“Make it rich as a draught of poppies to intoxicate me.” –John Keats
Poppies are not simply beautiful flowers that grow in abundance in fields worldwide but are symbolic of many things. The poppy is associated with remembrance, sleep, and dreams. This plant revolutionized the way we think about medicine (i.e., morphine) and honoring those lost in battle. They are, of course, also gorgeous flowers that we use to make bouquets and wear on our lapels. Let’s discover more about this magnificent flower, shall we?
Poppies represent remembrance, death, sleep, and dreams…just ask Edgar Allan Poe and Baudelaire! Morphine is made from the sap of poppies, and of course, so is opium. Because of this, we associate poppies with relief from pain, dreams brought on by the god Morpheus, sleep, and even death. Some also associate the poppy with resurrection.
Edgar Allan Poe was known to imbibe opium, as were Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Baudelaire. Would we have some of their incredible, dreamy poetry and haunting stories if it weren’t for the influence of this drug? Thomas de Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821) was one of the first publications about the hallucinatory effects of drugs.
There were poppies in Tutankhamun’s tomb (deceased in 1325 BC); his clothes were partly made from the flowers, and there were illustrations of the plant on his jewelry.
Wear a poppy
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row.”
John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” (1915) is a poem that honors those lost in WWI, and to wear a poppy is to show solidarity for those lost in war. The “poppy line” was established in 1922 for wounded veterans to fashion poppies from paper, and since many of the veterans had limited faculties, the flowers were designed to be made with only one hand.
Poppies were a sign of remembrance for those lost in war before the first and second World Wars; Homer wrote of the flower in the ancient Greek poem, “The Iliad.”
There are fields of poppies around the world that are astonishingly beautiful. In Spain, they only bloom a few days out of the year but are extremely plentiful in Turkey, India, and other parts of Northern Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Here you’ll find poppy farms (although the cultivation of poppies has been limited in recent years in certain countries such as Afghanistan). Poppies thrive in warm weather but are very resilient and can still grow if a field is covered in snow! We all remember that incredible scene from “The Wizard of Oz” when the wicked witch tries to impede Dorothy and her friends from reaching the Emerald City by covering a field in poppies so they’ll all fall asleep. Glenda, the Good Witch, sends snow so they’ll awaken!
When we think of poppies, the brilliant blood-red color comes to mind, but poppies come in several colors, including white, pink, and yellow. A member of the “Papaveroideae” family, there are all sorts of poppies, including the Opium, Oriental, Iceland, Flanders, and Himalayan (which is blue) varieties. There are also types of poppies that don’t really look familiar at all, such as Bloodroot and Greater Celandine (which is small, four-petalled, and yellow).
Of course, we also associate poppies with their seeds and our favorite morning breakfast! There’s nothing more divine than a poppy seed muffin or bagel with cream cheese. The only edible poppy, though, is the opium poppy.
Van Gogh painted flowers like none other, and his poppies are no exception. His “Butterflies and Poppies” (1890), “Poppy Flowers” (or “Vase and Flowers,” 1890), “Vase with Red Poppies,” and “Poppy Field” (1890) are all exquisite representations of the blossom.