Explanation of Andrew Marvell’s The Garden

The Garden is a poem written by Andrew Marvell.

Stanza-Wise Explanation

Stanza 1

How futile are the endeavours of men by means of which they simply go crazy in order to win a crown of the leaves of a palm tree or an oak tree or a laurel tree for their military, or civic, or poetic achievements? They perform unceasing (or endless) labours in order to obtain a crown of leaves from a single tree or herb. The short and ever-narrowing shades of these trees wisely rebuke such men for their hard labours; while all flowers and all trees act unitedly to weave garlands with their shades, these garlands being the garlands of rest and tranquillity and therefore far superior to the garlands or crowns of leaves which those men seek.

Stanza 2

Fair Quiet, I have found you here in this garden; and I have found here your dear sister, Innocence, also. For a long time, I made the mistake of seeking you both in the company of busy men. But, if at all your sacred plants grow here on the earth, they grow only among the plants of a garden and not in places crowded with human beings. The company of human beings is nothing but barbarous as compared with this enjoyable solitude in the garden.

Stanza 3

Neither the whiteness of the complexion nor the redness of the lips of ladies has ever been known to be so loving as the lovely green colour of the plants and leaves in a garden. Doting lovers, who are as cruel in their actions as the flame of love which torments them, show their cruelty by carving the names of their sweethearts with knives on the barks of trees. It is regrettable that either these lovers are not quite aware of, or they do not pay enough attention to, the fact that the beauties of a garden are far more attractive than the beauties of their ladies. So far as I am concerned, O fair trees, wherever I happen to make use of a knife to cut into your barks, I shall carve no woman’s name there but only your own names.

Stanza 4

When our love has run its course, and our passion has been exhausted, we can withdraw into a garden for rest and refreshment. (Or, when Cupid, the god of love, is not actively at work to make people fall in love, he withdraws into a garden for relaxation). The gods who run after earthly women, whom they think beautiful, find that their chase has ended in their getting hold of trees instead of women. For instance, god Apollo ran after the nymph, Daphne, not in order that he should hold a woman in his embrace but because he wanted to hold the laurel tree into which Daphne was to be transformed. Similarly, god Pan hotly pursued the nymph Syrinx not in order to satisfy his lust but because he wanted to get hold of a reed into which that nymph was to be metamorphosed.

Stanza 5

What a wonderful time I am having in this garden! Ripe apples hang downwards from the trees so as to touch my head. The delicious bunches of grapes growing on the vines come into such close contact with my lips, as I walk, that their juice enters my mouth. The nectarines and the exquisitely- formed peaches come into my hands of their own accord, without my making any effort whatsoever. The melons grow on the ground in such plenty that, as I walk on, my feet strike against them and my walking, is obstructed; and, entangled among the flowers, I fall down on the grass.

Stanza 6

While my body remains on the grass, my mind withdraws itself from the body because it is not interested in the lesser or inferior pleasures offered by the fruits. My mind seeks the happiness of a different kind which originates from the mind itself. The mind is like an ocean where each creature living on the land has a counterpart in water. However, the mind can also create altogether different lands and different oceans which quite surpass the real lands and real oceans. The mind reduces everything that has been created to nothingness, giving rise to fresh and vigorous thoughts in the shade of a green tree.

Stanza 7

Here, close to the fountains, where my feet slip on account of the wetness of the ground, or, close to some fruit trees the lower parts of the trunks of which are covered with moss, my Soul discards the outer garment of the body and goes noiselessly into the branches of the trees. There, on the branches, my Soul sits like a bird and sings; then my Soul preens and combs its bright wings as a bird does; and finally, having prepared itself for a longer flight, waves the manifold light in its wings.

Stanza 8

Here I find myself in the same happy state in which Adam was when in the Garden of Eden he walked alone, without a companion. When he found himself in such a pure and sweet place, no companion could have been appropriate for him. (Or, finding himself in such a pure and sweet place as the Garden of Eden, Adam could not have wished for any companion, and no companion could have suited him). But it was not the happy lot of a mortal to be allowed to roam about alone in that place. Had he continued to live alone in the Garden of Eden, he would have enjoyed the happiness of two Paradises- one, the Paradise which was the Garden of Eden, and second. the Paradise of being alone.

Stanza 9

How skilful was the gardener who made the flowers and plants grow here in such a manner and according to such a pattern that they collectively serve as a sundial. The rays of the sun fall on this sun-dial with a diminished heat after passing through the green leaves which may be compared to the Signs of the Zodiac. And the hard-working bee, while at work, is able to calculate the passing of time as correctly as we human beings can, by consulting this sundial. After all, how could the passing of such sweet and refreshing hours be calculated in the garden except by means of the sun-dial formed by plants and flowers?

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