A Short Analysis of Tennyson’s ‘The Flower’

‘The Flower’ is a little gem of a poem from Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92), who remains the longest-serving UK Poet Laureate (from 1850 until his death in 1892). During the six decades of his career as a poet, Tennyson had to endure criticism as well as enjoy praise and awards, and ‘The Flower’ seems to address the less pleasing side of being a public poet.

Once in a golden hour
I cast to earth a seed.
Up there came a flower,
The people said, a weed.

To and fro they went
Thro’ my garden-bower,
And muttering discontent
Curs’d me and my flower.

Then it grew so tall
It wore a crown of light,
But thieves from o’er the wall
Stole the seed by night.

Sow’d it far and wide
By every town and tower,
Till all the people cried,
‘Splendid is the flower.’

Read my little fable:
He that runs may read.
Most can raise the flowers now,
For all have got the seed.

And some are pretty enough,
And some are poor indeed;
And now again the people
Call it but a weed.

The link between poetry and flowers – between poesy and posies, we might say – is an old one, as the origin of the word ‘anthology’, for a collection of poems by different writers, testifies (the word means ‘a collection of flowers’). In ‘The Flower’, Tennyson uses the metaphor of planting a seed and nurturing it so that it grows into a flower for the act of creating poetry.

To paraphrase the meaning of Tennyson’s poem, he’s attacking those critics who scorn his work – likening it to useless and unwanted ‘weeds’ rather than beautiful flowers – because he feels that such critics have forgotten that he was the one who showed so many others how to write poetry.

And yet, does the poem have to be just about poetry itself? Tennyson is using the metaphor of the flower to suggest other forms of creativity: somebody creates something, others criticise it, and yet those same people still learn from what that artist created and copy it, often producing inferior results.

‘The Flower’ is as much about criticising others who make an effort to create something, refusing to see the worth in it, as it is about Tennyson’s own feelings about his treatment at the hands of critics – although that, too, is part of it. And certainly one stanza seems to suggest that the poem itself is self-referential, being about all of Tennyson’s poems:

Read my little fable:
He that runs may read.
Most can raise the flowers now,
For all have got the seed.

8 thoughts on “A Short Analysis of Tennyson’s ‘The Flower’”

  1. I was puzzled by the line: Cur’d me and my flower. Many versions online give this as: “Cursed me and my flower.” This seems to make better sense. “Curs’d” maybe.


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