Lettice Franklin explores the metaphor of mind as flower and its role in literature and art as a means for imagining the wild workings of the human brain
This summer, like many a summer before it, people took to the fields, to the meadows, to the beaches – for festivals and parties. Many did ‘lose their minds’ and many did so wearing cheap floral wreaths that bloom in profusion from campsite stalls. In doing so they join a long tradition of crazy crowns and of blooming brains.
The blooming of the brain is almost impossible to describe – directly at least. To overcome this difficulty, we turn, over and over again, to horticultural metaphors. ‘Ideas are plants’ is a common, quotidian metaphor: it has been identified as one of the “metaphors we live by”, metaphors that are embedded in the human consciousness and shape the way we look at the world (George Lakoff, Metaphors We Live By, 2003). Think of ‘fertile imaginations’, of ‘seeds of thought’, of ‘ideas coming to fruition’.
Metaphors, we assume, make things easier to understand. They enable us to re-imagine something intangible and complicated – ideas, brains – as something controlled and simple – gardens. But wild, unweeded mind-gardens grow with particular power throughout literature, often straight from characters’ heads, and are not so easily pruned. Perhaps it is here that the metaphor actually approaches perfection, vividly representing the vagaries, the tangles, the briars of thought.
In short, flowers both represent the mind, and bloom abundantly within and from it.