The Poem

“Twicknam Garden” is a lyric in three unorthodox nine-line stanzas, with five lines in iambic pentameter and four in iambic tetrameter, rhyming ababbccdd. It is essentially a compliment poem, a gift to the poet’s (theoretical) mistress. Both the persona speaking in the poem and the recipient are participating in a popular social role-playing game of the period. The poet presents himself as emotionally devastated because he cannot stop loving, although his beloved constantly rejects him and even holds him in disdain. The lady, on the other hand, while possessing all the qualities capable of inspiring love, must remain serenely aloof, arousing passion but in no way obligated to respond or even acknowledge it. This is the standard situation of the conventional sonnet sequence. Since Twickenham Park was the principal residence of the Countess of Bedford, one can assume she was the lady.

The poem begins by establishing the poet’s emotional situation—“blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears.” The images are more intense than modern readers recognize: The poet compares himself to a winter countryside, torn by winds and immersed in water. He comes to Twickenham Garden for more than relief; he comes for everything that spring, the restorer of life, implies. Here life is restored through the eyes and ears, by seeing and hearing the lady, but even here the poet is caught in a dilemma: The presence of the lady provokes him to declare his...

(The entire section is 511 words.)

Forms and Devices

John Donne, the originator of what came to be called Metaphysical poetry—noted for the complexity and difficulty of its figures—is fairly conservative in his use of devices in this poem. Still, much of the imagery is intricate and multilayered, tying together several levels of meaning, and the diction is equally rich. The rhythm of the lines further reinforces the way several meanings are played with simultaneously.

The most obvious technical aspect of the poem is its irregular regularity, to give it the kind of paradoxical name Donne would have liked. That is, the poem is not cast in a standard pattern: The most popular nine-line format is that of the Spenserian stanza, used almost entirely for long narrative poems. Furthermore, no common lyric format mixes tetrameter and pentameter lines as this does. The poem reads as if it were designed to provide evidence to support Ben Jonson’s famous assertion that Donne “deserved hanging for not keeping accent.” For example, the opening line, supposed to be in iambic pentameter, reads more naturally—in Donne’s pronunciation and ours—as an irregular, four-stress line.

Once he establishes this unorthodox format, however, Donne uses it consistently throughout the poem. That is, he treats his irregular pattern as if it were regular. In fact, he stresses its regularity. All three stanzas have identical rhetorical and dialectical structure; they all divide into a four-line unit, a three-line...

(The entire section is 568 words.)