The Intelligence of Flowers

The Intelligence of the Flowers by Maurice Maeterlinck

The Intelligence of the Flowers

Maurice Maeterlinck

“We have long taken a rather foolish pride in thinking ourselves miraculous, unparalleled beings . . . It is much more consoling to observe that we follow the same road as the soul of this great world.”

This beautiful little book, a wrapped gift of a single essay, is indeed about the intelligence of flowers. Yet as Maeterlinck emphasizes throughout, he is merely an observer of what the botanist sees every day – the “conscious genius,” the “powerful reasoning faculty,” the “indefatigable, unexpected little intelligence at work.” What Maeterlinck brings to this observation – of flowers and of life – is the eye of a gifted poet.

Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), the Belgian writer of poetry, plays and essays, was recognized by the 1911 Nobel committee as an artist with “the imaginative power and dreaming spirit of a visionary,” one that had been “elevated to a rare spirituality.”

In The Intelligence of the Flowers Maeterlinck points to the fact that flowers are our spiritual elders. These splendid creatures, he reminds us, have lived on this earth for thousands of years, since before there were any models they could mimic as they learned to survive and to thrive. He brings the flowers to life for us as he describes in fine detail their ingenious methods of survival, their “courage and perseverance,” their “perpetual and intricate dance.” And then he turns to us, as though we are lying in the garden with him and looking through the magnifying glass he has created for us. He talks with us about the universal intelligence that permeates all of life and finds in man the “being in whom are most intensely manifested the great volitions, the great desires of the universe.”

The Intelligence of the Flowers reminds us once again that we are the latest comers on this earth and that we are the species most capable of conscious cooperation with the life that surrounds us. As Maeterlinck says, the proof the flowers give us of the intelligence upon which we may rely is “probably quite infinitesimal compared with what the mountains, the sea and the stars would tell us, could we surprise the secrets of their life.”

This lovely essay, so slight it can be consumed in an indulgent hour, is a sheer delight.

The Gleam of Light Team

The Intelligence of Flowers
Maurice Maeterlinck
Cover image from the 2007 State University of New York Press edition
Translated and Introduced by Philip Mosley

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