Erasmus Darwin’s The Loves of the Plants
Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin was a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave-trade abolitionist, inventor, and poet. His long poems The Loves of Plants (1791), one piece of the larger compendium The Botanic Garden (1791), investigates the reproduction of plants, which popularized discoveries of the period about how flowers worked, and led to social concerns about women and flowers – and even a craze of women demonstrating their moral uprightness by raising sporate ferns. These, lacking flowers, altogether avoided the discussion on these sexy inflorescences’ ultimate purpose.
The Loves of Plants
Ye painted Moths, your gold-eyed plumage furl,
Bow your wide horns, your spiral trunks uncurl;
Glitter, ye Glow-worms, on your mossy beds;
Descend, ye Spiders, on your lengthen’d threads;
Slide here, ye horned Snails, with varnish’d shells;
Ye Bee-nymphs, listen in your waxen cells!–
BOTANIC MUSE! who in this latter age
Led by your airy hand the Swedish sage,
Bad his keen eye your secret haunts explore
On dewy dell, high wood, and winding shore;
Say on each leaf how tiny Graces dwell;
How laugh the Pleasures in a blossom’s bell;
How insect Loves arise on cobweb wings,
Aim their light shafts, and point their little stings.
Hannah Star Rogers
Without their companion moths,
these foreign beauties are hopeless.
Here, there is no possibility for seed.
Even the incestuous pollen grains
that might fall to waiting stigmas
are thwarted: there is no wind.
When I lie down in the damp grass,
a star aligns with the blossom.
If I switch elbows,
the symmetry is gone.