Here’s a thought I had:
I have often heard two expressions that has always made me wonder of their origin:
- “Mother nature”
- “The birds and the bee’s”
It seems, to me, that both of these have origin in the Victorian era (1800’s). They primarily reflect a movement that was popular at the time: Romanticism. This movement put great emphasis on romance and love and was very popular during the Victorian era. This movement also used a lot of poetry and poetic expression. Because of this, there was great use of poetic words and expressions to express romance and love. These two expressions seem to be a reflection of that poetic tendency.
Both of these expressions seem to originate from a common symbol that was used during the Victorian era: springtime. The symbol of springtime would have many different associations:
Springtime as symbol of a mother
It is in spring that “things are born” and “come alive”. Spring gives birth to the “life of summer”, so to speak. As a result, springtime is often associated with the idea that “nature becomes a mother” or, rather, the “motherly trait in nature”. In this way, the expression “mother nature” is really a reference to springtime.
I should point out that this only refers to when the motherly aspect of nature manifests itself. It does not state that nature is a mother, and its certainly not referring to nature as being something like a goddess, as I’ve heard some people suggest, nor is it a remnant of a pagan “mother nature goddess”. I know of nowhere, in any culture, where all of nature is viewed as a mother or a goddess. In all cultures, that I know of, the “motherly” qualities of nature are generally viewed as something specific in nature, happening at certain times and certain conditions, not as something all pervasive. Its really no different here. In this way, spring is, in a sense, the “time of the mother quality in nature”.
I get the impression that, by the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, “mother nature” became an almost “generic” word for springtime. It seems that it may of become widespread by the use of advertisements and other popular media. As time went on, though, the romantic movement slowly weakened and much of the symbolic associations associated with springtime (including those described below) became forgotten. It seems that the world wars, in particular, have contributed a great deal to the forgetting of these associations. No doubt this is because the world wars destroyed and opposed the idea and themes of romanticism, and its symbol of springtime, and leaning to a more dark and grim sense. Because of things like this, “mother nature” would lose the original symbolic associations. As time went on, and these associations disappeared, it would slowly become a “generic” word for nature in general.
Springtime as a symbol for love and romance
It is during springtime that things “come alive” . . . flowers bloom, birds chirp, and so forth. Love and romance tends to evoke similar feelings of “coming alive” and, as a result, are commonly associated with springtime. Its really no surprise, then, that springtime would become associated with love and romance. Not only that, the inevitable result of love and romance is motherhood. Even recently a friend of mine made this statement: “isn’t springtime mating season?”
Springtime as a symbol of sex
Because springtime is associated with the appearance of flowers, bugs, nice weather, and such this would become associated with springtime’s association with love and romance. Over the years, this association caused an expression to develop: “the birds and the bee’s”. Its a reference to how, during springtime, the birds and the bee’s appear and do their thing. What’s interesting about this is that it became associated with a particular aspect of love and romance, namely, sex. As a result, to tell a kid about “the birds and the bee’s” became a poetical and “polite” way of speaking to them about sex. It originates from the association of springtime – when birds and bee’s flourish – with love and romance which is, of course, associated with sex.
Springtime as optimism and love of life
Since springtime is the time when things “come alive” it became associated with great optimism for nature and life. As a result, its often a reference to a generalized love one may feel, such as the love of nature or life, that is not necessarily romantic or love-based. This optimism also made it associated with a great joy and of “feeling good” about things.
Springtime as a symbol of an awakening
Since things “come alive” during springtime it is associated with an “awakening”. I, myself, tend to say that I “come alive” in spring and “wake up” out of the slumber of winter.
Associations and theme
What’s particularly interesting is that these all reveal an association between a number of things with an underlying theme. These seem to be made unconsciously. That is to say, people didn’t come up with these associations logically. Even though many of these expressions are said individually, and seem separate and distinct, when you put them all together there is a single theme that can be seen.
So we see the expressions “mother nature” and “the birds and the bee’s” describe an interesting symbology to springtime which is also associated with other themes as well:
- Life in general.
- The life that appears at springtime (birds, bee’s, flowers, etc.).
- Optimism and a love of life.
- An awakening to life.
- Romantic feelings.
All these different associations, though different, point to a specific theme. In short, they all reveal that the theme of springtime refers to a “the birth of life and in creating life”. In so doing, it tends to refer to the “joy of life” as well. The Victorian romantic movement seems to of made great emphasis of these themes and in many different ways and creating many poetic descriptions to illustrate it, as those I have described above.
Much of the world, at least to some extent, seems to of made similar associations with springtime though, perhaps, on a much milder or in more specific perspective. In some respects, the Victorian romantic movement was different from the rest of the world as it has qualities that is more like a worship of nature that was almost religious in orientation but was actually non-religious in orientation, sort of a half religious worship. In addition, it seems that they tended to see a broader view in its symbology than most of the world.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen