Earth Laughs in Flowers

by Karen Joslin April 18, 2019

Purple hydrangeas, color photograph with toy camera effect.

Note: I originally published this on my former blog/website. It's always been my most popular post, so I'm re-posting it here.

Recently, I saw this quote which has become a favorite of mine:

“The earth laughs in flowers.”

Though it’s often been attributed to e.e. cummings, it actually appears in Hamatreya, by Ralph Waldo Emerson. A slight misquote, its meaning taken out of context is quite different than in the poem. 

The full line in the poem reads:

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.

Out of context, it’s warm-and-fuzzy imagery.

In context, it’s an illustration of nature’s supremacy, mocking the arrogance of a humanity which thinks it holds dominion over Earth – an immortal force created long before we existed and which will remain long after we’re gone.

I find the quote more interesting with the nuances of meaning the poem presents, and I can’t help but wonder if Emerson would be dismayed to see it printed on coffee mugs as a happy pick-me-up.

And yet, I like it as a happy pick-me-up, too. For me, it’s an excellent reminder to live in the moment, to pay attention to fleeting instants of beauty, and to appreciate what I have when I have it. Because as Emerson points out, the nature of life is transitory. But unlike Emerson, I don’t look at death as something to be feared; I’d rather look at life as something to be celebrated.

Karen Joslin
Karen Joslin


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