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CSEC English B: Orchids by Hazel Simmons-McDonald Poem Analysis

Updated: Nov 15, 2021



Orchids

Hazel Simmons-McDonald


I leave this house

box pieces of the five-week life I’ve gathered.

I’ll send them on

to fill spaces in my future life.

One thing is left

a spray of orchids someone gave

from a bouquet one who

makes a ritual of flower-giving sent.

The orchids have no fragrance

but purple petals draw you

to look at the purple heart.

I watered them once

when the blossoms were full blown

like polished poems.

I was sure they’d wilt

and I would toss them out with the five-week litter.

They were stubborn.

I starved them.

They would not die.

This morning the bud at the stalk’s tip unfurled.

I think I’ll pluck the full-blown blooms

press them between pages of memory.

Perhaps in their thin dried transparency

I’ll discover their peculiar poetry.

Summary

The persona seems to be moving out of a house after renting it for a five-week period. Now, all that remains in her space is an orchid in which she has found no value. This flower was given to her by a friend who compulsively gives flowers as gifts, and thus, she doesn’t think of the orchid as special in any way. So much so, in fact, that she only watered it once when it had been in full bloom. She seems perplexed by its resilience and its refusal to wilt despite only being watered once. She expected this orchid to be merely something she would discard after her period of renting/living in her current house. Just like this ‘five-week life,’ she expects it to wither away and have no further meaning after becoming but an insignificant memory. The orchid is stubborn, and does not die. Despite her initial indifference to it, she is drawn to the orchid and its petals and decides to pluck the blooms of the orchid and preserve it between the pages of a book, hoping to one day understand a deeper meaning behind the orchids’ resilience. Note how the poem is written, broken up into several stanzas with few lines. This reflects how the persona leads a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, considering that she is leaving after only 5 weeks. Thus, her life, like the structure of the poem is broken up into several shorter periods of living in different places. The tone of the poem is reflective.



Analysis

“I leave this house box pieces of the five-week life I’ve gathered.”

The persona is evidently leaving a house in which she has spent 5 weeks. Over this time period, she has gathered several aspects of a life; which is now packaged in boxes. The poet uses a metaphor in ‘box pieces of the five-week life I’ve gathered.’ The boxes are directly said to contain ‘pieces’ of the life she has gathered over five weeks. Thus, the contents of the boxes are directly compared to fragments of her life.

“I’ll send them on to fill spaces in my future life.”

The persona will now send these boxes to another home only to ‘fill spaces’ in another life a few weeks in length. The diction here suggests that the things she gathers only serve to take up spaces rather than serving sentimental value, as she seems to move often, defining each move as a transition into another life.

“One thing is left a spray of orchids someone gave from a bouquet one who makes a ritual of flower-giving sent.”

She has assembled everything and placed them into boxes, except for one final piece: a spray of orchids. This plant was given to her by someone who apparently gifts flowers ritually. The gift then seems vapid and in no way special- given only as a passing thought, since the person so compulsively gives flowers.

“The orchids have no fragrance but purple petals draw you to look at the purple heart.”

What the orchids lack in fragrance (like other flowers would have) they make up for in a sense of intrigue, as they demand your attention. The persona uses alliteration in ‘purple petals’ to communicate the vibrant colour of the petals. The repetition of that bilabial plosive ‘p’ sound reflects the striking nature of the petals in their ability to attract attention. The persona says that these petals draw one to ‘look at the purple heart.’ This communicates two things. Firstly, it relates the immediately recognizable structure at the centre of the bloom of an orchid, which is sort of like a heart due to its centrality, and in this case would be purple. Purple heart also alludes to a medal of honour given to US troops who exhibit notable bravery during their service. Thus, the orchids are also given a dimension/characteristic of bravery, which will be expounded upon in the later stanzas.

“I watered them once when the blossoms were full blown like polished poems. I was sure they’d wilt and I would toss them out with the five-week litter.”

The persona says that she had only cared to water the orchids once during a period of their full bloom. This conveys the indifference of the persona; the orchids are simply a passing gift, which, to her, are only worth a single watering and nothing more. The poet utilizes an alliteration encapsulated within a simile to relate the blossoms to poems in ‘when the blossoms were full blown like polished poems.’ Thus, the pleasance and appeal of the orchid’s blooms is related to the beauty and perfection in astute craft of polished poems. The persona relates that she expected the orchids to wilt and die, and obviously would not have cared in the slightest. Her plan was to simply discard of them along with the other things she found no need for after her five-week sojourn. She held no expectation for its survival, and thus saw it fit that it would be done away with once her need to stay there had dissipated.

“They were stubborn. I starved them. They would not die.”

Despite her attempt at getting rid of the orchids through starvation and neglect, they remained alive. They take on a dimension of strength and bravery in their survival, as they seem to refuse to concede death so easily. The persona uses mostly monosyllabic language here to communicate a form of confusion and surprise at their resilience. This stanza also shows that she was intent on causing their death- her neglect of them was not simply because she cared very little about their existence, but also because she wanted to see them wilt and die to discard them, just like her five-week stay.