by William Shakespeare
The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love’s breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love’s veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol’n of both
And to his robbery had annex’d thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
But sweet or colour it had stol’n from thee.
I think Shakespeare is using violets as a metaphor and not in a literal sense, but violets are the scent thieves of the flowering kingdom. The smell of violets comes from terpenes and a ketone chemical compound called ionone. Violets have a sweet scent but it’s not overpowering. This is because of a curious chemical property that creates their ethereal quality. Violets smell binds to our scent receptors after stimulating them, temporarily rendering them numb. It’s why the smell of violets can only be smelled for a few moments. However, if you take a few breaths, the smell will return because the receptors register the stimulus again.
I planted violets in my garden over the weekend because they bring early spring cheery colors and are nearly impossible to freeze out in May. Given that there was a few snowflakes overnight it was a good call to not plant to many annuals yet and to wait another couple of weeks to get the geraniums in the ground.
by Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875 – 1935)
I had no thought of violets of late,
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
In wistful April days, when lovers mate
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.
The thought of violets meant florists’ shops,
And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;
And garish lights, and mincing little fops
And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine.
So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed,
I had forgot wide fields, and clear brown streams;
The perfect loveliness that God has made,—
Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.
And now—unwittingly, you’ve made me dream
Of violets, and my soul’s forgotten gleam.