Earth Laughs in Flowers

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, 2011

7 thoughts on “Earth Laughs in Flowers

  1. Did ee.cummings write a poem with these words at all? How is it that e. e. cummings gets all the credit. Explains why googling these lines comes up with nothing.

    1. As far as I can tell, he didn’t, although I’ve read in a few places that he quoted Emerson on that line. So that may be where the confusion comes from. Cummings did write a lot of nature-themed poems, so that could help explain it also.

  2. Good for you for pointing out the context. Similarly, I’ve been leaving comments on blogs I come across that have the truncated version of the quotation. I hadn’t been familiar with the original poem, but it was easy enough to find on the Internet.

    1. I hadn’t been familiar with the original poem earlier, either, and was surprised at how different the meaning of that line is in context of the whole poem. It just goes to show that sound bites can present a very different story!

      BTW, your wildflowers blog is amazing. I’ve been getting more into photographing plants lately, including macro work, and it’s definitely challenging to get shots as good as yours. I haven’t been a huge fan of on-camera flash, for the reasons you cite on your techniques page. You’ve convinced me that the Canon ringflash would be massively helpful, though. Adding it to my ever-growing list of equipment upgrades… 🙂

      1. Not only does it go to show that soundbites can present a very different story, but it’s one more example of the way people blindly copy on the Internet: someone posts the “soundbite” on a website, someone else sees it and copies it without checking for accuracy and authenticity, then more people see it and reflexively copy it, etc.

        I’m glad you like my approach to the native flora (and some critters) of central Texas. There’s a lot to see here.

        As for equipment, when I switched to the EOS 5D Mark III last year, I was annoyed by the lack of a built-in flash, which on previous models had given me a quick fill light at the press of a button. Usually I carry the ring flash with me only when I anticipate a need for it. Since the camera no longer has a built-in flash, I’ve had to carry a separate regular flash, which makes my camera bag even heaver. The competitive Nikon models all have built-in flash, so I don’t know why Canon can’t manage to include one.

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