The Wildwood Flower – A Great American Classic, But What Does It Mean?

I will get tangled in the middle of the curls

Of my jet black hair

The lilies so pale

And the roses so beautiful.

Without a doubt, one of the most charming, intriguing, and captivating American folk songs and poems is The Wildwood Flower. Its haunting story has held the fascination and loyalty of thousands of people. An important feature of its fascination and holding power lies in the fact that it is a riddle that has never been solved. Clearly, as the poem unfolds, Wildwood Flower is a planted girl, but what is the significance of the other metaphors and symbols incorporated into this classic?

As the heartbroken lover sits alone in the wooded valley that was once her rendezvous, she wraps strands of her jet black hair purposefully around her fingers. That image is clear enough but then the lyrics get vague. Are the lilies flowers of the glen or are they a metaphor for something else? And what do the roses, the myrtle and the pale amanita with bright blue eyes mean? It is clear to the discerning reader or listener that something other than literal is intended here. The amanita is a deadly poisonous mushroom known as the Death Hood. He does not have bright blue eyes. And what about the rest of the lyrics? Is it simply a regret and a fantasy to try to comfort herself in her anguish and loneliness? Or is it the revelation of a clever plot to get revenge on this opportunistic trickster who has compromised her and then lost interest?

I am going to offer some reflections on what this fascinating story tells me, but before doing so I want to start with some realities about the times in which this occurred and these types of situations. In the lonely forests of early America, opportunities for romance and the future didn’t come as often. Besides that, at the time this poem was written, a girl who had lost her virtue had very little chance of finding marriage and happiness with a respectable man. Lying to a young woman, telling her you loved her, seducing her, and then walking away and leaving her was practically a death sentence. The hatred and revenge that eventually emerged from these crippling tears often resulted in the offender’s death. There are many such stories that have become legends of the rural settings of the early United States. There are Frankie and Johnny, the Banks of the Ohio, Barbara Allen, and many others where abandoned love and betrayal resulted in the perpetrator’s death. Having said that, I wish to give you my version of the meaning of this elusive story.

It is obvious that I have no special knowledge and what I am going to say is only my own opinion. He is not offered to contradict anyone else’s conclusions, to pry into the sanctuary that may have been built into someone’s mind about this haunting story, or to offend anyone in any way. It’s just my offer on what’s going on here.

I will get tangled in the middle of the curls

Of my jet black hair

The lilies so pale

And the roses so beautiful

The myrtle so bright

With an emerald hue,

And the pale amanita

With eyes of a brilliant blue.

A girl is sitting, probably all together, in a wooded ravine where she used to meet her lover, where she succumbed to his lies about love and marriage, and where she lost her virtue. The last line of verse 3 reveals that she is a fragile child and not of great physical beauty, but she does have some charms. He has jet black hair, which he twists absently but aggressively between his fingers. The Song of Songs and other historical literature provide the basis for inferring that lilies are her breasts. The roses are her glowing red cheeks, not now glowing out of love and enthusiasm as in verse 2, but in this case burning with anger and pain. The myrtle is the dark green lashes over her eyes and the pale amanita is the ghostly white face, colorless with rage and hatred (the hood of death), from which bright blue eyes shine as if to make appear before her now in the glen . the scene you are visualizing in your mind.


I will sing and dance

My laugh will be happy;

I will cease this wild cry

Take away the pain

Though my heart is breaking now

He will never know

That his name made me tremble

And my pale cheeks to shine.

The girl has struggled with anguish and pain until her tears dry. Now the desperate but futile hope that he will return to her has faded. Instead, a revenge plan has begun to form. First of all, you need to stop acting like you care. He must come to the party, throw himself into the game with abandon, charm as many men as he can, and become a topic of discussion and an object of ambition. All of this will be part of her plan to get back at him for what he has done to her, but he must never know. He had to make her believe that she didn’t care more for him than he did and that he was just another of her love affairs.


I will never think of him

I’ll be wildly gay

I will enchant all hearts

And the crowd will sway me

I will still live to see it

I’m sorry for the dark hour

When he won, then sloppy,

The fragile flower of the wild forests.

Until the trap is ready to jump, you must put it out of your mind and implement your plan. She will let her hair down and be the life of the party. She will play the mistress of all the men she can enchant. Why not? What can she lose now? But this will be an act, not the true desires of your heart. The purpose is to make him jealous. Men as young as him are selfish and possessive. There will come a time when she will start to wonder what she has walked away from and will eventually take the bait and come back to her. When he does, their meeting place will not be the ballroom, but again the wild forest where he broke her heart and ruined her life. Her plan will succeed and he will return, but he will never leave her again. Once he has it in the power of its charms, the hood of death will engulf him and take his life.


He told me that he loved me

And you promised to love

Through sickness and misfortune,

Everybody else up

Another has won it;

Ah, misery to count;

Left me in silence

no parting words.

As the girl sits in the wild forest and contemplates his drastic plan, she begins to rationalize. It’s your fault; not hers. He told her that he loved her and she believed him or she would never have given herself to him. He spoke of love and commitment for life and was very compelling. He cruelly took her life and future to satisfy her lust and greed. He shattered her dreams and high hopes for her husband, her home, and her family, and then left without even a “goodbye.”


He taught me to love him

Called me his flower

That bloomed for him

All the brightest every hour;

But I woke up from my dreams

My idol was clay;

My visions of love

They have all vanished.

Clearly an intimate marital relationship is indicated here. No girl needs to be “taught” to have loving and caring feelings. Sweet intimacy that should have belonged only to his soulmate was given to this deceiver. He told her the things she wanted to hear. “She was what he had always wanted and what he lived for. She was his glorious wild forest flower that kept opening its biggest and brightest flower every hour.”

But then the dream faded in the stark light of reality. It was all a lie. His wonderful idol was nothing more than a heap of earth. He was gone, and with him her hopes for a happy future. He had killed her and now she had a plan for revenge. It was justified; what he had done to her, she would do to him.

Could this fragile peasant woman carry out her plan of revenge? Did his wild plan have any chance of success? Was it another Frankie with a gun on his back? Who knows? And for the narrative, it doesn’t matter. She is a crushed, abandoned and heartbroken country maid who has been used and rejected; and she is desperately trying to survive. He seeks to find some satisfaction for the wrong that has been done to him. She will make you pay; you have to pay. If not otherwise, everything has unfolded before her in the meadow this day as she sits as she was when she last saw him, twisting her jet black hair tightly around her long white fingers and seeking solace in feelings of revenge.