The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Imperfect Paradise” is a sequence of six Shakespearean sonnets meditating on aspects of the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man. The sonnets, in order, are titled “Seasonal,” “In the Garden,” “Deep in These Woods,” “Thief,” “The Imperfect Paradise,” and “Somewhere in the Euphrates.”

“Seasonal” presents a contrast between the pessimistic perspective of the speaker and the more optimistic perspective of a second person, whom the speaker addresses as “you,” perhaps the speaker’s husband: “you” is also referred to as “My Adam.” The speaker asks this second person which season he considers the loveliest. He unhesitatingly chooses spring, while the speaker chooses winter, and the rest of the sonnet contrasts these perspectives and examines the evidence that each perspective considers decisive.

“In the Garden” opens with the question, “How do we tell the flowers from the weeds” and extends this botanical discrimination to how one chooses among people, such as Jacob—the chosen brother in Genesis 25-27—and Esau. The sonnet ends by noting how roses are dying while “dandelions and chokeweed multiply,” implying that the good and the beautiful is more fragile and ephemeral, while the base increases.

“Deep in These Woods” depicts a somewhat ambiguous dialogue between the speaker and a gardener. The speaker questions how a garden can be made to grow deep within the...

(The entire section is 590 words.)