The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Time and the Garden” is a didactic lyric written in rhyming couplets of regular iambic pentameter—that is, in heroic couplets. The speaker is the poet himself, meditating on his craft.

The poem consists of three parts. In the first part (lines 1-12), the speaker considers the springtime budding in his garden and the “excitement,” the sense of anticipation, that the spectacle arouses in him. In the second part (lines 13 to 20), he realizes that to write great poems, the poet much achieve intellectual maturity and discernment; he then concludes that the great poet’s goal and achievement are the same as those of the wise scholar.

As the poet contemplates his garden, he becomes aware of the newly revived hidden bustle in the vegetation, which manifests itself in the “darkening” tints of unfurling leaves and budding fruit. In “vine, bush, and tree,” the future is slowly ripening and building what in time will be fruits of different sizes, shapes, and tastes—“Persimmon, walnut, loquat, fig, and grape.” They will ripen in gradual stages (they “will advance in their due series”), and this measured growth will create a tranquil, enclosed space that will seem like a peaceful abode.

The poet is excited by this new burgeoning and by what time will bring; he is impatient. He wants to hurry the process of growth; “crowd the little garden”; gather up its harvest in the springtime; and then in a single moment...

(The entire section is 521 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The opening description of spring arriving in the garden is sparse and, despite the few concrete details, abstract; the reader is thus prepared from the start for the poet’s philosophic conclusions. A suggestive simile occurs in line 6, when the growing garden is compared to a spacious, peaceful dwelling place where serenity stands in contrast to the physical excitement that spring arouses in the poet.

In his later poetry (including this poem), Yvor Winters wished to emulate what he called the “plain style” tradition developed by the English Renaissance poets he admired. Of the five poets whom he names, only Donne often wrote in the other Renaissance style—the ornate style—influenced by the Italian poet Petrarch. The “plain style” is characterized by terse, often unadorned, and even platitudinous, statements rather than by exuberant figurative language characteristic of ornate poetry, and hence suited to the poet’s goal of distilling the hard kernel of knowledge from experience instead of re-creating it.

The “garden” is a traditional metaphor, but it is not developed and remains a hidden resonance. The image of the spring garden is presented not as a metaphor or symbol, but as a direct analogy that provides a concrete context in the manner of an objective correlative to the abstract statements that follow; the setting makes them precise. The experience of returning spring also reminds the speaker of the poet’s and...

(The entire section is 547 words.)