A Contemplation Upon Flowers

by Henry King
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What are figures of speech used in the poem "A Contemplation upon Flowers"?

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Henry King's poem "A Contemplation Upon Flowers" primarily uses the figure of speech personification. Other literary devices seen in the poem include apostrophe, imagery, and rhyme scheme.
A figure of speech is another way to say "figurative language." It simply means that the word, phrase, or image is not meant to be taken literally. Similes, metaphors, and personification are the figures of speech we see most often in poetry, and King seems to prefer personification in this poem.
He begins the poem in apostrophe by directly addressing these flowers that he is contemplating. He says to them in the first stanza,

Brave flowers—that I could gallant it like you,
And be as little vain!
You come abroad, and make a harmless show,
And to your beds of earth again.
You are not proud: you know your birth:
For your embroider'd garments are from earth.

In these opening lines, the speaker desires to be like the flowers, to have their gallantry and humility. The idea that flowers could have these human qualities makes these examples of personification. He describes flowers blooming as them "com[ing] abroad, and mak[ing] a show," as though they are performers traveling through a town for a performance. He says they return to "beds of earth," using the word "beds" to convey more of their human-like qualities. The flowers "are not proud," another personality trait we associate with humans. Their "embroider'd garments" are not clothes like humans wear, but "are from the earth," natural features of the ground.

In the second and third stanzas, the poet continues his personification of the flowers to illustrate which traits he wishes he could cultivate in himself. He especially wants to be able to accept the natural life cycle, "to see Death and not to fear" like the flowers do, as they simply go through the stages of their development, looking "cheerful." To reiterate, all of these human features given to the flowers, their moods and attitudes, are examples of personification. These are figures of speech because the flowers do not literally feel the way the poet says they do; he is simply projecting human qualities onto them to understand his own human situation.

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The most heavily used figure of speech in this poem is personification. Flowers, as inanimate objects, can not actually exhibit many of the characteristics they are credited with having in the words of the poet. "Brave flowers...you are not proud: you know your birth" Flowers aren't brave or proud; they don't know when they are born because they aren't really born in any sense.

The poet is contemplating flowers because he has observed so many flowers in funeral and burial arrangements. "How often have I seen you at a bier, and there look fresh and spruce!" The unstated rhetorical question in the poem is asking the flowers for guidance in how to face death without fear.

O that I could my bed of earth but view and smile, and look as cheerfully as you! O teach me to see Death and not to fear, But rather to take truce!...teach me, that my breath like yours may sweeten and perfume my death.

The rhyme scheme of the poem supports the structure of thoughts being expressed and emphasizes the inescapable nature of death. The rhythm and rhyme are maintained throughout the poem in perfect form.



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