The Gift of Roses: Some Meanings for the Rose

daliroseAs a presence in a room with its scent, color, and shape, a rose can take possession of the viewer's innermost thoughts and emotions, making everything else look absurdly small in comparison.

Flowers are the messengers of our most sacred feelings. They have a language of their own. As gifts they are capable of expressing all shades of feelings and passions. The rose is especially noted, as it is the archetypal flower. The rose has endured as metaphor through the ages, surviving a partial death for at least eleven centuries in the West. The decline can be attributed to the difficulty and ambivalence of applying its meaning to new religious beliefs, primarily Christianity. Eventually the rose ended up as a predominant symbol of Christianity, and the Virgin herself became known as La Rosa Mystica or the Mystic Rose. The rose has deep meanings that cannot be destroyed. They can simply be redirected.

The rose encompasses a magnificent territory that must be experienced first hand. Consequently, when we attempt to construct a map of the territory we leave much of it uncharted. The rose transcends a specific meaning to a given culture and a given time. The rose has been prized for thousands of years throughout a wide range of cultures, and has come to symbolize many different things. We can search for its meanings through mythology, religion, art and literature.

Cirlot stated that the meaning of roses can be attributed to the number of petals and the colors, to this I would like to add fragrance. Our sense of smell is one of our deepest senses. Fragrance is the secret substance that embodies the true nature of the rose. Sartre once described the spiritual essence of scent as, "A vaporized body which has remained completely itself but which has become a volatile spirit". David Austin has said that scent is the soul of the rose. It is something that we can not hold in our hands, which is always shifting and changing. Jack Goody states that applying meanings to flowers came from the East. Meaning can be highly subjective but some thoughts are universally accepted.

David Dodd's Notes on Roses may also be of interest.

Art at the top of page: Rosa Papilio, Salvadore Dali 1968
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