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The Garden -- Andrew Marvell

Guest poem submitted by Andrew Bateman:
(Poem #1693) The Garden
 How vainly men themselves amaze
 To win the palm, the oak, or bays,
 And their uncessant labors see
 Crowned from some single herb or tree,
 Whose short and narrow-verg├Ęd shade
 Does prudently their toils upbraid;
 While all the flowers and trees do close
 To weave the garlands of repose.

 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.

 No white nor red was ever seen
 So amorous 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! wheresoe'er your barks I wound
 No name shall but your own be found.

 When we have run our passion's heat,
 Love hither makes his best retreat:
 The gods who 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.

 What wondrous life is 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,
 Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

 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.

 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 prepared for longer flight,
 Waves in its plumes the various light.

 Such was that happy garden-state,
 While man there walked 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.

 How well the skillful gardener drew
 Of flowers and herbs this dial new;
 Where from above the milder sun
 Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
 And, as it works, the industrious bee
 Computes its time as well as we.
 How could such sweet and wholesome hours
 Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!
-- Andrew Marvell

Given the last poem ("You, Andrew Marvell" by Archibald MacLeish, Poem
#1692) I thought it would be good to include Marvell's "The Garden." I have
no idea what this poem is about. The garden relates to Earth and to
Paradise, and there is a to and fro between human endeavour and the mindless
perfection of the garden. There are religious overtones (and who, living in
Marvell's England, at war between the King/Church of England and
Puritanism/Parliament could avoid such overtones?). All I can say is that
this poem has wandered around my head since I  first read it. At times when
everything seems to be going to the dogs, I find much comfort in the quiet
sanity of the lines

   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.

For me, if he had written nothing else, this would have been enough. You
could argue that the lines "Two paradises 'twere in one / To live in
Paradise alone." are misogynist, but the rest of the work, I think,
compensates for this.


58 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Shauna Ridd said...

this poem reflects man's ability to escape into his own consciousness, venture throught the mind, i.e "the garden"- our mind is like a walk through the garden, but in all our ability and securtiy of doing it alone, within our own head.

dysart said...

I read this as Marvell?s riff on Christ?s observation that the birds of
the field don?t work or worry about where their next meal is coming
from, and yet are provided for: humans work, compete, and strive, all
to receive ?a single herb? (laurels are notoriously bad things to rest
upon ? Marvell suggests that by changing our perspective, we could rest
upon a riotous mixed bouquet!).

But if you?re going to leave the bustle of the city and interactions
with our fellow humans, you?ll certainly have to develop a taste for
solitude ? that?s how I read the lines about ?to be in paradise alone.?
It?s only misogynist if you assume he?s heterosexual, or sexually
inclined at all ? I believe that the payoff of his argument is that the
happy human is the one who can be content with her own company in the
primeval garden.

Ah, but what about this garden thing ? we got into trouble with that
before, didn?t we? The first time, we were promised an apple that
would make us wise. Here we?re being promised a life of sweet green
solitude, divested of the striving and social intercourse and passions
that even eventually wore out the gods themselves. Come back to Eden.

It?s all rather a Faustian bargain, isn?t it? Do we fall for it again?
What would happen if we in fact went back to Eden?

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