first hand. Besides, it’s also important to note the allegorical aspect of the poem. Tennyson would have titled the poem “The Seed” or “The Weed,” but it would not highlight the main idea of the poem; it concerns how a new work of art (its definition should not be restricted to a particular sphere) is discerned, later imitated/reproduced, and finally discarded. Tennyson’s fable revolves around this idea. Hence, he titled the poem “The Flower.”
The moral of the poem is how people fail to notice the real worth of a creator’s idea before witnessing it themselves. It shows the hypocrisy and ignorance of people unable to appreciate or acknowledge the inventor even if using their work.
The story of the flower is called a fable as Tennyson conveys a moral in the last two quatrains of the poem. He shows how imitation produces uneven results, and a new idea is discarded as “weed” after a new “seed” takes its place.
The poet had a seed long ago, which he sowed to earth in a golden hour. When it grew to a flower, people called it a “weed,” not knowing its worth. After some thieves stole it from his garden bower and strewed it across the town, people recognized how beautiful the flower was. Then, they started growing such flowers and later discarded them as “weed” once again when they came found another novel, “seed.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson is widely considered one of the greatest English poets of all time. He flourished during the Victorian era and was the longest-reigning Poet Laureate (1850-1892). His long career was as versatile as it was abundant, and he wrote many different kinds of lyrical poetry. His works such as “In Memoriam A.H.H.”, “The Lady of Shalott”, “Morte d’Arthur”, and “The Charge of the Light Brigade” are considered poetic masterpieces. The depth and poetic insight in his works have made him one of the most important poets to have ever existed.
Similar Poems with Life-changing Lessons
- “Flower on the Road” by Chitra Padmanabhan — It’s about two springtime flowers talking about which one is more significant than the other.
- “Friends and Flatterers” by William Shakespeare — In this poem, Shakespeare delineates how to know a genuine friend from a fair-weather friend.
- “Stay Calm” by Grenville Kleiser — This poem teaches us the art of staying calm and composed in the face of the unfair treatment of society.
- “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Guest — How does it feel when others question your worth? What to say to those who say you cannot achieve the thing you want the most? Guest provides answers to all such discouraging questions in this poem.
- What is a Fable? — Explore the central characteristics of a fable and some famous examples.
- Brief Biography of Alfred Lord Tennyson — Learn about the poet’s life and works.
- About Alfred Lord Tennyson — Read more about the poet and explore some of his best-known poems.
- The Rise and Fall of Tennyson — Learn how contemporary critics responded to Tennyson’s writing.
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