Sunday, February 14, 2010

Erasmus Darwin and The Loves of the Plants

“Flora at Play with Cupid” suggests the explicit sexual imagery of Darwin’s “The Loves of the Plants,” influenced by Linnaeus’s system. Erasmus Darwin. The Botanic Garden; A Poem, in Two Parts London:  J. Johnson, 1791. From
Erasmus Darwin wrote about the theory of evolution, not as profoundly as his grandson Charles, that is clear, and he also made a reference to the subject in his poem “The Loves of the Plants”, 1789. The poem was published in several editions of the Botanic Garden, 1790. What is so captivating for me (I love landscape and gardening) is his romantic anthropomorphization of the stamen (male) and pistil (female) sexual organs. He considered them as bride and groom. He also sees youths and monsters.
Here are some excerpts of his poem, you can read it all at Gutenberg project, the link is below.

65 Woo'd with long care, CURCUMA cold and shy Meets her fond husband with averted eye: Four beardless youths the obdurate beauty move With soft attentions of Platonic love.
 With vain desires the pensive ALCEA burns,
70 And, like sad ELOISA, loves and mourns.

The freckled IRIS owns a fiercer flame,
And three unjealous husbands wed the dame.

CUPRESSUS dark disdains his dusky bride,

One dome contains them, but two beds divide.

75 The proud OSYRIS flies his angry fair,

Two houses hold the fashionable pair.
[Alcea, l. 69. Flore pleno. Double hollyhock. The double flowers, so much admired by the florists, are termed by the botanist vegetable monsters;….
With strange deformity PLANTAGO treads,

A Monster-birth! and lifts his hundred heads;

Yet with soft love a gentle belle he charms,
80 And clasps the beauty in his hundred arms.
So hapless DESDEMONA, fair and young,
Won by OTHELLO'S captivating tongue,
Sigh'd o'er each strange and piteous tale, distress'd,
And sunk enamour'd on his sooty breast.

85 Two gentle shepherds and their sister-wives

With thee, ANTHOXA! lead ambrosial lives;
[Silene. l. 139. Catchfly. Three females and ten males inhabit each flower; the viscous material, which surrounds the stalks under the flowers of this plant, and of the Cucubulus Otites, is a curious contrivance to prevent various insects from plundering the honey……
Clasp'd in his arms she own'd a mother's name,—

"Desist, rash youth! restrain your impious flame,

"First on that bed your infant-form was press'd,
130 "Born by my throes, and nurtured at my breast."—
Back as from death he sprung, with wild amaze
Fierce on the fair he fix'd his ardent gaze;
Dropp'd on one knee, his frantic arms outspread,
And stole a guilty glance toward the bed;
135 Then breath'd from quivering lips a whisper'd vow,
And bent on heaven his pale repentant brow;
"Thus, thus!" he cried, and plung'd the furious dart,
And life and love gush'd mingled from his heart.

The fell SILENE and her sisters fair,

140 Skill'd in destruction, spread the viscous snare.


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