The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Garden,” which comprises nine eight-line stanzas, opens with the assertion that people ordinarily confuse themselves (“amaze,” with a possible pun on the “maze,” a common feature of seventeenth century formal gardens) by pursuing recognition in only one field, as represented by wreaths associated with military (palm), civic (oak), and poetic (bay) achievements. Against those conventional modes of activity, the speaker, who enters the poem as “I” in the next stanza, argues for the ease and retirement embodied in the combined vegetation of the garden. Its plants, he offers, will provide the quiet and innocence he has mistakenly sought in the busy world, for such conditions result not from “society,” but from “solitude.”

In the third and fourth stanzas, the speaker reflects on the destructiveness of lovers, who record their passions by carving their initials on trees. The white and red (pallor and blushing) of the lovers’ complexions are not actually as worthy of admiration as is the green of the restful garden. Against the intense pursuits recounted in classical mythology, specifically in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.), the speaker (now using the first-person plural, “we”) proposes love’s retreat to the security of the garden.

With the fifth stanza, the speaker exalts in his own sensuous indulgence in the rich fruits of the garden. In an environment without...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Andrew Marvell employs iambic tetrameter in this poem, generally in the form of closed couplets. For a meditative poem, one might expect the lengthier and more formal pentameter (ten-syllable) couplet, but Marvell insists on the lighter and more lyrical line. This is not to imply that the poem is superficial in any way, but it is a reminder that the tone of the poem remains witty and even somewhat playful throughout.

Joseph Summers, in The Heirs of Donne and Jonson (1970), argues that Marvell pushes the claims for the superiority of retirement “to their ultimately absurd limits” in this poem. The speaker teases the “fond” (foolish) lovers in the third stanza, and when he stumbles on melons, becomes ensnared in flowers, and falls on the grass in the fifth stanza, one is not reminded so much of the Fall of Adam and Eve as of the antics of a man who has gorged himself and is left staggering drunkenly. This is not to undercut the striking imagery of that passage, with such rich assonance as “luscious clusters” of grapes which “crush” their wine on the speaker’s mouth. The consonance that links the m and n sounds of “Stumbling on melons” assures him a soft fall.

In the metaphors of the sixth stanza, the mind becomes an ocean, and the created world finds complete unity as “a green thought in a green shade.” The “green thought” is, presumably, life-giving and “innocent” as opposed to the...

(The entire section is 421 words.)