Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Andrew Marvell's 'The Garden': "A Green Thought In a Green Shade"

Garden of Eden, Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1621.

It is finally the time of year for flowers, parks and gardens. I tend to be a little homesick in the spring, given that I originally come from Victoria, BC, a "City of Gardens" which actually is one - its gardens are more English than most of those I've seen in England. But now that the weather is getting warmer and the evenings are light, I have gone for a few wandering walks around Chelsea and Mayfair and enjoyed the blossoming cherry and magnolia trees.

THE GARDEN (Andrew Marvell)

'The Garden', by the great 17th century Metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, still strikes me as one of the greatest poems I have ever read. I don't intend to analyze it in any depth here, but it is technically perfect, with so many unforgettable lines - "Annihilating all that's made/To a green thought in a green shade" - and with its Biblical, scientific, mythological and other references, it is like wandering through an introspective mind which also has an open, sensuous, witty curiosity. Marvell would probably have been very entertaining company.

A highly influential poem, 'The Garden' also inspired one of my favourite poems, by the West Coast Canadian poet Phyllis Webb - one of Canada's finest poets, and one of the finest from any country that you have probably never heard of. 'Marvell's Garden' is a beautiful poem about intellectual and emotional curiosity and isolation. It too has lines that I find unforgettable.

Oh, I have wept for some new convulsion
to tear together this world and his.

But then I saw his luminous plumèd Wings
prepared for flight,
and then I heard him singing glory
in a green tree,
and then I caught the vest he'd laid aside
all blest with fire.

(from 'Marvell's Garden', Phyllis Webb)

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