“The Opinion changed as for Flowers” by Francis Ponge, excerpt translated by Jonathan Larson.


Paris, June 13, 1954.
Corrections from August 4, in Les Fleurys.

We would like (it would seem indispensable to us) to provoke a modification (or metamorphosis) of the idea of the flower,

In reinvolving a good many things (roundhouse) kept aside until now,

And to enact a “philosophical” idea (?) of this object (or rather of this moment in every individual, in every being) that’s not too far removed from our feelings in regards to it.

This would be a rather grave idea (as one speaks of an illness as being grave), for the feeling is relatively acute.

Here’s one of the texts (a very early one) to which I was inspired by the flowers:


“If one of these flowers, one of these bow-knots vibrating sensations, by surprise, came right up, from behind to touch me,

“The wailing it would draw out of me, the impression of red-hot iron! I would die from it! Like an explosive bullet, I would no longer be able to pull the bullet from my body!

“(…everywhere else but the eyes, to which it brings joy.)”

The flower is one of the typical passions of the human spirit. One of the wheels of its merry-go-round. One of its routine metaphors.

One of the involutions, the characteristic obsessions of this spirit.


  • To liberate ourselves, let us liberate the flower.
  • To change our opinion as for it.
  • To get out of this involucrum:
  • The concept that it became,
  • By some devolutive revolution,
  • Let it be, safe from any definition,
  • that which it is.
  • —But what then?
  • —Quite clearly: a conceptacle.

Picked up again on August 4 drawing on notes from June 12–15.

It’s about a tentative reinitiation.

That a young sensible spirit should not be killed by the first flower they become aware of, if my text (writing itself even here) has vaccinated them against such a violent attack on their sensibility.


That it should be put into gear again, into practiced working order, this (little) wheel of universal clockwork.

That its spring should be wound up again; so that in the reading, it sets off.


New drapes for posterity.

As one makes one’s bed so one lies.

I will remake our bed of flowers (as one says “a bed of roses” for a blissful sheath).


So that finally this young human, of whom I just spoke, may drink carefully from this little chalice: they will emerge mithridatized—against all the world’s poisons—for the rest of their life.

Les Fleurys—August 20, 54


j)—Vegetal growths are living, self-nourishing, breathing, suffering, rejoicing, dying* crystals; and which most often reproduce in the same manner as animals (sexuation, coupling of the male and female principals, fertilization, germination): the flower plays a large part in this. (The word flora alone already signals the importance the flower is granted in what is the vegetal world.)


I hold fast to the ending s that would be here in the French and ask that the proofreaders would not remove them.

k)—Would not that which is touching to us in the vegetal be the perfect and abstract character (derived from its proximity to the crystal) bestowed with the qualities of living matter (that which draws them closer to us)? Would we not consider ourselves as a certain (paradoxical) perfection of the living? Or, conversely, as relatively imperfect crystals and, by that, more sibling to us?

They would then owe this (relative) perfection to their attachment to the soil, to their immobility. Compared to them, we would be but vagabonds, hobos, with neither hearth nor home; intruders, superfluous on earth.

l)—Vegetals permit us to absorb mineral salts (when we are nourishing ourselves on them, or by the flesh of animals nourished on them beforehand).

They constitute the passage from the mineral (of the inorganic, generally crystalline) to the animal (to the baroque life).

m)—With reference to k) and l), it should be noted that leaf, fruit, and blossom are a matter of crystallizations whose stalks—that is the umbilical cord, the link to a being which “grows” them, produces them—are perceptible to the eye.

Would we not admire the possibility there for a living being (participant, in this way, to pick up on the baroque again), to produce perfect (abstract) signs; to realize and carry perfect works with outstretched arms, worthwhile in and by themselves? The blossoms, for example, are openings of the individual vegetal, which it carries with outstretched arms.

In genuine crystals, those that are inorganic, we see none of this. We cannot conceive of the being that may have produced them: there’s nothing that would know to draw them nearer to us (in this sense).

n)—Their sensitivity (vegetal) to the outside conditions that affect us as well: light, temperature, humidity or dryness, winds…

o)—But… no head (one always has to come back to that). The conception of the Greeks, according to which (it seems) the knot of a being would reside with the human, neither in the head nor the heart, but in the solar plexus, justifying a closeness between the crystal and the vegetal well enough.

According to this conception, the animal would have a (geometric) center, wherefrom its limbs (of which the head is one) radiate in all senses.

Likewise, when it comes to the plant, this knot might take up a certain place, between stem and root (not far from where it exits earth), where it itself produces growth in both directions (upward and downward); center or knot keeping the memory of the seed; altogether, at the center of gravity; at the foot of the mast and top of the keel.

In the spirit of this new metaphor (that of the vegetal-vessel), one might also conceive of the roots as anchors, as a system of anchors. And say the vegetal is organic matter that’s anchored (having cast anchor), which hoists and, strictly speaking, periodically (seasonally) plants, its colors, then puts it at half-mast, hauls it down, etc.

Excerpt from L’opinion changée quant aux fleurs by Francis Ponge, in Nouveau Nouveau Recueil, 1940–1975 tome II (edit. Jean Thibaudeau). © Editions Gallimard, 1992.