Remembrance rhetoric of flowers

Today’s remembrance service in London is a reminder of the significance of flowers as a rhetorical symbol in communications.  The poppy is a very simple symbol which was conceived in 1921 to acknowledge the losses of the first world war. 

When I travel by car to France, I like to stop at the Baie de somme service station as it has a lovely nature reserve and is a good place to walk.  I always think of the tragedies that befell so many in this beautiful part of France some 90 years ago. 

Last week I was in France and all the graveyards were filled with chrysanthemums as the start of November sees La Toussaint (Day of the Dead); a time to remember your departed loved ones.  It is a beautiful symbol at this time of year, with the fabulous colours and flamboyance of the petals bringing a smile along with memories.

We didn’t put chrysanthemums in the heart-shaped flowerbed where we placed my dad’s ashes. Instead, my mum planted bright red and pink tulips along with snowdrops to appear in the early Spring. Our idea is for these to form smaller heart shapes – and we’re hoping the flowers realise what a special symbol this would be for us.

My dad also liked pansies, which are symbolised in Hamlet, where Ophelia says: “And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts” – taking this from the French, pensée.

I am proud to think of my dad resting in the soil in the Pyrenees – especially after reading Revenge and Regret.  This is a fictionalised version of a true story that occurred in the forest of Picaussel, which is a few minutes from my parents’ house.

On 6 August, 1944, around 400 maquisards (members of the French resistance) escaped from the Germany army.  We’d noticed the graves of two young men on the roadside and now know they were killed as the Germans advanced.  Each year, flowers are still placed on these graves. 

Flowers have a long history as communication symbols, their meaning can enable a subtle message to be conveyed.  More than anything though, giving someone flowers is a lovely gesture.  Whether a single role or a bold modern arrangement, it symbolises that you are thinking of someone.  As a professional communicator, I like the ability to say so much without words. 

As someone with a flower for a name, I know heather is the symbol of good luck.  I also  found this lovely story which tells how the plant took on God’s challenge of growing on the “bare and barren hillsides” to make them more beautiful.

The heather thought about the poor soil, the wind and the rain – and wasn’t very sure that she could do a good job. But turning to God she replied that if he wanted her to do it, she would certainly give it a try.

In return, God gave Heather:

  • the strength of the oak tree
  • the fragrance of the honeysuckle
  • and the sweetness of the rose

I’m not so sure about being fragrant or sweet, but I am happy for my reputation to be willing to give a tough task a try and having inner strength.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

3 thoughts on “Remembrance rhetoric of flowers”

  1. I’m not so sure about being fragrant or sweet, but I am happy for my reputation to be willing to give a tough task a try and having inner strength.

    …And giving others the encouragement so that they can be the same way.

  2. A nice post indeed – flowers have served as a symbol over time and their connotative meaning is fascinating because it always relates to your own personal circumstances and history.

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