The Easter Flower

Claude McKay

‘The Easter Flower’ by Claude McKay illustrates the differences between the speaker’s pagan worship of nature and the more traditional theology surrounding the holiday.


Claude McKay

Nationality: American

Claude McKay was one of the most influential figures of Harlem Renaissance in America.

He was a prominent figure in the broader literary world in the 1920s.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Modes of worship are unique to the individual

Speaker: A secular individual

Emotions Evoked: Gratitude, Passion, Worry

Poetic Form: Ode

Time Period: 20th Century

Claude McKay's poem uses sublime imagery and religious allusions to highlight the similarities and differences between two different forms of spirituality.

‘The Easter Flower’ is a short poem by Claude McKay that provides a unique perspective on the typically Christian/Catholic-centered holiday. One that examines the differences between a speaker who approaches the tradition without much context or reliability towards the religious practices and theology that surrounds it.

The poem appears to also echo McKay’s own eventual movement from secularism to conversion, which occurred later in the poet’s life. Although the poem isn’t exceptionally critical of more traditional interpretations of Easter, it does earnestly present the speaker’s perception of the flower as rooted in reverence of the sublime within nature. Its juxtaposition of the speaker’s pagan worship and that of Christian/Catholic allusions creates a compelling image of spirituality.

The Easter Flower
Claude McKay

Far from this foreign Easter damp and chilly My soul steals to a pear-shaped plot of ground,Where gleamed the lilac-tinted Easter lily Soft-scented in the air for yards around;

Alone, without a hint of guardian leaf! Just like a fragile bell of silver rime,It burst the tomb for freedom sweet and brief In the young pregnant year at Eastertime;

And many thought it was a sacred sign, And some called it the resurrection flower;And I, a pagan, worshiped at its shrine, Yielding my heart unto its perfumed power.


‘The Easter Flower’ by Claude McKay highlights the differences between the speaker’s personal spirituality and the Christian theology surrounding Easter through their reverence of a small but beautiful flower.

‘The Easter Flower’ is a short poem that centers on the speaker’s admiration of a lilac-colored Easter lily. The first stanza underscores the gulf that exists between the speaker’s understanding of the religious tradition surrounding the holiday itself. Instead, they focus all their attention on a small patch of ground from which a flower grows, the beautiful smell drawing them towards it.

The speaker then heavily alludes to the story of Christ’s resurrection, which at first appears to contradict their foreignness to Easter. But then a group of Christians appear beside the speaker and start to revere the same flower as a sign of Christ’s resurrection as well. The speaker, however, worships in much more pagan terms and values the flower simply as a sublime piece of nature.

Structure and Form

‘The Easter Flower’ is comprised of three quatrains with a rhyme scheme of ‘ABAB CDCD EFEF.’ The meter of the poem most closely resembles iambic pentameter, with a few of the lines including an eleventh unstressed syllable. Both its structure and subject matter also indicate it is an example of heroic stanzas of quatrains.

Literary Devices

‘The Easter Flower’ uses a large variety of imagery to build the scene of McKay’s poem. There are examples of tactile imagery: “damp and chilly” (1); olfactory imagery: “Soft-scented in the air for yards around” (4); and visual imagery: “a pear-shaped plot of ground” (2), “Where gleamed the lilac-tinted Easter lily” (3).

The poet also uses figurative language in the form of metaphor: “It burst the tomb for freedom sweet and brief” (7); and simile “Just like a fragile bell of silver rime” (6). As well as personification: “My soul steals” (2) “In the young pregnant year” (8).

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Far from this foreign Easter damp and chilly
         My soul steals to a pear-shaped plot of ground,
Where gleamed the lilac-tinted Easter lily
         Soft-scented in the air for yards around;

The first stanza of ‘The Easter Flower’ finds the speaker seemingly rejecting the traditionally religious sentiments associated with Easter. “Far from this foreign Easter” (1), the speaker begins. A statement that implies their literal/figurative distance from the festivities, as well as their cultural unfamiliarity with the holiday.

Through personification — “My soul steals” (2) — the speaker reveals what their focus has been transfixed by: a flower. A “lilac-tinted Easter lily” (3), to be precise, a color that symbolizes spirituality, a hint at the tension later developed between the speaker’s pagan-esque sentiments and the Christian/Catholic theology that surrounds Easter.

Stanza Two

Alone, without a hint of guardian leaf!
         Just like a fragile bell of silver rime,
It burst the tomb for freedom sweet and brief
         In the young pregnant year at Eastertime;

Stanza two of ‘The Easter Flower’ finds the speaker describing the flower with sacred reverence. In some ways, the diction used and characteristics bestowed on it (as well as the poem’s title) allude to qualities shared also by Christ, who is often depicted as a lamb around Easter. The speaker emphasizes the flower’s vulnerability — “without a hint of guardian leaf!” (5) — and calls it “fragile” (6).

But the most explicit allusion to the theology of Easter comes in the stanza’s final two lines. McKay uses a metaphor to compare the ground the flower has burst from to a tomb, which serves as an allusion to the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.

Stanza Three

And many thought it was a sacred sign,
         And some called it the resurrection flower;
And I, a pagan, worshiped at its shrine,
         Yielding my heart unto its perfumed power.

In the final stanza of ‘The Easter Flower,‘ the speaker describes the contrasting perceptions of the flower between themselves — “a pagan” (11) — and the Christians/Catholics celebrating Easter. To the latter, the lilac is a “sacred sign” (9), with some referring to it as a “resurrection flower” (10). What’s ironic is that although the speaker’s own descriptions from the last stanza reveal that such interpretations are rather applicable.

Yet where they differ is that the speaker perceives the flower as worthy of worship simply because it is a flower, finding something sacred in its tender resilience and fragrant beauty. It’s a powerful image that highlights both the differences and similarities between two seemingly antithetical belief systems by illustrating the inherent values they share, such as a reverence for the sublime and a sanctity for the meek.


What is the theme of ‘The Easter Flower?

The theme of the poem appears to center on the speaker’s somewhat contrasting and somewhat similar perception of the flower with Christians/Catholics celebrating Easter. They both revere the flower but for different reasons: the speaker doesn’t love and revere the flower because it is a symbol of Christ, but rather because it is an elegant manifestation of nature’s sublime beauty. At its core, the poem appears to be a defense of personal belief and that our varying interpretations of life don’t necessarily need to be antithetical to one another.

What does the flower symbolize in ‘The Easter Flower?

At first, the flower’s allusions to Christ might indicate that’s what it symbolizes. To the religious folk who observe the flower alongside the speaker, that’s exactly what it is. And while the speaker passes no judgment on these interpretations, it’s made evident they don’t share them. To the speaker, the Easter flower is beautiful and sublime because it exists as it is. When they call themselves pagan, they are emphasizing their worship of nature for nature’s sake alone, not out of some perceived connection between deity and theology.

Why did Claude McKay write ‘The Easter Flower?

What is interesting about McKay is that throughout his life, he was secular in his writings. But as he got older, he eventually converted to Christianity. It’s clear that the poem doesn’t seek to lambast and criticize Eastertime theology. Rather, the poem’s purpose seems to advocate for the individual deriving their own meaning from nature.

What does “silver rime” refer to in ‘The Easter Flower?

The image might be slightly confusing without the proper definition. Rime refers to a frost that can form on objects because of rapid freezing. As a result, this adds another layer to the speaker’s concern over the flower’s survival and their awe that it is still thriving. It can also be viewed as symbolic imagery that evokes the image of a halo.

Similar Poems

If you enjoyed this poem, be sure to check out a few more Claude McKay poems:

Poetry+ Review Corner

The Easter Flower

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.

Claude McKay

Claude McKay was one of the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance. This poem not only puts on display his talent for composing powerful images and musing deeply about life but also his long-standing secularism. This eventually changed later in life, but this poem reveals all the beauty of the poet's views on spirituality.
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20th Century

McKay was an important poet in the 20th century as one of the crucial leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. His poems offer insight into what it meant to be Black in America, but this one especially hones in on the personal nature of his ruminations. This is especially true in terms of their views on religion and spirituality.
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McKay was an important writer in America whose poetry was loved for its visceral honesty and unabashed passion. This poem might not be his most evocative or racially conscious poem, but it does represent another interesting point of contention for the poet: organized religion. Although the poem is not outright critical, it offers meaningful insight into the tension that's always existed between the secular and the religious.
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From the moment the poem begins, the speaker is consumed by the beauty of the flower that catches their eye. They are entirely absorbed by it, so much so that it attracts a few other observers. But the speaker's revelatory feelings toward the flower center on their praise of nature itself. They see the flower as beautiful simply because it is a flower and has somehow persisted to exist.
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As the title suggests, nature is a crucial theme in McKay's poem. 'The Easter Flower' is for all intents and purposes, the subject of the poem. Although it might allude to a number of aspects of the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, it is clear that the speaker appreciates the flower as a pagan might. An appreciation that is untethered by religious symbolism.
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Spirituality is also central to the poem's themes, as is conveyed by the speaker's description of their worship of the flower. This worship is decidedly different than the one taking place on Easter Sunday by Christians, though, even if that implication is somewhat implied. The speaker does not attach significance to the flower because it symbolizes a deity or theology, but rather because it is a flower and it is beautiful.
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The speaker's worship of the Easter flower can be seen as an expression of gratitude. They appreciate the flower for existing, for persisting, and for its beauty. This gratitude can be extended to an appreciation of nature but also life in general, one that isn't viewed through a dogmatic lens but accepts the world as it is.
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Passion is another emotion expressed in the poem, as it best describes the way the speaker is overcome with emotion when they catch sight of the flower. It steals the speaker's soul and attention away from elsewhere, holding them transfixed. But this passion is much different from a religious zeal, and the speaker crucially describes it as being pagan in nature.
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There is a small expression of worry and concern in the speaker within the poem. Part of this is due to the flower's fragile and vulnerable appearance, and the speaker is surprised that it has even survived to bloom. This emotion indicates not just the intense care the speaker has for the flower but also bolsters the allusion to Christ.
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McKay's poem alludes quite a bit to the theology that surrounds Easter, from the crucifixion of Christ to his resurrection. The poem takes place on the day the latter is celebrated, and as a result, it's hard not to see the flower as a symbol of Christ, which is exactly what a group of Christians who approach the speaker near the end of the poem do.
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Christianity is another major topic in the poem, as it takes place on the religious holiday of Easter. Yet, McKay's juxtaposition of nature and theology serves only to showcase the speaker's distinctions between the two. It also highlights the variety in the perception of symbols that exists between different groups of people.
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Obviously, flowers are important to McKay's poem. What is interesting about this poem is that seems to resist some of the symbolism thrust upon these plants, especially in religious circles. The speaker does not adore the flower because of what it represents but rather simply because it is a beautiful flower that is alive.
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As this is an Easter poem, even one that shies away from religious interpretation, rebirth is still an important theme. But it is not because the flower is a definitive symbol for Christ's rebirth, which is what the other people around the speaker believe when they stumble on the flower as well. Instead, the flower's rebirth is its own autonomous victory and should be appreciated as such.
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McKay's poem is composed and written in a revelatory manner. The speaker adores the flower and expresses that passion with gushing emotion. As a result, the poem closely resembles an ode, one in which a flower is lauded with praise simply for existing. The result is a short but beautiful poem about appreciating the natural beauty around us.
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Given the themes and subject matter of McKay's poem, it makes sense to view it as a pagan psalm of sorts. The speaker describes the flower in spiritually reverent terms and regards it as worthy of worship, which is exactly what they start doing in the last stanza. This contributes to the poem's juxtaposition of different types of spirituality.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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