Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Time and the Garden” is about time and growth, a growth that paradoxically leads to death. The speaker, contemplating his garden in early spring, is impatient to seize the season’s rich promise in a single sensuous moment. In an analogous way, he desires to possess the greatness that the five poets have achieved, but this he cannot do, for it is the task of a lifetime. As the trees grow and mature slowly, so do tough, unsentimental poets. The task of discerning the wisdom necessary for this creative task is slow, arduous work, as the one emotional outburst in lines 12 and 13 indicates. This growth brings the poet gain, but it also brings the final dissolution of death, just as the ripeness of the garden’s fruits is the prelude to decay.

Suspicious of mere inspiration and sheer expressiveness, Winters rejected the romantic notion of poetry as an outpouring of powerful emotions. Poetry was for him, as it had been for the five Renaissance poets he names, a “vision of permanent” truth. This poetic truth, as the summary of the scholar’s quest makes clear, is the knowledge—tough, sobering, and skeptical—which undermines the illusory hopes and promises of unlimited possibilities that spring and youth can inspire. Only the greatest poets and minds can discern this truth, and once formulated with precision, it is absolute, unchanging. A poem is a moral act—a responsible, rational evaluation of experience. Such tough wisdom, however, has to be...

(The entire section is 444 words.)