What is "The Garden" by Andrew Marvell about?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This poem is all about a celebration of rest and relaxation, contrasted to the effort and toil that so many people in to achieving honours and titles that are shown to give but little reward. Note how people who toil to "win the palm, the oak, or bays" in the first stanza, which refer respectively to military, civic and poetic achievement, gain but little recompense:

And their uncessant labours see

Crowned from some single herb or tree,

Whose short and narrow-verged shade

Does prudently their toils upbraid...

Whilst honours do elevate you somewhat, in the perspective of the garden as a whole, they count for little, and the small amount of shade gained acts as almost a rebuke for the amount of effort needed to gain such status in the first place. The allegory of the garden is thus introduced, and the rest of the poem describes the way in which the speaker has found "Quiet" and "Innocence" in the garden, things which he has sought to discover in the busy world of work. The final stanza points out that the only business in this garden is that of the bee, which works hard, but in accordance with the cycles of nature, thus establishing the garden as a place of much-needed peace and tranquility which humans do not find in their normal busy and overworked lives.

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