Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“There Is a Garden in Her Face” is built upon the contrast between artifice and reality. All the Petrarchan elements in the song come from a world that is a construct of the human imagination, a world in which women are meant to be worshiped and, indeed, deserve no less. Campion reinforces this idea with references to his lady’s goddess-like power and even with religious images, referring to his lady’s face as a “heav’nly paradice,” to her eyes as “like Angels,” and to her lips as “sacred.” Men are so in awe of these goddesses or saints that they are willing to adore them without making any demands upon them. The ladies who live in this imaginary world appear to be emotionless; it is only their lovers who burn, freeze, and sometimes die, perhaps of a broken heart, perhaps, as Campion suggests here, destroyed by the lady’s frown.

With the repeated word “buy” and the cry of the cherry-seller, however, the poet catapults the reader into the real world. If someone will eventually “buy” those cherry-red lips, then the lady’s distancing herself is not a matter of saintlike behavior but a commercial calculation. Although the reference to a real cherry-seller is so minimal that one who looks only at Campion’s words might miss its significance, in the musical setting the repetition of “Cherry ripe” and of the single word “ripe,” echoing even the intonation of a street vendor, makes it clear that the vendor’s cry is...

(The entire section is 470 words.)