‘Giant Decorative Dahlias’ by Molly Holden is a three stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of AABB, changing end sounds as the poet saw fit. There are also moments of half and full rhyme within the text itself. For example, in line four of the second stanza and line one of the third stanza, “thee” and “be” rhyme.
In the second stanza a reader should take note of the use of assonance with the repetition of the long “i” sound. It appears within the words “I,” “wide,” “beside,” “thy.” There are also instances of consonance, or the repetition of consonant sounds. Both of these kinds of repetition add to the overall rhythm of the text.
Alliteration is one of the most commonly used poetic techniques in poetry. It can be found within almost every genre. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. There are a few simple examples of the technique scattered throughout this text. For instance, “mighty monarch” in the first line of the first stanza and “have his” in lines two and three of the second stanza.
Holden also also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. The most prominent example of this occurring with ‘Giant Decorative Dahlias’ is in the second stanza. Each one of these lines begins with “I will,” and three of the lines align further, beginning “I will not have.”
Enjambment is another very common technique within poetry. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One is forced to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. A great example of this technique in action is between lines three and four of the first stanza. A reader has to move down to the text line to figure out what was “press’d.”
You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Giant Decorative Dahlias
The poem begins with the speaker stating that the woman is “a mighty monarch’s child”. This references a higher being, perhaps God, a king, or the power of the natural world, which one cannot control. They are together under a tree, in a natural setting. The speaker held “The maiden” to their “panting breast.”
In the second stanza the speaker tells the woman that he intends to “have” her, but doesn’t want any part of the woman’s father’s kingdom. He does not want to be king, have land, or wear a crown.
The poem concludes with the woman having her say. She tells her partner that this is impossible. The only times they can be together is when she breaks through “the sod.” Here it becomes clear how Holden is using the flower to symbolize the temporary, yet strong nature of their love. The woman blooms, and then dies. In fact, she states that she is already dead, emphasizing the impossibility of their relationship.
Analysis of Giant Decorative Dahlias
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by vaguely describing a woman. This person is said to be “a might monarch’s child”. The use of alliteration here emphasizes the strange and ephemeral nature of the chosen description. It hashes a few possible meanings, the first, that the woman was the child of a king, therefore she is a princess. The second, that she is a product of the natural world, and therefore subject to its rules. The third, that the speaker is in fact referring to God here, rather than a real human person.
The woman is in an excited state, this can be seen through the “wild” nature of her eyes and the pale color of her cheek. They are together and engaged in what seems to be a sexual interaction. This is backed up by the speaker’s description of their “panting breast”.
The speaker adds onto the first stanza, explaining that they are situated beneath “a linden’s shade”. This is a kind of tree that is known for its yellow flowers and heart-shaped leaves. They are usually found in temperate regions of the north. The fact that the two are outside, away from either one of their homes, alludes to the nature of their meeting and the larger conceit at play here.
A conceit is a long, and unusual metaphor that compares two very unlikely things. It as made popular by the metaphysical poets, and especially mastered by John Donne. It becomes clear by the last lines that the woman is the dahlia flower. This is the reason why Holden placed the two outside.
The second stanza of ‘Giant Decorative Dahlias’ is made up entirely of the narrator’s dialogue. He speaks to the woman and tells her that he has no intention of taking her father’s throne or his crown. These physical, financial pleasures and the powers that come with them to do not appeal to him. The “wide” realm is also not of interest.
These three lines are all lead up to his confession to the listener that she is the only one that he wants. He will “have” her and nothing else, “nought beside”. A reader should take note of the use of alliteration and anaphora in these lines. A more detailed description is included in the introduction.
In the final four lines of ‘Giant Decorative Dahlias’ the woman, who is referred to as a “maiden” again, replies that this is not possible. She knows that there is no scenario in which she belongs to him. There is a twist at this point, as the woman points out that she is “already dead”. This is where the conceit comparing the woman to the dahlia is fully evident.
The importance of nature to the scene continues as the female speaker describes bursting or breaking the “sods above”. It is here that the comparison between the woman the flower is fully realized. As a flower, she is bursting through the “sods” or ground above her, and blooming for her “dear love”. At the same time, her death comes quickly and she returns to the earth. This speaks to the temporary nature of their love, and reinforces the unattainability of the woman.