The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

First published under the title “Priapus” and often referred to as “Spare us from Loveliness,” “Orchard” is a short poem. Containing thirty-one lines, it is written in free verse and divided into four stanzas of unequal length. As its title suggests, its setting and focal point is an orchard in autumn, replete with epicurean treasures that inspire both awe and apprehension in the first-person narrator.

Unlike many poems in which orchard or garden imagery is used simply to suggest fecundity, fertility, or abundance, for this narrator the splendor of the orchard sets up a dilemma. This dilemma is the source of conflict within the poem: The orchard contains hazelnuts, figs, quinces, and “berries dripping with their wine”; however, like many people with puritan sensibilities, the narrator is wary of being seduced by its aesthetic and sensual appeal and leaves it “untouched.”

On entering the orchard, the narrator is profoundly moved by its opulence. A falling pear serves as a reminder of the resplendent blossoms that preceded it, and the narrator is overcome with emotion and reverence. Because of the seemingly unbearable beauty of the orchard, the narrator falls to the ground and begs for mercy, wishing to be spared its intoxicating effects. In contrast to the bees who take no notice, the narrator feels vulnerable to the allure of the orchard and must struggle to overcome its aesthetic appeal. However, the narrator feels obliged to reject the orchard’s beauty for reasons ranging from veneration to disdain. Rather than taking pleasure in its gifts, the narrator repeatedly entreats the god of the orchard to “spare us from loveliness.”

In comparison to the orchard, the god appears coarse. He looks on impassively. Like the bees, he is unimpressed by the surroundings. But his plain appearance and indifferent demeanor make him a less threatening, more deserving object of adoration. By making an offering of the orchard’s treasures, the narrator subordinates the aesthetic appeal of the orchard to authority of the “unbeautiful” (and therefore less suspect) deity. By using the immoderate bounty to supplicate a more meaningful ideal, the narrator satisfies both the impulse to revere the fruit of the orchard and the compulsion to reject it. By taking pleasure in the fruit by proxy, the narrator minimizes the risk of falling under its intoxicating spell.