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The English poet Andrew Marvell wrote his metaphysical poetry “The Garden” in the 17th century. The poem examines the connection between nature and human existence. Marvell’s poem encourages readers to focus on the difficulties of life and the transience of earthly joys through its introspective and pensive tone.
About the poet
Andrew Marvell (31 March 1621 – 16 August 1678) was an English metaphysical poet, satirist, and politician who served in the House of Commons from 1659 until 1678. He worked alongside John Milton and was friends with him during the Commonwealth era. He wrote a variety of poems, including the love song “To His Coy Mistress,” descriptions of an aristocratic country house and garden in “Upon Appleton House” and “The Garden,” a political address called “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland,” and later political and personal satires called “Flecknoe” and “The Character of Holland.”
How vainly men themselves amaze To win the palm, the oak, or bays, And their uncessant labours see Crown’d from some single herb or tree, Whose short and narrow verged shade Does prudently their toils upbraid; While all flow’rs and all trees do close To weave the garlands of repose.
In the first stanza, the speaker considers how vain it is for people to strive for fame and glory. Men work constantly and tirelessly in order to get laurels, which stand for honor and success. The speaker points out that these accomplishments eventually pale in comparison to the little shade provided by a single plant or tree. This color serves as a reminder of the confined and ephemeral character of human labor. The final line of the poem depicts a harmonious union of flowers and trees that forms a garland of peace and calm.
Fair Quiet, have I found thee here, And Innocence, thy sister dear! Mistaken long, I sought you then In busy companies of men; Your sacred plants, if here below, Only among the plants will grow. Society is all but rude, To this delicious solitude.
The speaker describes being relieved and surprised to find serenity and innocence in the garden in the second stanza. He acknowledges that he had previously looked for these traits amid the busy and noisy masses of people, but now understands that they may be discovered more easily in the peaceful and seclusion of the garden. Given that society’s distractions and noise have not tarnished the garden’s flora and tranquility, the speaker implies that it has a hallowed aspect. It is highlighted that the tranquility found in the garden is exquisite, highlighting how enjoyable and gratifying it is.
No white nor red was ever seen So am’rous as this lovely green. Fond lovers, cruel as their flame, Cut in these trees their mistress’ name; Little, alas, they know or heed How far these beauties hers exceed! Fair trees! wheres’e’er your barks I wound, No name shall but your own be found.
In the third stanza, the speaker praises the garden’s lush greenery for its vivid and passionate beauty. He suggests that green has more allure than any white or crimson (symbolizing purity and passion) ever seen by equating it to the love and desire expressed by enamored people. The speaker makes a statement on how lovers engrave the names of their loved ones on trees but regrets their ignorance of and disregard for the natural beauty of the trees. He promises to avoid giving the trees any names since he believes that their natural beauty is more deserving of praise.
When we have run our passion’s heat, Love hither makes his best retreat. The gods, that mortal beauty chase, Still in a tree did end their race: Apollo hunted Daphne so, Only that she might laurel grow; And Pan did after Syrinx speed, Not as a nymph, but for a reed.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker thinks about how love finds comfort and fulfillment in the garden. Love finds its ultimate haven in this serene setting after human passions have run their course. The speaker makes reference to Greek mythology, pointing out how the gods, who chased earthly beauty obsessively, eventually turned into trees. Pan pursued Syrinx, who changed into a reed, while Apollo sought Daphne, who changed into a laurel tree. The concept that a garden is a place where love and beauty find their ultimate fulfillment is reinforced by these fabled stories that show the connection between celestial creatures and the natural world.
What wond’rous life in this I lead! Ripe apples drop about my head; The luscious clusters of the vine Upon my mouth do crush their wine; The nectarine and curious peach Into my hands themselves do reach; Stumbling on melons as I pass, Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.
The speaker says in the fifth stanza what a great life he has in the garden. He loves the sweet juice of the bunches of apples on the vine as they fall ripe from the trees around him. He is joyfully welcomed by the nectarine and peach fruits, and as he makes his way through the garden, he comes across melons. The speaker’s encounters with the abundant fruit and the exquisite flowers cause him to metaphorically fall to the ground, meaning that he has given in to their temptation and has surrendered.
Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less, Withdraws into its happiness; The mind, that ocean where each kind Does straight its own resemblance find, Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds, and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade.
The speaker claims that while his body stays on the grass, his mind disengages from the body because it is uninterested in the inferior or secondary pleasures that the fruits provide. A distinct form of enjoyment that comes from the mind itself is what my mind desires. The mind is like an ocean, where every land animal has a watery equivalent. However, the mind is also capable of creating entirely new worlds and seas that much outweigh actual lands and oceans. Everything that has been created is reduced to nothingness by the intellect, which then gives life to new, energizing ideas beneath a lush tree.
Here at the fountain’s sliding foot, Or at some fruit tree’s mossy root, Casting the body’s vest aside, My soul into the boughs does glide; There like a bird it sits and sings, Then whets, and combs its silver wings; And, till prepar’d for longer flight, Waves in its plumes the various light.
The speaker’s soul sheds the outer covering of the body and slips silently into the branches of the trees here in “The Garden,” next to fountains where my feet slide due to the moisture of the ground or close to certain fruit trees whose lower sections of the trunks are covered in moss. His soul may be seen sitting there on the trees singing like a bird, preening and combing its brilliant wings like a bird, and then, after preparing for a longer flight, waving the varied light in its wings.
Such was that happy garden-state, While man there walk’d without a mate; After a place so pure and sweet, What other help could yet be meet! But ’twas beyond a mortal’s share To wander solitary there: Two paradises ’twere in one To live in paradise alone.
In this instance, the speaker is in the same joyful condition that Adam was in while he was walking by himself in the Garden of Eden. No comparison could have been acceptable for him while he was in such a pure and lovely location. Another possibility is that Adam could not have desired a companion while in the Garden of Eden since no partner could have been suitable for him. But being permitted to go around in that area was hardly the pleasant lot of a mortal. If he had remained to live alone in the Garden of Eden, he would have experienced the bliss of two Paradises: the Garden of Eden Paradise and the Paradise of solitude.
How well the skillful gard’ner drew Of flow’rs and herbs this dial new, Where from above the milder sun Does through a fragrant zodiac run; And as it works, th’ industrious bee Computes its time as well as we. How could such sweet and wholesome hours Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs!
The speaker talks about the talented gardener who trained the plants and flowers to grow in a way that allows them to collectively function as a sundial. After passing through the green leaves, which are comparable to the Zodiac Signs, the sun’s rays descend on the sundial with less heat. By using this sundial, the diligent bee can determine the passage of time as precisely as we humans can. The speaker ends by stating that without the sundial created by plants and flowers, the passage of such lovely and reviving hours could not have been predicted.