Summary of Andrew Marvell’s The Garden

The Garden is a poem written by Andrew Marvell.

Summary

It is futile on the part of men to perplex themselves by their endeavours to win a crown of slam-leaves, or a crown of oak-leaves, or a crown of laurel which they seek for their endless labours as a reward for their exploits on the battle-field or for their athletic achievements, or for their poetic work. Men toil hard to obtain the leaves of a single tree, such as a palm, an oak, or a laurel, but the short and narrow shade of one single tree wisely rebukes them for their vain labours, because all the flowers and all the trees in a garden combine to offer to them garlands of repose (by letting their shades fall on the ground in such a way as to weave garlands). Thus the poet criticizes a life of feverish activity in every sphere of life and recommends a life of repose in a garden in the midst of flowers and trees.

The poet himself needs no crown of laurel for his poetic labours. On the contrary, he finds Quiet and its dear sister, Innocence, in a garden. He says that he had for a long time been making the mistake of spending his time in the busy company of men. The company of human beings is barbarous as compared to the delicious solitude which he enjoys in a garden.

No woman with her white complexion and red lips can be so loving as the green colour of the leaves and trees in this garden. They are foolish and cruel lovers who carve the names of their sweethearts on the bark of trees with their knives. Little do they realize that the beauties of a garden far exceed the beauties of their ladies. If the poet himself ever carves any name upon a tree with the knife, it would be the name only of the tree itself. He would not hurt any tree with a knife in order to carve a woman’s name.

When we have exhausted our passion, or when our passion has spent itself, we take refuge in a garden in order to relax and take rest. Even the gods love gardens. When any god chased a beautiful earthly woman, he did so because she was a potential tree. For instance, Apollo chased the nymph Daphne only because she was to be transformed into the laurel tree; and Pan ran after the nymph Syrinx only because she was to be changed into a reed from which he could make a pipe for himself to play upon.

The poet feels that he is spending his time in this garden most wonderfully. Such delicious fruits as apples, grapes, nectarines, and peaches grow here in plenty. As he walks, he stumbles against the melons growing on the ground; and, getting entangled among the flowers, he falls down on the grass.

With his body lying on the grass, the poet allows his mind to draw happiness from its own resources because the mind is not satisfied with the inferior pleasures offered by fruits and flowers. The mind is like an ocean in which the counterparts of all the creatures living on land are to be found. All the objects to be seen on land have their corresponding images or ideas in the mind of man. But the mind possesses, in addition, the power to create lands and oceans quite different from those which actually exist on the earth. In this way, the mind reduces everything existing on the earth to the status of “a green thought in a green shade”. In other words, a man lying on the grass in the green shade of a tree gets into a vigorously contemplative mood.

The poet then feels that his Soul has left his body and gone into the branches of the trees where it sits and sings, preparing itself for a long flight. The poet’s Soul here feels so happy that the poet compares this happiness to the happiness which Adam enjoyed in the Garden of Eden before Adam got a companion in the shape of Eve. As long as Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden, his happiness was perfect. If Adam had continued to live alone in the Garden of Eden, he would have experienced the happiness of two Paradises — the Paradise of the Garden of Eden, and the Paradise of being alone. (The idea is that Adam did not need Eve and that men even today do not need women if they can spend their hours in a garden).

Finally, the poet admires the pattern formed by the flowers and herbs in one part of the garden. The gardener has made the flowers and herbs grow in such a manner that they serve the purpose of a sun-dial. The mild rays of the sun, filtering through the green leaves of the trees, fall on this sun-dial and enable bees as well as human beings to know how the time is passing. When one is passing sweet and refreshing hours in a garden, the best way to judge the passing of time is by means of herbs and flowers.

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