Vedas of the Violet

True Brahmin, in the morning meadows wet,

Expound the Vedas of the violet

(from The Gardener, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Quatrains)

Violets have long held a reputation for inspiring finer feelings, often associated with the spirit of childhood and innocence. Culpeper introduces the flower as “a fine, pleasing plant… of a mild nature and in no way hurtful.” Gerard in his Herbal: “Yea, gardens themselves receive by these the greatest ornament of all, chiefest beauty, and most gallant grace; and the recreation of the mind which is taken here by, cannot be but very good and honest: for they admonish and stir up a man to that which is comely and honest.” For Tennyson, “The smell of violets, hidden in the grass, Poured back into my empty soul and frame, The times when I remember to have been, Joyful and free of blame.” Walter Scott’s lone violet, “Its life exhales in pure unconscious good.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s deep violets are compared to, “the kindest eyes that look on you, without a thought disloyal.” As with children, they inspire care. In Spring Violets, a poem written while living in a Northampton asylum, John Clare remembered finding hidden violets, reassuring them: “I’ll not pluck thee, sweet violets, in thy own sheltered bower.” Violets carry the message of the small but greatly good.

Main image: Viola odorata from Bulliard, P., Flora Parisiensis (1776-1781), vol. 1 (1776) t. 40

Below: Viola odorata from Mattioli’s Dioscorides illustrated by Gherardo Cibo (1512-1600)

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