Category Archives: Alfred Quinton Collins

To him who keeps an Orchis heart

Japanese Irises, late 19th century, Alfred Quinton Collins
Background Image: Japanese Irises, late 19th century, Alfred Quinton Collins

The previous poem, “To lose – if One can find again“, she uses the image of the Crocus to describe how even in the dead of winter a beautiful flower an grow. She refers to this hardy flower has having a secret that only “You and I” know the secret of its ability to climb up out of the freezing snow and color the dreary winter landscape. In other words, she is talking about all of us having a potential inside of us which can bloom even during the most arduous circumstances. From death, life grows anew, and though it is short-lived, it is beautiful.

In this poem she uses the image of an “Orchis” (and orchid) which can grow in a swamp, another arduous landscape for anything pretty or delicate to survive in. According to my footnote, she may have been thinking of the Calopogon pulchellus which is a pink flower which thrives in a swamp and marsh. Yet she also imbues this new life struggling out of a difficult soil with a sexual imagery: the life is pink and blooms like a delicate orchid. Even the image of a swamp, which is usually not a pleasant place, is still one where life riots and is full of animals and insects mating, flowers blooming and being pollinated – all images and symbols of how life renews itself so that it can, once again, endure the long winters when nothing can grow.

Ultimately, this poem along with the two preceding poems speak of Emily’s belief in the good that can grow even out of the most troubled ground. As long as one allows for even the possibility of growth and redemption, then one can grow a “Crocus” in the winter, and an “Orchis” in a swamp. One’s garden does not have to be grand, it merely needs to be “gaily” built with a humble “little spade” and the gardener needs only allow for a few “nooks for Daisy / And for Columbine” to flourish. This is a hopeful poem about seeing the best in another person (including ourselves) even when it can otherwise be difficult to get past a rough exterior. But each of us possesses the “secret” potential of being new, of being better, and of blooming in any circumstance.