Though this flower seller’s ‘advert’ was collected in a book about London Life in 1912, it seems likely to date as far back as the time of Queen Elizabeth 1st as part of an ongoing oral
tradition. Remember, almost all poetry everywhere belongs in this tradition of words passed from generation to generation:
7 here’s your sweet lavender
sixteen sprigs a penny
that you’ll find my ladies
will smell as sweet as any!
The tradition was evidently still strong in 1929 when Clark’s Flower Song Book included this:
8 Lavender, sweet lavender;
come and buy my lavender,
hide it in your trousseau, lady fair.
Let its flovely fragrance flow
Over your from head to toe,
lightening on your eyes, your cheek, your hair.”
Clare is himself a genuinely original, inventive poet of the countryside, his poems are steeped in the traditions of village life – traditions which included passing on messages in the language
9 Pale primroses, too, at the old parlour end,
Have bloomed all the winter ‘midst snows cold and dreary,
Where the lavender-cotton kept off the cold wind,
Now to shine in my valentine nosegay for Mary;
And appear in my verses all Summer, and be
A memento of fondness and friendship for thee.
It is the ‘pale primroses’ which signify love in this poem – but look at what has preserved the primroses through all the long, hard winter: lavender-scented cotton cloth to ward off the chills
of the winter winds. Incidentally, Clare has a lovely way of rhyming dreary with Mary and end with wind – rhymes which are close but unexpected, just as Lavender belongs in the poem but is not quite doing what we expected.
William Shenstone in The School Mistress in 1742 again gives us an unexpected glimpse of Lavender, even in the lady’s classroom, in the perfume of her handkerchiefs – which she has
woven herself, making linen from flax, and then scented by wrapping the newly created linen around bundles of dried lavender:
lavender, whose spikes of azure bloom [spike – shape of flower]
shall be, ere-while, in arid bundles bound
to lurk amidst the labours of her loom,
and crown her kerchiefs with mickle rare perfume. [mickle – mighty or very]
Similarly, we may be sure that Miss Jekyll, writing in Home and Garden in 1900, is recording knowledge and beliefs which have persisted for centuries:
among the good plants for hot, sandy soils
are the ever blessed lavender and rosemary,
delicious old garden bushes that one can hardly dissociate.
To see just how long our knowledge of Lavender has been recorded for posterity (and we can safely assume that the knowledge is older than writing itself) look at Turner’s Herbal
(a guide to identifying and using different flowers and herbs) from as far ago as 1545:
judge that the flowers of lavender quilted in a cappe and dayly worn are good
for all diseases of the head that come of a cold cause and that they comfort
the braine very well.
We couldn’t put it better ourselves!