Adventures and perils in the life of an innocent flower, or more than one

Anselm Kiefer, Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom
Anselm Kiefer, Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom

In 1957 Mao wrote: “Letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy of promoting the progress of the arts and sciences.” (1)

Anselm Kiefer, Morgenthau: laßt tausend Blumen blühen; (Morgenthau: Let a thousand flowers bloom), 2012
Anselm Kiefer, Morgenthau: laßt tausend Blumen blühen; (Morgenthau: Let a thousand flowers bloom), 2012

“A World-Historical individual is devoted to the One Aim, regardless of all else.  It is even possible that such men may treat other great, even sacred interests inconsiderately; conduct which is indeed obnoxious to moral reprehension.  But so mighty a form must trample down many an innocent flower or crush to pieces many an object in its path.

From G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of History in Jacob Loewenberg (ed.), Hegel: Selections (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1929), pp. 376-80. (2)

Anselm Kiefer, From Oscar Wilde, 1974
Anselm Kiefer, From Oscar Wilde, 1974

The Nightingale and the Rose (1888). In Wilde’s story, the songbird impales herself on the thorn of a rosebush so that her song and blood will infuse the plant and give birth to a red flower. The rose produced by the nightingale’s sacrifice is then plucked by a feckless student of philosophy to give to his unrequited love. In turn she rejects his offer, choosing instead the jewels proffered by another suitor, and the scholar turns back to the only kind of knowledge he comprehends—philosophy. (3)

Anselm Kiefer, For Robert Fludd (Für Robert Fludd), 1995-96
Anselm Kiefer, For Robert Fludd (Für Robert Fludd), 1995-96

For Robert Fludd (Für Robert Fludd, 1995–96) is dedicated to the eponymous English metaphysical philosopher and alchemist (1574–1637), for whom the essence of each and every one of the universe’s elements could be found in mankind, a notion that established a cosmological order between different spheres of the universe. Fludd was also renowned for his understanding of how to convey his philosophical and cosmological ideas graphically, with the help of the best printmakers of his day.

Kiefer began to make books and paintings with underlying themes devoted to Fludd in the early 1990s. This particular book contains a series of photographs illustrating the process of growth in a sunflower field. For Kiefer, sunflowers offer an optimal analogy for Fludd’s thinking about the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm. (4)

Odilon Redon, Decorative Floral Panel, Domency 1902, Musee D'Orsay, Paris
Odilon Redon, Decorative Floral Panel, Domency 1902, Musee D’Orsay, Paris


by Paul Celan

The stone.
The stone in the air, which I followed.
Your eye as blind as the stone.

We were
we scooped the darkness empty, we found
the word that ascended summer:

Flower—a blindman’s word.
Your eye and my eye:
they look
after water.

Heartwall by heartwall
adds on petals.

One more word like this, and the hammers
will be swinging free.

(Trans. John Felstiner)

Original Japanese art "Chrysanthemum" - sumi-e drawing - wash ink - painting - Wall decor - from AnimaAllegra - bamboo brash & rice paper
Original Japanese art “Chrysanthemum” – sumi-e drawing – wash ink – painting – Wall decor – from AnimaAllegra – bamboo brash & rice paper

The chrysanthemum, known as kiku (菊) in Japanese, is the symbol of autumn in Japan. It is at this time of year that the flower blooms most brightly. Once a flower begins to bloom, specialist chrysanthemum growers use custom-made sticks to meticulously train the petals to point upwards. This painstaking attention to detail ensures that the flower has a distinctive and unique look with its some 300 petals all pointing straight up.

Chrysanthemums originated in China, and were later transported to Japan where they have been long admired for their elegance. Chrysanthemum has long been associated with notions of rejuvenation and longevity. In times past, people would use use cloths to wipe chrysanthemum dew on their skin on Chrysanthemum Day, which is on the 9th day of the 9th month of the year, in hopes of maintaining their youth. Today it is still very popular to have chrysanthemum motifs on pieces of clothing and furnishings. (5)


“While walking in the Public Gardens of Palermo, it came to me in a flash that in the organ of the plant which we are accustomed to call the leaf lies the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal forms. From first to last, the plant is nothing but leaf, which is so inseparable from the future germ that one cannot think of one without the other. Anyone who has had the experience of being confronted by an idea, pregnant with possibilities, whether he thought of it for himself or caught it from others, will know that it creates a tumult and enthusiasm in the mind, which makes one intuitively anticipate its further developments
and the conclusions towards which it points. Knowing this, he will understand that my vision had become an obsessive passion with which I was to be occupied, if not exclusively perhaps, still for the rest of my
life”. [6]


The Fury of Flowers and Worms

by Anne Sexton

Let the flowers make a journey
on Monday so that I can see
ten daisies in a blue vase
with perhaps one red ant
crawling to the gold center.
A bit of the field on my table,
close to the worms
who struggle blinding,
moving deep into their slime,
moving deep into God’s abdomen,
moving like oil through water,
sliding through the good brown.
The daisies grow wild
like popcorn.
They are God’s promise to the field.
How happy I am, daisies, to love you.
How happy you are to be loved
and found magical, like a secret
from the sluggish field.
If all the world picked daisies
wars would end, the common cold would stop,
unemployment would end, the monetary market
would hold steady and no money would float.
Listen world.
if you’d just take the time to pick
the white flowers, the penny heart,
all would be well.
They are so unexpected.
They are as good as salt.
If someone had brought them
to van Gogh’s room daily
his ear would have stayed on.
I would like to think that no one would die anymore
if we all believed in daisies
but the worms know better, don’t they?
They slide into the ear of a corpse
and listen to his great sigh.


(1) Let a thousand flowers bloom, The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York


(3) From Oscar Wilde, The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York

(4) Anselm Kiefer, For Robert Fludd, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

(5) What is the meaning of the chrysanthemum (kiku) in the Japanese culture? By Jean Somerville-Rabbitt.

(6) Johann Wolfgand von Goethe, Italian Journey, Penguin