Centifolia: 100 Rose Poems

An ebook anthology of poetry.

I’ve been collecting rose poems for some time, and have finally completed this anthology of 100 rose poems. I’m sure you’ll discover at least one new favourite within! The ebook is currently available as a PDF, but if you would like me to format it for MOBI or EPUB, let me know and I will see what I can do. Here is the introduction, which may or may not convince you to read further…

Introduction to the Anthology

“Won’t you come into my garden? I would like my roses to see you.”
-Richard B. Sheridan

Centifolia means “hundred-leaved” and is a species of rose famous for its full petals and rich perfume, also known as the “cabbage” or “provence” rose. Although the poems in this anthology span more than a hundred pages, and reference many different roses, it seemed an apt title. The English word, anthology has floral roots too; it comes from the Ancient Greek ἀνθολογία (anthologia) meaning, “flower-gathering”. The Turkish equivalent is güldeste, “rose bouquet”. Gül (“rose”) will be familiar to many readers; the sweet songs of the oriental bülbül (“nightingale”) have paired her with him for many ages in both love and rhyme. This vein is represented not only in Hafiz and Omar Khayyam, but has also been adopted by western poets, William Thackeray, Henry Newbolt, and William Henley among them.

There is a further Turkish literary tradition called the gül-i sad berk (from the Persian for centifolia) in which pieces of prose or poetry are collated into hundred-fold anthologies. Such is the long-standing love affair between literature and flower arrangement.

My criteria for choosing these poems has been fairly loosely-tied, allowing for personal taste more than literary concerns, and not being too stringent in distinguishing between poems that mention roses, and poems that are about roses. “Old Herrick” as Robert Frost calls him, has no fewer than six poems included in this centifolia, and I could not behead a single one. Several other poets are similarly over-represented (though not overblown) but I have spread them artfully (I hope) through my arrangement so that they won’t offend.

Many of the poems begin in the rosy-fingered dawn, perhaps suggested as much by the English “arose” or “uprose” as the morning’s association with youth and newness. The sun is more prevalent than the moon and light than dark, and the poems cycle swiftly the full round of the seasons. It’s time that hardly skips a poem, and Edgar Lee Masters sums it up beautifully in his “tick tick tick” of “the same old thought”:

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The snows and the roses of yesterday are vanished;
And what is love but a rose that fades?

Those who come to this anthology looking for love poems will find them, of course, but it is striking how the short-lived but brilliant beauty of the rose has driven poets again and again through the ages to belabour the theme of the beauty of youth and the passing of time. Reading through the poems in quick succession gives one the impression of being smothered under the rose petals of Heliogabalus: individuality disappears and what is left is one single, urgent expression of transience made real by intense emotions of regret and longing. Which is to say, all is not rosy in rose poetry, and one might, after all, be better off reading prose.