As we well know, “a rose is a rose is a rose”. But certainly, even among roses there is a hierarchy, or at least an ordering. Each variety has its own beauty; each color has its own meaning. The two most prominent colors are undoubtedly red and white. Two colors so famous for their meaning, red conveys passion, while white conveys purity. The stories of the red and white rose have long converged and diverged, most famously in history, in the War of the Roses, a late medieval fight for the British crown. Here, we shall leave the passionate red rose to her own affairs, and turn our attention to the more subtle white rose as the focus of our article. The white rose, which has undoubtedly been linked to purity for many years now, has come to represent much more. Christian symbolism has turned it into a sign for the Virgin Mary. In history, especially recent history, the white rose has become a strong political symbol, standing for truth and fighting totalitarianism, starting with the anti-Nazi German student group called the White Rose. White rose petals also manage to smoothly fall into the pages of prose and poetry, leading to beautiful lyrics and strong symbolism. Thus, the white rose, through its different meanings given to it by different ages of humanity, has come to be a strong political emblem, as well as a beautiful image that has been and will continue to be used in literature.
Innocence and purity are the main symbols which the white rose conveys. Likely it is due to this that the white rose is associated with the Mary. The white rose is also said to have blossomed without thorns in Paradise before the fall of Adam and Eve. This image reinforces the idea of the white rose as a return to innocence and purity. It has also come to mean loyalty and faith, which can be strongly linked to purity. In true love, faithfulness and loyalty are implicit, despite distance or time. For these symbols, white roses are a perfect gift to a beloved who is far away, as they will display not only your love, but also your fidelity. White roses are also the perfect gift to send to a platonic friend, for a similar reason: constant, faithful love, mixed with the symbolism of innocence, is a wonderful way to show your love for a dear friend. From the times of the War of the Roses, the white rose carries great significance in England, and the white rose is said to refer to death to those that betray their word. Again, the white rose is strongly tied to ideas of fidelity and trust – to such a degree that death is deserved by those who break their vows.
Breaking vows is something that the political group The White Rose did not do. This group of students in Munich actively worked against the Nazi regime during World War II, upholding their ideals of freedom. The majority of this group of brave youth did receive death for remaining faithful to their beliefs. The potential reasons for choosing the name “The White Rose” include the relation of the white rose with another of its symbols: secrecy. Loyalty to their cause could have been another reason why they chose the name. Perhaps they chose the white rose, as white is free of any color, and thus, their ideas and work were not linked to any main political thought of the day. This young group of brave activists has given a special connotation to the white rose. It is the purity of youth, staying faithful to their ideals.
This special rose has its place in world culture as well. From folk songs to children’s stories to rap, references to the flower can be found. A Russian folk song called “White Roses” describes with sadness how white roses add life to and decorate winter parties, only to be left to die after the party is over. This song implies that the white rose sacrifices itself for our enjoyment and short-lived merriment. Nana Mouskouri, in her famous song “The White Rose of Athens”, waits for the blossoming rose for her distant love to return. In this song, the white rose stands for its best known symbols: fidelity and love, waiting for her love to return when the white rose blooms again. In the all-time favorite children’s classic “Alice in Wonderland”, the Red Queen’s servants are frantically “painting the roses red”. When Alice asks why they are painting the white roses red, the servants explain that she will have their heads cut off unless the roses are all red. The Red Queen, known for her cruelty, can be equated to lost innocence, and thus the purity of the white rose does not at all suit such a Queen. The symbolism of the rose is not lost in contemporary culture either. Tupac Shakur, the famous rapper killed at too young an age, wrote an autobiographical poem about a rose. The poem is entitled “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”, which speaks of hope and the ability to overcome obstacles when least expected. Thus, the white rose has firmly established its place in prose and poetry, both of days gone and by and of our contemporary world.
The white rose is a very strong flower. It is pure in its snow white, a favorite flower to accompany brides to the altar, and does represent purity and innocence. At the same time, as the uses throughout history have shown, the white rose is also a symbol of strong resistance and the will to stand for one’s beliefs at any cost. Giving a white rose as a gift is a very strong gift. It is not fleeting passion or romance, which is too often what the red rose conveys. The white rose is a strong and consistent love, which is pure, faithful and sacrificial. Not many flowers have such a powerful meaning to their name. And this meaning comes to the rose not only through folklore and stories, but through true histories of brave people fighting for their cause. The white rose is a beautiful flower, with beautiful symbolism, and a friend or lover should be proud to give this flower as a gift to those they love steadily and faithfully.
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