Mudcat Café message #2753985 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #124651   Message #2753985
Posted By: semi-submersible
27-Oct-09 - 07:16 PM
Thread Name: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady (Phil Ochs)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady
Selling bouquets was (is?) an unskilled trade not requiring heavy labour or large investment. For centuries, I understand country folk would walk or hitch rides into towns, carrying fresh posies of wild or cultivated flowers. Depending on the time they had to spend and profit they expected, they could either peddle the nosegays on the street or wholesale them to city dwellers who would do the same. Because the flowers were so perishable the small profits would be chancy and labour-intensive. It's hard to imagine any but the poorest of people spending their days in this trade. The famous fictional character Eliza Doolittle when she gets the chance aims to sell flowers from a shop instead.

Q recently posted a similar tear-jerker from about 1800 about a flower lady, with the chorus:

With afflicted heart I dejected cry,
Come buy my violets, who'll buy, who'll buy.

In both songs, the passersby seem to be expected to buy flowers out of charity: not because the posy is worth their penny, but because the seller needs financial help. Yet the flower girl offers a token in return instead of merely begging. Though poor and needy, she retains some dignity.

I think both songs imply that the purchase of a little bunch of flowers enacts a deeply symbolic contact between wealth and want, resources exchanged for gratitude, to mutual satisfaction. Do seller's need and buyer's relative wealth draw a class barrier between them, or do they two for an instant meet as human beings?