Wandering Thistle

Cirsium horridulum
Common names ~ Bristle Thistle, Yellow Thistle, Horrid Thistle, Purple Thistle, Spiny Thistle, Bull Thistle
Family ~ Asteraceae (Aster Family)
Photos taken at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

The thistle is the official floral emblem of Scotland. The logo for the Encyclopaedia Britannica incorporates the thistle as well and the thistle  flower was used to symbolize the Virgin Mary during the middle ages. It also stands for resilience, bravery, courage, evil, protection and pride among other things. An edible plant, the thistle is native to North America and grows in marshy areas. I was struck by the fact that this flower made itself visible every place on the Refuge, stark like the sun.

I used this to explore the poem ‘Thistles’,  written by Ted Hughes besides writing my own. He was quite famously, the husband of Sylvia Plath and was appointed Poet Laureate of England in 1984, a post he held until his death. I have included below a link [1] to a good analysis of his poem by Andrew Spacey, that helped me appreciate it better. (Poem and notes further down).

My poem ‘wandering thistle‘ is based on the peculiarities of flora and fauna at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge [2] which I visited in the latter part of May. Some species of Thistle are considered to be aggressive weeds in gardens, but the thistle is a hardy plant, it produces more spines when the landscape gets drier as an ecological adaptation. An important source of nectar for pollinating insects, it is also a source of enzymes for the manufacturing of vegetarian rennet, the leaves are edible too. The family Asteraceae or Compositae consist of many economically useful plants. The flower heads are actually an inflorescence of around hundred disc flowers, hence their inclusion in the family Compositae, like sunflowers. The fruiting body is known as an achene. The ponies of Assateague Island mentioned in the poem are a tourist attraction and do affect the refuge with their grazing habits. They are therefore kept at a limited number of animals on the land by the Local Fire Company. [3][4][5}.

Wandering Thistle ~ Davina E. Solomon

In the threshing turbulence of a wetland,
her spiny wanderer traces through
that colonial mishap in ponies.

Fire fighters breed ungulate hearts
in Virginia, amidst the arson of an intrepid.
A composite of helping hands harvesting

light, but you only thought of sunflowers,
those distant cousins. She wears an armour
of spines, winnowing the day

into a bright blitz of flares, becoming
thistles on thistle. They milk her for
rennet, unlike those grazing ponies that simply

frolic on sand. but you only thought of ponies,
those distant lives. She wears frills in her leaves
that blend into sustenance for the foraging free.

She poisons your land you say? Those bumblebees
spirit out her soul, tiger swallowtails
punctuate her poetry in jousting colour

or secrete love into their life cycle
of the sweetness of nectar. Is this a
billowing battle even as her achenes

fly those self same stories of ancient ardour
on a surreptitious silky wind that
wars with no one but her singular soul.
Thistles by Ted Hughes

Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up

From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.

Then they grow grey like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.


In my own attempt at analysing this poem: This poem appears masculine. Even as benign ruminants and industrious tillers of soil are portrayed to create social pressure for thistles, the aggravated flower is Martian in it’s resolute attempt to resurrect itself, like a warrior, fighting for land, for presence, amidst a cacophony of a myriad voices, others just like them. Set against this botanical and pastoral imagery, seed dehiscence is used as a metaphor for destruction, seed dispersal and germination as a way to recreate the ancestral, to perpetuate in the way of plants through the perennial feud as in the ways of men that live alongside them carry forth the social order for survival. Nature is a battleground in this poem. It also illustrates how language shapes our worldview. Through a botanical perspective it appears to be the life cycle of thistle, through personification, it’s the genesis of war and battles, through social darwinism simply the survival of organisms constantly fighting for space on a harsh landscape, poetry though, seems to exhibit all perspectives. Language becomes the vehicle for creating fictions by consciously channelling the inner voice, whether through our happy optimism, scientific realism or poetry on metaphorical combat.

Some aspects elucidated in Andrew Spacey’s analysis are that, ‘Thistles is a free verse poem in 4 stanzas, a total of 12 lines of varying length. There is no rhyme scheme, no consistent metrical beat.’

Hughes’s allusion to Vikings, Spacey notes that, ‘ Vikings invaded Hughes’ land centuries earlier (7th-10th century AD) and were a strong force in and around Hughes’s birthplace in the Calder Valley in what is now Yorkshire”. The gutturals of dialects he compares to the raspy Yorkshire dialect that is still spoken by people some of whose ancestors count among pale haired Scandinavians.’

His analysis helped identify all the literary devices [5] employed therein:

Alliteration in ‘hoeing hands, spike the summer, blue-black, then they grow grey,’ the assonance in ‘crackle – blue-black, every – revengeful, stain – decayed,’ Caesura in ‘Of resurrection’, a bit of enjambed lines in lines 1,2, 4,5,6, Personification of thistles as revengeful and fighting back, Similes in ‘they are like pale hair, the gutturals of dialects and then they grow grey, like men.’

I have tried to define the literary devices used:

Alliteration ~ a repetition of initial consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are close to each other or follow each other
Assonance ~ a repetition of vowel sounds in words that are close within a sentence or phrase of prose or poem
Caesura ~ a rhythmic pause at the beginning (initial), middle (medial) or end (terminal) line in a poem, that is with or without punctuation, indicated by parallel lines ||, and can be after an unstressed syllable as in a feminine caesura or after a long stressed syllable in a masculine caesura
Personification is a bit like anthropomorphising, providing human characteristics to non human objects or organisms
Simili ~ a comparison of the dissimilar with one another through the use of words like or as
Enjambment ~ a line of the poem works it’s way to the next line without a grammatical pause or punctuation, to carry forth an idea or the flow of thought


[1] Analysis of the ‘Thistles ( Ted Hughes)’ by Andrew Spacey ~https://owlcation.com/humanities/Analysis-of-Poem-Thistles-by-Ted-Hughes


[3]Species list on Chincoteague Refuge ~https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Appendix%20L_CHN%20Draft%20CCPEIS.pdf



[6]Literary Devices (an encyclopediac resource, very helpful) ~https://literarydevices.net/

2 thoughts on “Wandering Thistle

  1. As a ranger for the Park Service on Assateague Island stationed at the Toms Cove visitor Center in Chincoteague I would like to use your poem as part of a program I am doing about thistles. May I?

    Liked by 1 person

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