A Selection of Peony Poems
January 14, 2014 by Cricket Hill Garden
We have written before on peony related poetry from China and Japan. In English language poetry, peonies do not have the same symbolism that they do in for east Asian writers. In traditional Chinese and Japanese art, peonies broadly represent both female beauty, as well as wealth and status. Western poets use peony blossoms to evoke spring, ephemeral beauty and fleeting infatuation. During these dreary days of winter, we find these the following poems to be an effective tonic against the pervading chill. Enjoy!
- The Garden in Winter
- The winter sun that rises near the south
Looks coldly on my garden of cold clay;
Like some old dotard with a bitter mouth,
Shrugs his grey robe to his ears and creeps away.
Come down the mountains, April! with young eyes,
And roguish daisy-children trooping after,
Draw from the sullen clay red peonies,
Bring back the sun as a stripling full of laughter!
- Mary Webb
- This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers
- and they open–
pools of lace,
white and pink–
and all day the black ants climb over them,
- boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away
- to their dark, underground cities–
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
- the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
their red stems holding
- all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again–
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
- blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
- Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
- with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
- By the Peonies
- The peonies bloom, white and pink.
And inside each, as in a fragrant bowl,
A swarm of tiny beetles have their conversation,
For the flower is given to them as their home.
- Mother stands by the peony bed,
Reaches for one bloom, opens its petals,
And looks for a long time into peony lands,
Where one short instant equals a whole year.
- Then lets the flower go. And what she thinks
She repeats aloud to the children and herself.
The wind sways the green leaves gently
And speckles of light flick across their faces.
- The charms of the ordinariness soothe the threat of anxiety.
- If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
- that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
- and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
- a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
- seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
- a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
- releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
- so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
- into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
- Peonies at Dusk
- White peonies blooming along the porch
send out light
while the rest of the yard grows dim.
- Outrageous flowers as big as human
heads! They’re staggered
by their own luxuriance: I had
to prop them up with stakes and twine.
- The moist air intensifies their scent,
and the moon moves around the barn
to find out what it’s coming from.
- In the darkening June evening
I draw a blossom near, and bending close
search it as a woman searches
a loved one’s face.
- Heart-transplants my friend handed me:
four of her own peony bushes
in their fall disguise, the arteries
of truncated, dead wood protruding
from clumps of soil fine-veined with worms.
- “Better get them in before the frost.”
And so I did, forgetting them
until their June explosion when
it seemed at once they’d fallen in love,
had grown two dozen pink hearts each.
- Extravagance, exaggeration,
each one a girl on her first date,
excess perfume, her dress too ruffled,
the words he spoke to her too sweet—
but he was young; he meant it all.
- And when they could not bear the pretty
weight of so much heart, I snipped
their dew-sopped blooms; stuffed them in vases
in every room like tissue-boxes
already teary with self-pity.
Mary Jo Salter