Alison Calder's poem “In the Van Dusen Gardens” is heavy on imagery, and the vividness it presents helps us see the garden in all its luscious beauty. In the very first line, we read “Rhododendrons burst from hot green.” The speaker personifies these flowers, giving them energy and passion. “Hot” is not normally an adjective to describe “green,” yet it helps us understand the brightness of the color and perhaps the atmosphere of the garden.
The second line uses the metaphor of painting to help us picture the garden. The magenta seems to be “splashed on with a lavish brush.” It is intense color, rich and thick. In the next two lines, the poet switches metaphors. Blooms are “pregnant,” swelled, perhaps looking as though they will burst, while the petals are wet “with the moist translucence of desire.” There is a sexual imagery here that again personifies these plants. “The flowers sweat,” the poet continues, still personifying, while the “nutshell consoles” with a concealed promise. Even the “maze of veins” on the leaf provides an interesting metaphor or image.
We can see, then, that the imagery the poet employs greatly enriches our understanding of the garden. Through its vivid sensuality and personification, it also contributes to the poet's main point about how the garden leads her to reflect on the human soul and its love and faith. The garden, this vividly depicted setting, becomes an extended metaphor for the soul.
The poem's form contains a loose rhythm and a rhyme scheme that runs abcdabcd in the first stanza and abbcac in the second. It allows plenty of space for vivid imagery and metaphor. The poem is highly enjambed, with sentences running across poetic lines and even the stanza break to create the smoothness of conversation and the flow of continual imagery. These stylistic choices also reflect the poem's themes of the varying, vivid, flowing, alive human soul that seems to overflow in color and life like the garden and the poem.
Finally, the poem's tone reflects its content. It is sensual, engaged, and ardent. The garden is affecting the speaker deeply and bringing her to reflect on the nature of humanity.