Poppies mean everything.

John Addington Symonds “Love in Dreams”

As the title of this poem suggests Symonds explores the dynamics between love and dreaming. The first lines of this poem read as though Symonds is responding to someone. “Love hath his poppy-wreath/Not Night alone.” (Symonds 1-2) The use of the “Not” in the second line makes it seem as though someone has just said that Night alone has a poppy-wreath and Symonds is writing his disagreement with them here. Poppies represent a few different things. In classical texts poppies often represent sleep. Perhaps this is what Symonds is responding to by arguing that Love also brings sleep, or is associated with sleep, not just the night time. The other connotations of poppies allow for more complexity in these lines. Poppies also are placed on the graves of fallen soldiers because they are connected with blood. This would make these more morbid, suggesting that Love is a fallen soldier. Or perhaps that Love is as dangerous as the Night is and also has its fair share of dead. There is also a homoerotic reading to poppies. With that in mind these lines could refer to homosexuality as being about Love as much as it is about the sin that happens at “Night”. Night was perhaps a time to do the deeds you wouldn’t during the day such as sex. Symonds here is claiming that Love is also homoerotic and a place of this expression of same sex desire.

Combining these literary connections to those in “The Language and Poetry of Flowers” published in 1875 makes for some interesting intersections. Poppies, depending on their color, can mean consolation, fantastic extravagance or sleep. The question of what kind of poppy wreath Love has seems to hinge on what kind of poppy wreath Night has. Night is a time of consolation and mourning the hard day, as well as being a time for extravagance and indulgences of many kinds. Not that these are entirely oppositional ideas but they bring out different meanings to these lines. If we read with consolation in mind then the rest of the poem is rather sad. The dream, all the “fancy fine” and “soul of youth” are present to appease the speaker because of some sadness or disappointment. When overlapped with the homoerotic reading it would seem that these dreams are consolation for his unrequited or sinful love. The overlap between homoeroticism and fantastic extravagance is slightly more positive about same sex love. Night is viewed as a time for the sinful, the taboo, and the excessive (i.e. drinking or sexing a lot) which has a connotation of indulgence. Night is a time to let out the impulses you keep in all day, like same sex desire, and it seems this poem is saying that Love is also a place/time where this indulgence should be/is permitted. When in Love, as in the Night, there should be a fantastic extravagance in same sex desires.

While all these different associates with poppies allow these first lines to have many overlapping meanings. There is no way to know exactly which version of “poppy wreath” that Symonds is referring to. This slippage between signifier, signified and sign creates possibilities of meaning. It is a place to potentially hide taboo subjects or reform social relationships in “confusingly disorderly ways” (Levine). The semiotic confusion doesn’t preclude meaning but expands it. The openness of these lines, and the way they could mean many things, shows how language is connected to who is reading it and how they choose to read it. It also shows how artists, like Wilde and his character Basil, are perhaps in their work as well as being apart from it. There are many combinations and connotations to just these two opening lines, and these possibilities produce meaning and readings for this poem.


“Poppy.” A Dictionary of Literary Symbols. Michael Ferber. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Credo Reference.Web. 17 Apr. 2016.