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


2 Responses

Karen Joslin
Karen Joslin

May 01, 2020

Hi, Andy, thanks for your comment.

Yes, it seems like most people want to extend their lives at all costs, unless they’re suffering from a debilitating condition that makes life unbearable.

And of course, we value many things about life, from our loved ones to simple pleasures like enjoying a beautiful day outdoors.

I think people fear death because life is all we know. And it’s impossible for any of us to know what our experience of dying will be – quick or slow, painless or painful, peaceful or frightening. Or anything in between.

And then there’s the question of what happens to us after death. Is there an afterlife, and if so, is it at all like human conceptions (Heaven, Hell, Nirvana, etc.)? Are we reincarnated? Or is there simply nothingness? What if our beliefs influence our experience of death?

No matter what we feel or believe, none of us will really know until we make that final transition, and that great unknown can be a scary thing.


May 01, 2020

I agree, sadly though it seems the overwhelming majority of our species spend their whole lives doing anything they can to extend their lives.

Im guessing their end goal is immortality? I dont want to ask though for fear of having to listen to the answer.

Maybe a healthy mind cannot inhabit a healthy body.

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