Roses, Roses, Roses!

She had na pu’d a double rose,
A rose but only twa,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
‘Lady, thou’s pu’ nae mae!

The Ballad of Tam Lin

Today my mind is consumed by the thought of roses, I spied a beautiful late bloom in the garden this morning and my thoughts have been turned towards them ever since. In the ballad of Tam Lin Janet gets herself into trouble by picking Tam Lin’s roses; her actions summon Tam Lin to her and lead to her seduction. Janet then finds herself pregnant and in love with Tam Lin so she determines to save him (she faces a moral dilemma after all as a single pregnant woman) from his captor the Fairy Queen. Janet is forced to face a trial of faith and courage but I won’t spoil the ending for you…

Culturally a red rose is a symbol of love yet a yellow rose, according to the Language of Flowers is a declaration of decreased love – so be careful of the colour you choose to present to a loved one, particularly if your beloved is a 19th century scholar you might just get a slap!

Roses feature very prominently in many of Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s paintings; the last roses of the season are often shown being presented as votive offerings like in the autumnally hued The Last Roses or the above shown A Votive Offering (The last roses) painted in 1872 and 73 respectively.

But then as this snippet from a mediaeval ballad shows that roses are really all about temptation

All night by the rose
the rose I lay
Darf ich nought the rose stele
And yet ich bar the flour away

Now let’s think about other works by Alma-Tadema, the lush and decadent Roses of Heliogabalus (1888) – if there was ever a picture about pure excess this is surely it! Heliogabalus fills his dining room with flowers as an extravagant gesture and succeeds in killing some of his guests by suffocating them. Or the very sexy young things depicted in A Summer Offering (1911) who seductively clutch deliciously abundant blooms to denote their fecundity.

I love the dreamy quality of George Eliot’s poem Roses, it is such an appealing poem in terms of sensory experience, it’s all about sight, touch, smell and sound. And it is with Eliot I will end my excursion into roses, letting her have the last word on the subject.

You love the roses – so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!

Leave a Comment