The Poem

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 415

“A Tale of Two Gardens” is a long poem in free verse that evokes the concept of rebirth and renewal found in the return to a timeless beginning symbolized by images of gardens. The poem uses garden imagery to represent key and dynamic moments in Octavio Paz’s life in Mexico...

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“A Tale of Two Gardens” is a long poem in free verse that evokes the concept of rebirth and renewal found in the return to a timeless beginning symbolized by images of gardens. The poem uses garden imagery to represent key and dynamic moments in Octavio Paz’s life in Mexico and India. As the title of the poem indicates, there are two gardens in the work. The first is associated with Paz’s childhood in Mixcoac, which is now a part of Mexico City. The second garden is located in India, where the poet served as an ambassador from Mexico for a number of years. This garden also provides the setting for the author’s second marriage. The poem is written in the first person and genuinely reflects an intense personal experience with universal implications. The beginning of the piece immediately establishes the garden not so much as a place but as a moment outside of normal time and space. It is depicted as a void, an archetypal center through which the rivers of cosmic life flow.

The first experience in the garden occurs during the poet’s childhood. It is a time of idyllic vision that only the innocence of youth can create. As the protagonist leaves his youth, he also symbolically abandons the garden and its transpersonal nature. The garden of childhood becomes a ruin for ants to harvest. The protagonist’s return to the garden during adulthood represents a return to that magical center abandoned after childhood. This time it is in a garden in India under a neem tree that awareness is again expanded and a universal experience is achieved through passionate and erotic love with the woman he married; the poet depicts her as Almendrita, the “Little Blond Almond” of fairy tale in the children’s book by the same name. This passion turns everything into rivers that cover the world, destroying the old and creating the new. Contradictions that come from opposites are symbolically resolved. Even the contradictions of life and death find common ground in the realm of the Great Mother as expressed by a variety of feminine deities in Indian lore. The two gardens of the poem are active places of wonder that carry the protagonist away from his human condition to partake of the universal source. When the protagonist leaves India at the end of the poem, he does not leave the garden behind because “there are no more gardens than those we carry within.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536

The poem develops around the garden as a central image. The garden is part of the life and everyday history of the protagonist. The memory of the garden in Mixcoac includes the grandfather with whom he spent much time as a boy and the fig tree that was the center of life there. The garden in India includes the memory of his marriage to his new wife and a neem tree that plays the same role in India as the fig tree did in Mixcoac. However, this image is also presented as both symbol and metaphor. As a symbol, the garden manifests the archetypal center of authentic being. As a metaphor, the garden provides the method by which the protagonist is able to achieve a transformative experience and renew his spiritual condition.

It is the image of the garden as a symbol that provides the mythical setting for the magical moments in the protagonist’s life. In it, the fig tree is depicted as the mother goddess whose opened trunk reveals “the other face of being,/ the feminine void,” and the neem tree resolves all contradictions: “The other is contained in the one,/ the one is the other.” The garden as the setting for the other side of being teaches the protagonist “to wavegoodbye” to himself. To return to the garden is to return “to the beginning of the beginning.” The garden represents both Prajnaparamita, “Our Lady of the Other Bank,” the Indian goddess of perfect wisdom, and Yakshi, the goddess of trees and plants.

The garden as a metaphor begins with the notion that “A house, a garden,/ are not places:/ they spin, they come and go./ Their apparitions open/ another space/ in space,/ another time in time.” In another passage, the speaker states that “a garden is not a place:/ it is a passage,/ a passion.” The garden is a “Mumbling river” that “flows through the night.” The image of the garden acts as a bridge that brings together the concrete and the universal, a manifestation of the dynamic process that leads to magical transformation. The story of the protagonist’s union with Almendrita is a story of universal fulfillment. It takes the form of a water-filled journey that destroys the old reality and creates a new world. The journey symbolically resolves all human contradictions. “We don’t know where we’re going,” says the speaker, “to pass through is enough,/ to pass through is to remain.” That is, the paradox associated with passing through and remaining is resolved. The garden as a transformative metaphor is confirmed when the speaker states that “there are no more gardens than those we carry within.” The garden as passion and as passage is the way by which one reaches self-realization. This self-realization is described in the poem as “the other bank.” Once the garden completes its work and allows the protagonist to reach a new level of existence, it disappears only to appear again when the next renewal experience is sought. “The garden sinks,” states the speaker in conclusion, “The signs are erased:/ I watch clarity.” The garden has transported the protagonist to his ultimate destination. Clarity and wisdom are achieved at the conclusion of the journey.

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