The Garden by Andrew Marvell: Summary and Critical Analysis

The Garden by Andrew Marvell is a unique poem which is romantic in its expression, metaphysical in its word-game, and classical in its music. It is romantic because it is about the nature in subject and theme, and it is the expression of the poet's personal and emotional feelings about life in the nature (and society).

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

Its style is metaphysical because it uses the conceit, forceful argument, allusions (references) from sources like the Bible, myths and metaphysical philosophies. And it is a classical poem in its form because the stanzas, rhythm, rhyme and word-choice is like in classical poetry (carefully perfected form, and a language different from the ordinary). The theme is that the garden (which is the symbol of life in nature) is the perfect place for physical, mental and spiritual comfort and satisfaction, unlike the society where pleasure is false and temporary.

The poet has finally found the nature and realized its value; he claims that the nature is the only true place for complete luxury. 'The Garden' is a unique metaphysical poem which is Romantic in its subject matter and also contains classical elements in its diction, meter and structure. The poem is written in heroic couplet, which deals with the poet’s experience of feelings and ideas about the garden that represents the nature. The poet begins by comparing the nature with society and social life and criticizing the society and ‘busy’ worldly life.

In the first stanza, the speaker criticizes men who “vainly amaze” themselves by putting a garland of a few leaves and believing they have achieved victory, prestige and reward for all their endless labors. But in fact, the true and complete pleasure lies in the complete “garland of repose” in the nature. In the second stanza, he personifies the quietness and innocence in the nature and speaks to them saying that he has at last found them after losing his time in men’s company. Then, he calls the trees “amorous” (sexually playful or powerful). Expressing such an odd emotion and attachment with trees, he criticizes lovers for cutting trees to write their beloveds’ names. In the fourth stanza, he claims that when men’s “heart” of love and youth is finished, they turn to the nature. According to the speaker, even the gods did this, when for example, Apollo and Pan changed their lovers into trees.

In the second part of the poem (stanza 3-7), the speaker develops his arguments and opinions about the nature. In the fifth stanza, he gives a very sensuous description about his physical pleasure. In the sixth, he argues that this pleasure is moreover mental. Here he uses an odd metaphysical philosophical idea that the mind contains another world and garden as well inside it. In the seventh stanza, he further claims that this pleasure has a spiritual aspect. He romanticizes how he feels; he feels as if his soul is singing and gliding from tree to tree as a bird, combing its feathers, and preparing for the eternal flight of salvation. Here is also an indirect allusion of the Holy Spirit of the Bible.

The third and last part of the poem is the conclusion (stanza 8 and 9). Before making the concluding remark that there can be no question of genuine pleasure without the nature, the speaker compares himself with the lonely Adam in Eden; he also argues that being lonely was a second paradise (heavenly state) for Adam, before Eve brought about the fall. In the ninth stanza, the speaker thanks God for creating a unique world of its own that is the garden. The garden or the nature in general, has its own time: the rush and hurry of the society doesn’t apply here. Even the sun seems to have its own ‘sweet’ course. The garden is therefore the only source of true physical, mental as well as spiritual satisfaction and ‘repose’.

As a metaphysical poem 'The Garden' uses conceit, wit, far-fetched images and allusions, and a dramatic situation. The balance of emotion and intellect is also another metaphysical feature. The romantic myths about god Apollo and Pan is changing girls and enjoying the nature, the Biblical allusion of Adam’s “lonely” happiness are “heterogeneous ideas yoked by violence together” within the context of the argument. The trees and peace of the garden are personified and even sexualized! The argument about physical pleasure is twisted into the argument about mental pleasure. At that point, the poet brings a truly metaphysical idea about the mind. He argues – according to a medieval philosophy – that his mind is an ocean of all the things and images of the real world. He further extends the idea of pleasurable experience by arguing that his pleasure is actually spiritual. There he goes on to create the imagery of his soul flying like a dove and preparing for the eternal flight of salvation. The same idea of spiritual pleasure is also related to the comparison with Adam in Eden. The last stanza also contains another metaphysical element: the idea of the garden as a separate sun-dial. The poem is also a dramatic and emotional expression of personal feelings, which is at the same time balanced with witty and intellectual ideas and allusions. This ‘unified sensibility’ also gives the poem another feature of metaphysical poetry.

As a classical poem, the poem exhibits the qualities like the use of a different poetic diction, heroic couplet, careful rhythm and design, classical and educated allusions, and so on. The poem’s main line of argument is not difficult to summarize. But, there are so many difficult words and even ‘ordinary’ words used in ‘unusual’ sense. Many sentences have a Latin-like word order, with the verb at the end, and so on. There is a classical perfection in its meter and design and structure as a whole.

The main theme of the poem is that peaceful life in the nature is more satisfying than social life and human company. The poem is striking in its sensuous imagery, witty ideas and a balance between romantic and classical elements, as well as its metaphysical qualities.