Friday, 6 January 2012


'A Contemplation upon Flowers'
Beryl Clarke, Contributor (YOUTH LINK)
The speaker in this poem begins by complimenting the subject, flowers. So great is his admiration, that he uses the word 'gallant', which is both an adjective and a noun as a verb. In this way, he gives the word, strength and force in order to emphasise his appreciation. In addition, he remarks that flowers are not conceited; they do not think too highly of themselves. He declares that he wishes that he could be like them on both counts, that is, courageous and yet not stuck-up!
He then explains further when he says that when flowers emerge and attract attention (with their beauty) they make no problems; rather they quietly return to the earth, from which they came, after they are seen. There is the suggestion at this point that the flowers do not feel important for they know that the earth is the source of their beauty (embroidered garments) and so growing, blooming, fading, withering and then becoming a part of the earth once again is taken as natural and create no cause for concern.

The speaker now comes to a point that seems very important to him as he continues to contrast the flowers' attitude, this time to death. For him, the flowers follow life's cyclical pattern cheerfully, without any regret, while he yearns to remain youthful, never to grow old, never to die, and not even to contemplate the fact that death exists.
And, so he next appeals for a lesson.

He wants to learn how not to fear death because he realises that he cannot escape from death; he calls it 'my bed of earth'. His desire is to get to a position where he can smile at death, where he can make an agreement with death. Do you see the significance of that statement? In order to do so you must know the meaning of the word 'truce'.
Look it up and you will find that it means 'a temporary agreement to cease hostilities'. This, therefore, tells us that he feels that he is at war with death and is uncomfortable about it. Why do you think I say that? I do so because if he were not, he would not sound so anxious to be like the flowers and would not be talking about a truce.

In the last four lines, our speaker brings the flowers which he respects face to face with death, which he fears. The influence of the flowers is great, for here he sees them as displaying no fear. They look good; they brighten up the funereal atmosphere and make the place smell fragrant. We, Jamaicans would say, 'sweet'. The flowers are dying, but they do fulfil their purpose anyway, and this is the attitude the speaker wants to achieve. He wants to be able to approach death as if he were approaching a friend, sweetly and with confidence.

Take a close look at the poet's style. Consider, the rhyming pattern, the run-on lines, the use of the colon, the conversational tone, the couplet with which the poem ends and the fact that there is only one full stop used in the whole poem. Please notice, too, how the seasons are used as symbols. Is there any personification? Has this lesson assisted in your understanding of this work? I would really like to think that it has. By the way, does it surprise you that a bishop wrote this?


The persona wishes that he could be as brave as the flowers, who know who they owe their life to - the earth. They know their place and obey the order, or cycle, of life and death. The persona wishes that he could be this way because he is the opposite, he wants to live forever. The persona wants the flowers to teach him NOT to fear death, but to accept it.


  • Stanza 1, line: The persona is wishing that he could be as brave as the flower. This implies that the persona does not think that he is brave, but a coward in the face of death.
  • Stanza 2, line 14: This is another comparison between the persona and the plant. The persona wishes that he could look death in the face and be cheerful, like the plant. Again, this emphasizes that he lacks.

This phrase is a replacement for the word death. It softens death and makes it appear welcoming and pleasant.

It is ironic that the flowers look so fresh and alive when it is facing its very mortality, on the top of a casket. Death is a sad affair, and the flowers are at their best when ushering people back to the earth.

The persona is speaking directly to flowers and giving them human qualities, therefore, the whole poem is an example of the use of a type of personification called APOSTROPHE. He goes as far as to ask the flower to teach him things that will make him be like it.

5. 'galant'
This word literally means brave or heroic. The word, however, also brings to mind adjectives such as charming and attentive, like a knight would be in olden days. So the plants are not simply brave in their acceptance of death, but they are also gracious.

5. 'harmless show'
The word harmless sticks out in this phrase because it implies that the flowers are demure and quiet in their beauty.

6. 'bier'
This is a movable frame on which a coffin or a corpse is placed before burial or cremation, or on which they are carried to the grave.

7. 'teach me that my breath like yours may sweeten and perfume my death'
This implies that if death is not feared, then the person will go into deaths arms joyfully, without any sorrow, remorse or bitterness.

tone of the poem is admiration, because the persona literally admires the flowers for its accepting attitude towards death.

mood, or atmosphere of the poem is a pensive one. The persona is thinking about death, how he relates to it versus how others relate to it.

A contrast in this poem is the persona's fear of death, versus the flowers'acceptance of it.

Death is the overwhelming theme in this poem. The persona admires the way in which the flowers deal with death and wish to emulate it. Death is a very scary prospect for the persona.

Answer these Questions

1. What do you think is the theme of the poem?

2. Select the qualities in the flowers that the poet admires.

3. What does the expression “that I could gallant it like you” mean?

4. “Embroidered garments” suggest
(a) the flowers are very beautiful
(b) even the most beautiful are subject to death
(c) Nature produces colorful things
(d) the petals of the flowers are adorned with a pattern

5. Why does the poet wish his life would be always spring?

6. What two lessons can the flowers teach the poet?

7. What makes it difficult for the poet to accept death?

8. The word which best describes the mood of the poet is
(a) joyful (b) sorrowful (c) pensive (d) angry


  1. I didnt understand this poem at all! Until I read this... :)

    thank you ! <3

  2. i never got the meaning of this poem until i went through this....THANKS ALOT :)

    1. this poem has a tone of death and love, if you read the poem the writer said to the flowers oh teach not to fear death,that mean he don't want to fear death when it comes. this poem is very important if you look carefully you will see many different literally devices coming out one by one. example metaphor , personification etc. its a very interesting poem.

  3. wow i never thought hat i would be able to understand these poems but thanks to the ppl who put all this together u really helped me to understand.

  4. I finally understood the text thanks to this brilliant blog
    keep up the good work :)

  5. so this is were my english teacher got all the questions from anyway thanks alot bishop keep up the good work

  6. thank you for helping

  7. i am a lover of literature yet i find it complexed at times,i will be sitting my csec literature exam in a matter of two days and i must say i am fully prepared thanks to you

  8. I understood the poem but this made me understand better. Thx much

  9. i had an assignment on this poem and i didnt understand it at all! but thanks to you guys now i am sure that i will pass this assignment!!

  10. thank god for this site. I was studying and I found all that I had to study here. thank you guys :)

    1. really helpful....thanks

  11. this is a really great site i reaaly wish i had found it sooner it has been such a tremendous hepl to a form five student like myself.this is really awesome.first i didnt understand anything and i thought poems were fustrating but this really helpful and i truly understand the analysis of it

  12. i love english literature , however i have difficulties at times understanding the poems n short stories , but thanks to this site i fully understand A contemplation upon flowers , by Henry King . thanks.

  13. this site has really helped me to understand the concept of this poem thank u so much

  14. this is a good site !! never understood it until now !! thank you

  15. This is a tremendous help......Tomorrow is My Literature Quiz and after reading this,I'm ready to master it.

  16. This is a really good summary of the poem....It has helped me to understand the poem....more effectively.

  17. Oh wow thank you for making me understand :) (:

  18. This was very helpful. I just had to study the poem but anyways thank you for making literature a piece of cake :)

  19. Tomorrow is my literature mock exam and after reading this i understand the poem a whole lot better. Thank you :-)

  20. tomorrow is my Literature cxc exam and thanks to you bishop I am now fully confident in doing my best in my exam

  21. embroidered garments what does this means?

    1. Don't know if this is too late but that refers to the outward appearance of the flowers

  22. Thanks in a million bishop. I really appreciate your hard work in putting together all his details. Keep up the good work

  23. This is were my teacher got the notes ahh I found the remedy I won't write any more

  24. This is were my teacher got the notes ahh I found the remedy I won't write any more

  25. what does the speaker admire about the flowers?

    1. he admire the flowers bravely for death cause the flower does not faer death

  26. Exam tomorrow, problem solved, thanks bishop!

  27. what makes the poet fear death