How does Andrew Marvell use form and structure to shape meaning in "The Garden"?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"The Garden" by Andrew Marvell is an interesting work, though at first glance there does not seem to be anything particularly striking about the form and structure of the poem. Upon closer examination, however, those two essential elements actually help create meaning in this poem.

The speaker of this Marvell poem contrasts the life of ease and innocence which only living in the midst of nature can provide. In contrast, a life lived in the midst of society offers nothing but busy-ness and a distinct lack of serenity. 

In the first stanza, a life spent chasing achievements is vilified, 

While all flow’rs and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.
The solitude and rest found in nature are far superior to anything found outside of it. In the second stanza, the speaker suggests that he has found "fair quiet," "innocence," and "delicious solitude" in the environment of this garden. It is only here, in this place and not in society, that one's "sacred plants" are able to grow. 
 
He goes on to criticize the way lovers act, cutting their lovers' initials into trees and cutting trees down to make paper on which to write love poems to them. Instead, young lovers should find love in the classical (less modern, societal) way, like the Greek gods of another time.
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow;
And Pan did after Syrinx speed....
The fifth stanza is replete with sensual imagery, and the speaker proudly proclaims that when he is in the solitude of the garden (nature) he is able to enjoy the tastes and smells and sights and feel of everything the garden has to offer. He mentions grapes, peaches, nectarines, melons and flowers, and his language is distinctly sensual.
 
The sixth stanza begins with these lines:
Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness....
The speaker obviously equates living outside of nature (in other words, living in society) with being "pleasure less," and living in the midst of nature with being filled with pleasure and happiness. In fact, the more he spends time in nature, the more he is able to "annihilat[e] all that’s made" and substitute it with the more peaceful, nature-driven thoughts.
 
In the seventh stanza, the speaker addresses the more spiritual (metaphysical) aspects of living a life closer to nature than to society. He says:
Casting the body’s vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide;
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepar’d for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.
He is hopeful of a more peaceful afterlife (the "longer flight" to which he refers) because his time in the garden has prepared him for it.
 
The final two stanzas reference the most idyllic and perfect garden ever created, Eden. He claims that there were two things that made life perfect for Adam: the garden and solitude. 
Two paradises ’twere in one
To live in paradise alone.
Finally, he says, the "skilful Gardener" has created the perfect place, a place in which the only real work is being done by the industrious bee; however, even that work is being done within the natural rhythms of nature. 

 
Marvell's use of heroic couplets, strict meter, and mythological references is in perfect alignment with his theme that true perfection (represented by these classical elements) can only be found in the garden (nature). Only there is life complete and fulfilling. A solitary life in the garden is a poetic and personal paradise for the speaker of this poem. 
 
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