One of my favorite quotes of all time is by my man, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Earth laughs in flowers.” You can find it all over my social media profiles, and I even considered getting it tattooed somewhere on my body, I love it that much.
I’m sure no one is surprised, given my incessant floral photography and love for both Earth and laughter. I don’t even know how I found it, originally – probably on Pinterest, or something extra #basic like that. Although I knew it was an Emerson gem, I had only ever seen it standing alone — never within the context of a larger piece of writing. Until now!
A dear friend recently clued me in on the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series. They are adorable little booklets of poetry on a range of subjects, from the ocean, to the four seasons, to gardens, to New York City. My collection is steadily growing, with a booklet each dedicated to Paris, cats, flowers, and Emerson. I read one poem out loud per day for my kitties (two, if the Poem of the Day is short) and I can’t even tell you how much they relax me and bring me joy.
A few days ago, I read the Emerson poem entitled Hamatreya, which he based upon a passage from the Vishnu Purana (one of the traditional Vedantic mythologies) in 1845. He writes:
Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs.
I was elated to have found my line!
I promptly did additional research to ensure I was understanding Hamatreya properly, and stumbled upon another blog in which the author laments the context in which she found earth laughs in flowers. You see, the poem is about humans and their manipulation and “ownership” of the Earth. But, it’s Earth who gets the last laugh:
They called me theirs,
Who so controlled me;
Yet every one
Wished to stay, and is gone.
How am I theirs,
If they cannot hold me,
But I hold them?
For whatever reason, that particular blogger thought this context robbed her of the joy she found in earth laughs in flowers, and she warned her readers to consider the layers of meaning when you find a happy quote. While she’s not wrong, I actually prefer the new depth that Hamatreya gives to the quote.
The Earth mocks humanity in its volatility and vice. We assume dominion, but at the end of the day, Mother Nature remains Queen of her domain, claiming us – humbled – into her fertile soil.
Now, I’m a bit of an environmentalist – a tree-hugging hippie, if you will – so I’m down with criticizing human behavior and our treatment of the place we call Home. But for those of you who are less critical of humanity, does the context of this quote trouble you?