Poems about Chrysanthemums

“I don’t have a particular preference for chrysanthemum, yet there are indeed no better looking flowers after it blooms”

Yuan Zhen (779-831)

Chrysanthemum in China

The Chrysanthemum was cultivated in China as early as 15 century BC and quickly became a part of the cultural narrative.  The chrysanthemum, along with the plum blossom, the orchid, and bamboo are known as the four noble characters.(1)   Each character has its own meaning, and the chrysanthemum represents the “virtue to withstand all adversities”(2) 

Poet Tao Yuanming built off this symbolism and added to the chrysanthemum’s importance in Chinese culture with the following poem.

I built my house near where others dwell.
And yet there is no clamor of carriages and horses
You ask of me “How can this be so?”
“When the heart is far the place of itself is distant
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
And gaze afar towards the southern mountains
The mountain air is fine at evening of the day,
And flying birds return together homewards
Within these things there is a hint of Truth,
But when I start to tell it,
I cannot find the words.
--Tao Yuanming as translated by William Acker

This poem was written about Tao’s time living as a hermit and has since linked the chrysanthemum to the hermit lifestyle in China. 


Chrysanthemum in Japan

The chrysanthemum made its way to Japan during the Nara period (710 – 794 AD) and quickly found its place here.  Its presence in Japan is so significant that it is incorporated into the emperor’s crest and the the emperor himself is often referred to as the “chrysanthemum throne”(3) 

With such an important presence in Japanese culture, it was only a matter of time before the chrysanthemum found its way into the minds of the early haiku poets. Below are three examples.

Before the white chrysanthemum the scissors hesitate a moment 
-Buson
lighting the lantern —
the yellow chrysanthemums
lose their color
-Buson 
gazing intently
at the white chrysanthemums --
not a speck of dust
-Basho 

This final haiku by Basho was written during a visit to his apprentice Shiba Sonome in 1694 shortly before his death.  The general consensus is that Basho wrote this poem as a way to honor to his student and her purity.


Chrysanthemums in England

In 1901, Thomas Hardy published “The Last Chrysanthemum” in his book, Poems of the Past and Present In this poem Hardy explores the relationship between nature and God through the imagery of the chrysanthemum.

Why should this flower delay so long
To show its tremulous plumes?
Now is the time of plaintive robin-song,
When flowers are in their tombs.
 
Through the slow summer, when the sun
Called to each frond and whorl
That all he could for flowers was being done,
Why did it not uncurl?
 
It must have felt that fervid call
Although it took no heed,
Waking but now, when leaves like corpses fall,
And saps all retrocede.
 
Too late its beauty, lonely thing,
The season's shine is spent,
Nothing remains for it but shivering
In tempests turbulent.
 
Had it a reason for delay,
Dreaming in witlessness
That for a bloom so delicately gay
Winter would stay its stress?
 
- I talk as if the thing were born
With sense to work its mind;
Yet it is but one mask of many worn
By the Great Face behind.

The Poetry Foundation says, “Though frequently described as gloomy and bitter, Hardy’s poems pay attention to the transcendent possibilities of sound, line, and breath—the musical aspects of language.” I believe that both of these observations are evident in the poem.  There is a sense of loss and despair, but also a lyrical tone to this poem.


I find it quite amazing that this flower has had such a significant impact on global culture and literature. From ancient China, to early Japan, to the England in the 1900s, this little flower shows up in writing and art of each area. It might be because of its unique growth cycle and its ability to bloom later in the year. It could also be because of its striking multi-petal design. Either way, the chrysanthemum is a flower that has managed captured the attention of poets and emperors and make its mark on human history.

Chrysanthemum in vase
Photo by TGH on Pexels.com

Do you have a favorite poem about the Chrysanthemum? Let me know in a comment below.


Resources

  1. Chrysanthemum: The symbol of vitality in Chinese culture
  2. Four Gentlemen: Art Of The Brush
  3. How Did the Chrysanthemum Become the Symbol of the Japanese Emperor?
  4. Shiba Sonome
  5. Thomas Hardy (1840–1928): Poetry Foundation

22 thoughts on “Poems about Chrysanthemums

Add yours

  1. Thanks for sharing this histrionical beauty of chrysanthemums having impact on human daily lives. I also like to do arrangement with them. Beautiful flowers 💖🙏

  2. Flowers seem to hold a revered place in ways other plants never achieve. During my nature photography days, wild flowers were my favorite subject. In my current area (Colorado), our mountains explode with wild flowers in the summers, but I believe the columbine is held in the highest esteem (CO’s state flower, as well as my personal favorite). When I lived in the South, both azaleas and magnolias ruled. Tao Yuanming’s poem really stood out to me in its poignancy (particularly the last three lines). Sometimes it’s truly impossible to articulate the profound beauty and meaning of something so simple as a flower. Thanks as always for introducing me to new poets. 🙂

    1. HI Mike, I would agree with your thoughts about Tao’s poem. I was pretty excited to find this connection as I explored our relationship with chrysanthemum. I also think Thich Nhat Hahn writes a lot about the magic, meaning, and mystery of the Lotus Flower. I wish I could remember the exact quote, but it is escaping me. Maybe that is just research for another post! Thanks for the support and the comment. Talk soon,

  3. I so enjoyed your celebration here of the chrysanthemum, Mark. Reading the poetry and its revered history is a great way to highlight this incredibly long-lasting and colorful autumn flower.

    1. Hi Jet, Thank you very much for your comment. I am constantly surprised at the history behind all the plants and animals we encounter on a daily basis. I hope all is well.

  4. I mentioned previously that chrysanthemums were my mother’s favourite flowers and now reading today’s post I think I’m being moved to try to grow them. I wonder if they will do in a pot?
    Just before Covid lockdown 18 months ago I was making enquiries about trying Ikebana so I really ought to look into that again and hopefully find a course that will satisfy my desire to learn more about Japanese culture.
    So you see, Mark, your posts not only share wonderful poetry, and today’s is no exception, but they nudge us to think about many other wonderful things too!
    Enjoy what’s left of your Sunday! 💐🙋‍♂️

    1. Hi Ashley, Chrysanthemums grow great in pots. They are all on porches all over the place here. If you take a course on Ikebana you will have to share what you learn. It seems like such a great art form, and will make for some great photos! Thanks again for your support and kind words. I am glad that you are enjoying the posts. Talk soon,

  5. The poem from China is a gem, and I love the part of the haiku about the scissors hesitating… the holder of those scissors admires the flower a little more. Thanks again for sharing how art reflects on the beauties of nature. 🌞

  6. thanks Mark for another charming collection – this reminded me that as a child already I liked chrysanths – but the full-bodied ones as in your photo – not the spidery ones.

    1. Hi Barbara, I have noticed that there are many varieties out there. I think I mostly see the hardy chrysanthemums. Some of the photos of these flowers from China were amazing and unlike any chrysanthemum I have ever seen. I hope all is well!

  7. I so enjoyed this post, Mark. A meaningful collection of poems and, as you point out, it’s amazing how flowers come to mean so much to us and our culture.
    Like some of your other commenters, I found the poems about the white chryrsanths particularly poignant . . . and I liked Hardy’s poem, especially the first stanza where he says they show their “tremulous plumes” when the robin sings his “plaintive song”. During my walks in the woodland, the robins are beautifully vocal. I think now I will always associate robins with chrysanthemums. 🙂

    1. Hi Lesley, I am so glad that you found connection to some of these poems. The white chrysanthemum is so simple, yet so impactful. I guess that is a sign of a good haiku. I am also glad that you found Hardy’s poem enjoyable. It is not as upbeat as some of the others, but I think that is also important to share. Talk soon,

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