A beautiful woman risking everything for a mad passion. A few wild weeks of happiness cut short by a hideous, treacherous crime. Months of voiceless agony, and then a child born in pain. The mother snatched away by death, the boy left to solitude and the tyranny of an old and loveless man. Yes; it was an interesting background. It posed the lad, made him more perfect, as it were. Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic. Worlds had to be in travail, that the meanest flower might blow....

The above is an excerpt from The Picture of Dorian Gray. I am not understanding the meaning of the phrase "the meanest flower might blow".

2 Answers 2


Meanest: Lowliest
Blow: What it says - unless it is an archaic version of "bloom" as suggested in another answer. I'll let the rest of my post stay for reference.

Quote is from Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Explanation from The great Gilly Hopkins

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  • I don't think much of the dandelion explanation. In the case of a dandelion, it isn't the flower that is blown away by the wind but the seeds. Sep 29, 2015 at 22:51
  • 1
    The Gilly Hopkins explanation is an extended joke. Regrettably, Mr. Randolph, who seems to have had a better grasp of the situation than the other participants in the fictitious conversation, did not see fit to clarify Wilde's intended meaning with regard to "blows." I blame the author.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 6, 2016 at 1:45
  • Downvoter - make a comment?
    – mplungjan
    Jan 29, 2017 at 6:39

What does “meanest flower might blow” mean:

The first part of the riddle was already solved above regarding the meaning of the word "meanest" (the superlative degree of the adjective "mean"): lowliest (garden-variety; nothing out of ordinary). As regards the word "blow", it's been even easier than that: in this particular case it has a sense of "to bloom" ("to be in blossom").

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) offers this fairly brief entry for blow as an intransitive verb in the intended sense:

3blow vi blew blown blowing {ME fr. OE blōwan; akin to OHG bluoen to bloom, L florēre to bloom, flor-, flos flower} (bef. 12c) : FLOWER : BLOOM

Thus, slightly amending the whole phrase we have the clear picture like: "common flower might blossom, or bloom".

  • The sweetest flower that blows / I give you as we part. / For you it is a rose, / For me it is my heart. I agree that blows = blooms (obsolete). Can you add to your answer a link or citation to a reputable source.
    – MetaEd
    Aug 5, 2016 at 19:36
  • This appears to be a drive-by answer by an unregistered user. It has still taught me something. M-W has the blow == blossom defintion, although very near the bottom of the page.
    – cobaltduck
    Aug 5, 2016 at 20:45
  • I added the entry for the verb blow (in the relevant sense) from the Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary, including that dictionary's take on the etymology of the term. I'm very surprised that no one before Elena Lysko pointed out the correct meaning of blow in the quotation cited by the OP; the question has been on EL&U for almost three years, and has been seen by more than 2,700 people. In any case, thank you, Elena Lysko, for providing this long overdue clarification.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 6, 2016 at 1:35
  • It does make more sense than the text in my answer. I have added the info to mine
    – mplungjan
    Aug 6, 2016 at 3:47

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