The Gardener Questions and Answers
by Rudyard Kipling

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How would you explain the poem "The Gardener" by Robert Louis Stevenson?

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"The Gardener" by Robert Louis Stevenson is a poem from the collection A Child's Garden of Verses. It is written for an audience of children. The narrator of the poem is a young boy. We can tell that he is of the upper middle or upper classes as his family can afford a large garden, a gardener, and a cook. 

The young boy wants to live in the moment and play and seems quite disappointed that the gardener is focused on his job and does not want to chat or play. Although Stevenson does not put it in these terms, we can see this as an example of a certain type of entitlement or privilege of a young, well-off boy whose perspective is quite narrowly limited to his own desire to be entertained. The boy resents the rules and necessities of the adult world.

The poem is organized into five quatrains rhymed AABB. The meter of the poem is iambic tetrameter. Generically, it is a "carpe diem" poem, arguing for enjoying the nice weather before the winter. As with the traditional carpe diem poem, which urges a woman to yield to sexual advances of a lover because life is short, the arguments appear on the surface plausible until one thinks about real consequences. Just as the young maidens who yielded up their virtue risked social ostracism, diseases, and pregnancy, so the gardener, if he stops working to play or leaves the shed unlocked so that the tools might get damaged or stolen, risks losing his job and livelihood. The gardener, after all, is not a spoiled rich child but a hardworking man in economically precarious circumstances (servants were not well paid in this period). Thus while a child reading the poem might sympathize with the narrator, as adults we can see that the actual situation is not simply one of adults being boring but of adults having responsibilities and of actions having consequences.

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"The Gardener" is written from the point of view of a child regarding a serious and somber gardener. The gardener does not talk as he works, and he makes the child stay on the walk rather than treading in the flowers. As soon as he has finished his work, the gardener locks the door to the garden so that the child cannot play there. The child sees the gardener working behind the currant row, where only the cook is allowed to gather currants (a kind of berry) for cooking. The gardener appears serious. In the third stanza, the gardener devotes himself to digging flowers and cutting hay without any inclination to speak or play. In the last two stanzas, the child rebukes the gardener for being so serious. The child says that in the winter, the gardener must put down his barrow, when everything has stopped growing. Therefore, the gardener should enjoy the summer and spend time playing with the child. This poem is in part about how children regard adults as far too serious and also about the way in which adults might heed children's advice to play more when they can. 

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