In the Rose Garden of changeless splendour a Flower hath begun to bloom, compared to which every other flower is but a thorn, and before the brightness of Whose glory the very essence of beauty must pale and wither.
The roses in our garden are extremely beautiful: if only the camera could have also captured their perfume, especially that of the white rose. The idea of a flower that is unimaginably more beautiful perfectly captures what heavenly beauty must be like.
Roses have always been a captivating symbol of the ultimately desirable. The poetry of mortal love has often drawn upon it. Burns sang:
My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June . . .
“It would be surprising if Rumi had not reserved the central place in his garden lyrics for the rose. As much as he has described the various flowers – the rose is different; it is the most perfect manifestation of Divine Beauty in the garden. . . . Rumi’s poetry abounds in rose-poems, beginning with the famous ghazal:
Today is the day of joy, and this year is the year of the rose . . . .
“The smiling flower . . . . becomes the symbol of the happy soul:
Like a rose, I smile with my whole body, not only by way of the mouth,
For I am – without myself – alone with the king of the world.”
(The Triumphal Sun: pages 90-91)
Blake typically had a darker slant:
O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Schimmel does refer to Rumi’s awareness of the convention that saw the rose as ‘faithless’ because so short-lived. Burns was also aware of the thorns. In another of his poems, Ye Flowery Banks, we see a false lover leaving the pain of them with the woman he had abandoned:
Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose
Frae aff its thorny tree,
And my fause luver staw my rose,
But left the thorn wi’ me.
Because of the fleetingness of its beauty and the thorns it bears there is an ache of longing connected with the rose. Even when it symbolises the heavenly it reminds us of our distance from paradise at the same time as it gives us glimpses of what that garden might be like.
I couldn’t end this trip down a rose-strewn path without quoting Shakespeare (Sonnet 54):
O! how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give.
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour, which doth in it live.
And so we’re back to the perfume that the pictures can never capture.