The Poem

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“Garden” is a brief free-verse lyric, divided into two parts. None of the poem’s twenty-four lines exceeds seven syllables in length, and many are shorter. The stanzas are of varying length, but each is made up of a single sentence. These formal characteristics reinforce the poem’s small scale; H. D. is working on a deliberately small canvas.

Each section begins with an address to an element present in the garden: to a rose in the first part, to the wind in the second. Yet each section then modulates from the prayerlike address into a more meditative consideration of the speaker’s relation to what she is describing. The terms used to describe the rose are likely to be surprising to the reader; certainly they deviate from the traditional poetic associations of roses. This rose is “clear” and “hard” and, metaphorically, “cut in rock.” the traditionally delicate flower is described as almost unbreakable: “if I could break you/ I could break a tree.”

The lines that follow hint at a transition to the description of heat and wind in section 2. The speaker wonders if she can find the strength or will to move: “if I could stir.” This lassitude prepares for the summery vision of stillness and heat that dominates the “thick air” of the second section. The wind that is addressed in the first and third sentences of this section seems present only in the speaker’s imagination. She longs for a wind to “rend open the heat,” and she imagines that the force of the heat shapes the pears and grapes into round forms in the gauzy air. Images of the wind cutting or tearing open this oppressive atmosphere dominate the second section, and the poem concludes with an imagined image of the wind plowing the heat like a field.

The poem does not give a detailed description of the garden it names in the title. Instead, the poet concentrates on a few specific images that suggest a season and a mood more than an elaborate picture. The reader does learn that the garden contains a rose, a pear tree, and some grape vines. If the poet is interested in visual detail or richness, she apparently wishes to communicate it through a few well-chosen images rather than through a descriptive catalog.

This poem is from H. D.’s early and important Imagist period. The term “Imagist” was coined, rather fancifully, by Ezra Pound, specifically in reference to H. D.’s smaller poems. For a brief period in the second decade of the 1900’s, imagism became a movement, adopted by others, including Richard Aldington, Amy Lowell, and Pound himself (whose two-line poem “In a Station of the Metro” is a classic example of the style). All these poets sought a clear-cut, direct presentation of simple images in a fresh way; they were reacting against the flowery and elaborate style characteristic of much late nineteenth century verse. H. D. was influenced by her reading of Greek poetry, particularly the poetry of Sappho, which survives only in fragments. These fragmentary bits of lines (often from the middle of lines surviving on torn parchment) seemed to offer intriguingly suggestive possibilities for modern poets seeking a new style.

Forms and Devices

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The figurative language used to describe the rose in the first two sentences of the poem is significant in its invocation of the plastic and pictorial arts. The rose is “cut in rock,” suggesting sculpture; the brilliant color of the petals can be scraped off “like spilt dye,” suggesting painting. These comparisons intimate how Imagist poetry sought the hardness and simplicity of the nonlinguistic...

(This entire section contains 481 words.)

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art forms. Resisting flowery language, H. D. describes a flower with two references to “rock,” the use of “clear” and “hard,” and the repetition of “break” four times. The desire to render the soft rose as something hard and unsentimental emerges in the simple diction as well: of the fifty-one words in the first section, all but three are single syllables, and all are common, familiar words.

Word repetition is important in the second section as well, where “rend” and “cut” are both significantly repeated. A contrast emerges between the longed-for, refreshing cutting action of the wind and the still air that generates such verbs as “drop,” “fall,” “blunts,” and “rounds.” The hyperbolic assertion that the thick air actually shapes the fruit is reinforced with alliteration: “through this thick” appears in the line before “fruit” and “fall,” while the p sound unites “presses up,” “points,” “pears,” and “grapes.”

“Garden” is essentially a poem of images, and much of the interest in the poem lies in how H. D. keeps those images fresh and intriguing. As well as borrowing imagery from sculpture and painting, she subtly sets in motion unusual connections. The strength of the rose, which the speaker asserts can only be broken with the strength it would take to break a tree, becomes an oppressive heat that can only be broken or torn apart by the natural force of the wind. The imagery suggestive of violent action all exists in the imagined realm of the poem. On the literal level, stasis dominates, with the unbreakable rose and the “fruit” that “cannot drop/ through this thick air.”

The use of figurative language is part of the poem’s freshness. The addresses to the rose and the wind are implicit personifications, and they locate the speaker as one whose utterance is an appeal to natural forces beyond her control. The hardness of the rose is compared in a simile to “the descent of hail”; the images of cutting apart the heat or “rend[ing] it to tatters” metaphorically turn the concept of heat into a concrete object, like cloth. The final metaphor, asking the wind to “plough through” the heat, combines the personification of the wind (here, appropriately enough, compared to a farmer tilling the soil) with the metaphoric transformation of warm air into something hard (like the very ground of the garden). None of these instances of figurative language is particularly startling in itself, yet the poem creates a surprisingly rich metaphoric field in its brief space.


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