My name is derived from my Nanny (grandmother) who, (the story goes) on Easter Sunday, was born dead. It is told that her father, my great-grandfather, had a little bouquet of ‘pansy’ flowers in his hands he had picked from the garden, expecting this day to be joyous. Upon hearing this grievous news, he sullenly laid the tiny bouquet atop his daughter’s tiny chest. The moment the flowers touched her…she gasped for air and began to wail. She was promptly named ‘Pansy’ (to think/to ponder). Along with that mantle, my father added “Lee”. This name, means shelter in the storm. ‘Pansylee’ ~ (muse)
‘Pansies’, as a flower are quite remarkable. Did you know the entirety of the flower is edible? It is true, sepals and all (stem to stern). Bakers, candy makers and chefs are quite fond of using ‘pansies’, which offer a culinary paradox: being both muted and minty in flavor.The petulant language of flowers is remarkably traditional in nature rather than scientific. The wives’ tales, the historical and religious overtones of flowers abound in every society and culture. Here are few;
Victorians ~ A honeyflower and a ‘pansy’ left by a lover for his beloved means “I am thinking of our forbidden love”, (I shall discreetly note here that the honeyflower is a erect bushy shrub of eastern Australia, whose flowers produce copious amounts of nectar. This plant was grown in hothouses/conservatories/arboretums in the Victorian age with…vigor)
The name “pansy” is derived from the French word pensée, “thought”, and was imported into Late Middle English as a name of Viola in the mid-15th century, as the flower was regarded as a symbol of remembrance. The name “love in idleness” was meant to imply the image of a lover who has little or no other employment than to think of her beloved.
The name “heart’s-ease” came from St. Euphrasia, whose name in Greek signifies cheerfulness of mind. The woman, who refused marriage and took the veil, was considered a pattern of humility, hence the name “humble violet”.McGlashan, James. The Dublin University Magazine: A Literary and Political Journal. Vol. 42. July to December 1853: 286.
Writer James Shirley Hibberd wrote that the French custom of giving a bride a bouquet of ‘pansies’ (ponderings/thoughts) and marigolds (cares) symbolized the woes of domestic life rather than marital bliss, in 1858. I disagree. I believe the flower combination was meant to signify the endurance of matrimonial bliss, by ushering in a unified gentle thought or gentle caring of the bride to groom and vice versa. For shame on Mr Hibberd for being so pessimistic ~ (I also want to note that this bouquet combination is also ‘edible’…and dates back to 15th century. Perhaps something very important in early centuries, where sustenance was difficult to obtain).
The French and English were not the only ones to acknowledge the beauty and power of the ‘pansy’. An old German fable spins the yarn of how the ‘pansy’ lost its aromatic perfume. The story advises us that once upon a time, ‘pansies’ were indeed very fragrant. Abundantly growing wild in fields and forests, they permeated the countryside with sweetness. Such was the desire to obtain the botanical cologne, the German people would trample the tender green grass in eagerness to pick pansies. Overtime, the grass turned brown and could not withstand the barrage. In turn, the cows of Germany began to starve. The ‘pansies’ in their soft repose and gentle thought, prayed to the heavens, to take away their sweet perfume. The powers granted this prayer. And the people of the land, no longer lured to the velvet potpourri, made no vast treks wherein the grass was trampled to oblivion. This selfless act allowed the cattle to once more find the tender green shoots, to grow fat and keep the Germanic peoples alive and blessed bountifully.
Even the American pioneers did not escape the rituals of flower usage. A handful of ‘pansies’ taken indoors at early spring was believed to have ensured the farm’s prosperity. Could it be that known for their tenacity to endure frost and snows, the ‘pansies’ gave these struggling frontiersmen hope of the new spring? We can only guess. It has also been recorded that American settler children, as well as American Indian youngsters, saw faces within the flowers and constructed tiny bands of ‘pansy’ dolls (precursors to GI Joe and Barbie), old sketches show these primitive toys, formed with leaves, twigs and vines. Seeking to create beauty for themselves (as well as their male companions) the ingenuity of the femme sex in this new land, utilized the blessed bounty of their surroundings. Nature became their shopping plaza. Adornments of flowers, pine cones, shells and more are recorded as early Americana patisserie. ‘Pansies’ were pinned, poked, sewn to almost every facet of adult feminine clothing (these floral trims could last several days ~ more than long enough, I would suspect for any frontierswoman of the time…)
In literature, the ‘pansy’ has played starring roles. William Shakespeare’s work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, offers the juice of the heart’s ease (the old Britannia term for ‘pansy’) as a love potion. “on sleeping eyelids laid, will make a man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees.” Shakespeare continued to add ‘pansies’ into his creations. The tale of Hamlet has Ophelia distributing ‘pansies’ ~ “There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts” (writers and poets seem to be drawn to the pondering face of the velvet botanical maiden….).
Many poets through the years, have placed the diminutive flower within their lines; Edmund Spenser (c. 1552 -13 January 1599 author of The Faerie Queene), Michael Drayton (c. 1563 – December 23, 1631), Ben Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637), William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850 famous for launching the ‘Romantic Age’ of poetic literature), Bernard Barton (c. 1784 – 1849 The Quaker Poet), William Wakefield (c. 1801 – 19 September 1848), and J. J. Grandville (1803-1847 Pensée from Fleurs Animées).
The epic qualities of the botanical ‘pansy’ have and continue to be intertwined with its deeper meaning. This ponderous nature entices not only poets. It was Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist, who left us contemplating his unfinished creation, aptly named “Pansie, a Fragment”(1864) whose story has a character of kindness and thoughtfulness, a young child…aptly named.
No topic of the word ‘pansy’ would be complete without paying tribute to the renown authoress Margaret Mitchell. She originally chose the name ‘Pansy’ O’Hara as the name for her Gone with the Wind heroine, but, historical documents show she was prompted by her publicist to make changes. He also urged her to seek another name for the homestead of her heroine. Ms Mitchell succumbed to both requests. The plantation’s name, was originally called ‘Fontenoy’ (it should be noted both ‘Pansy’ O’Hara and ‘Fontenoy’ have ties to French and Irish terminology). It has long been my personal opinion, that Ms Mitchell saw her heroine as a thinker, a planner, a ponderer, (and who today can deny that ‘Scarlett O’Hara was indeed that?) thus, the name ‘Pansy’ seemed quite appropriate. Of course, O’Hara is quintessentially Irish. This French application of the name ‘Pansy’ also falls in line with the use of the name ‘Fontenoy’ for the plantation. Fontenoy is the location of the epic battle where the French, aided by Irish foot soldiers, defeated the British regiments in 1745. Deciding upon ‘Tara’ as the final name for the plantation, directly refers to a village in eastern Ireland, northwest of Dublin. Tara was the seat of Irish kings from ancient times until the sixth century. Quite appropriate for the spectacular O’Hara home of the epic novel.
This woven fabric of Irish and French lineage names, continued, even though Ms Mitchell made changes. I can picture the publicist reading her work and lamenting that this strong willed, shrewd, and powerful heroine was being called ‘Pansy’…his mind, I daresay conjured up rows of flowery, velveteen faces, buttery soft and erroneously weak. For him this character was not pensive, or thoughtful. He must have seen her only as fire and brimstone, a true stereo-typical Irish lass, who could only be named for the red sparks she threw about… ‘Scarlett’, (old French origin meaning “red”). It is important to remember that ‘Scarlett’ and ‘Pansy’ are the same. They represent, in name, the characteristics of one individual. I am her, she is me, we are one … the Muse and I. She is a paradox – she is all and she is null. She is that part of me that exists to create and explore. Her artistic and literary entreats whisper to me; pondering pansies among the stars.