Letters of Life

In Praise of Pansies


Like a few things in my life lately, I discovered the beauty of the pansy and the peony only seven years ago. It was my first Vancouver spring, when all the flower shops were putting out the immensely saleable daffodils and tulips. Pansies were sold in little pots, and peonies were serendipitous finds that took your breath away as you walked past neighbours’ gardens on the way to get groceries or to the park. The bright and tiny faces of the pansies caught my eye and since then, my heart.

[Other things I’ve discovered, or rather re-discovered are playing music on the keys, songwriting (very recent), writing, and something to do with salads.]

Looking cat-faced in certain colour combinations, the pansy apparently derived its name from the French word pensée, or thought.

I saw them again recently, in Tokyo, for it was early summer. Walking the grey streets of Ikekuburo, a Tokyo suburb, I saw a trough of them, a hundred happy little faces greeting me from the curb. It was like seeing old friends again. And then there was another trough, and then another, and yet another, for the whole street was lined with varicoloured pansies.

Some trivia about pansies
Shakespeare wrote this line for Ophelia, in Hamlet (IV.v): “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.”

Georgia O’Keeffe created a famous painting of a black pansy called simply, Pansy (1926). Her White Pansy followed in 1927.

D. H. Lawrence’s Pansies: Poems by D. H. Lawrence (1929) is his best known collection of poems. In the foreword, Lawrence writes: “I wish these ‘Pansies’ to be taken as thoughts rather than anything else; casual thoughts that are true while they are true and irrelevant when the mood and circumstance changes. I should like them to be as fleeting as pansies, which wilt so soon, and are so fascinating with their varied faces, while they last.”

The Pansy is the flower of Osaka, Japan.

Disney’s classic animated adaptation of Alice in Wonderland features a chorus of singing pansies.

Pansy was the name of a beloved Epiphone Elitist Les Paul Custom guitar played by guitarist Frank Iero (whose nickname, coincidentally, is also Pansy) of the band My Chemical Romance. [ Isn’t that also a name of a Chinese restaurant?] Pansy the guitar was unfortunately broken during a show.

I have yet to see a pansy at local florists’, though peonies are, and prohibitively so. For memories of distant springs in far-off lands, I would gladly pay.

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