On Being Drunk in the Park, aged 13

Japaense Gdn.jpgYesterday I read  the first stanza of The Garden by Andrew Marvell. Seems a year ago now after yesterday’s trip to London, two significant business meetings, arriving home at 10.00pm and waking up this morning to make a start on Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which arrived yesterday. More of that another time, but if you do not know the work of George Saunders, let me point you in the direction of the New Yorker site, where you’ll be able to read some of his short stories. Proceed at once.

So, how to get back into this poem, now that life, in all its massive  pushy interruptiveness has broken in and crashed my concentration?

I reread the lines from yesterday:

How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays,
And their uncessant labours see
Crown’d from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all flow’rs and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.

Well, I  remember it, and as I reread I can almost physically recall  making progress into some understanding. It doesn’t seem as hard today. The big thing (or is it just me?)  is the difference between ‘uncessant labours’ and ‘repose’.  Concentration on one thing  brings success (think Palm D’Or or crown of laurels)  but ‘all flow’rs and all trees do close/to weave the garlands of repose.’ So perhaps (after all the poem is called ‘The Garden’) this is about environment, making a space where ‘repose’ could happen.

That’s enough warm-up and stretching: I want to get going. I read the next stanza.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men;
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.

This is  a man who has needed some downtime, ‘Fair Quiet’, and some way of being other than worldly. Wonder whether in ‘Innocence’ is in him or in the place he  finds himself. He says he sought these things, ‘in busy companies of men’, but let’s be realistic – no one would expect to find those things outwardly in the busy world. He means, I think, that he thought – wrongly – that he’d find quiet and innocence in himself in that world , if he(thinking back to previous stanza, won the prize in them. Where are you going to feel happy? Where do I get that from? I think from the  complication about the ‘sacred plants’ of  Quiet and Innocence – things they grow? no, things they are – here below, on earth, in human life, if at all – ‘only among the plants’.

No white nor red was ever seen
So am’rous as this lovely green.
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress’ name;
Little, alas, they know or heed
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees! wheres’e’er your barks I wound,

No name shall but your own be found.

This is a mystical or meditational trance, or something like love, happening through Marvell’s immersion in ‘this lovely green.’ He can recall human, sexual love, and even see its marks in the names inscribed on the trees but this love seems nothing to the pleasure he feels now, in the green, amongst the trees. it is a place of calm and safety – a  retreat from the human:

When we have run our passion’s heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat.
The gods, that mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race:
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow;
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,

Not as a nymph, but for a reed.

Human love is over (perhaps just for now? seems less like the ending of a love than the ending of   actual loving. I don’t know if he is broken-hearted,  or just recovering from  love-making.

Now we come the Greek gods and I slightly switch off – though looking back I can see this stanza is a game-changer – so maybe I should have paid it more attention. I’ll have to look these stories up and would do so, but I haven’t time in my morning reading so I have to pass over them quickly. Gist of it – the gods turned into plants (to evade sexual capture?). And meanwhile, Marvell is enjoying  a god-like feast of sensual and yet passive delight:

What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.

Though he uses the verb ‘lead’ this life all happens to him. It starts out as if he is a baby, lovely food is brought to him and bodily offered up to him but it becomes much more like a fantastic semi-sexual dream or an LSD trip, as the  ‘nectarine and the curious peach/into my hands themselves do reach’ and, finally, it is like being roaring drunk;

Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.

How did we get to this from that apparently calm opening?

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!

Ha! he was teasing me! And yet there is an innocence about it – if it’s drunk night out, it’s a drunk night out in the park as a thirteen year old.

Time’s up, more tomorrow.

One thought on “On Being Drunk in the Park, aged 13

  1. Jamie March 10, 2017 / 10:46 am

    Mythology seems to link back to:

    How vainly men themselves amaze
    To win the palm, the oak, or bays,
    And their uncessant labours see
    Crown’d from some single herb or tree

    see Ovid’s metamorphoses – After she turns into laurel tree Apollo proclaims:

    Because thou canst not be
    My mistress, I espouse thee for my tree:
    Be thou the prize of honour, and renown;
    The deathless poet, and the poem, crown.
    Thou shalt the Roman festivals adorn,
    And, after poets, be by victors worn.

    and Pan uses Syrinx beauty once she is a reed to make his music:

    Now while the lustful God, with speedy pace,
    Just thought to strain her in a strict embrace,
    He fill’d his arms with reeds, new rising on the place.
    And while he sighs, his ill success to find,
    The tender canes were shaken by the wind;
    And breath’d a mournful air, unheard before;
    That much surprizing Pan, yet pleas’d him more.
    Admiring this new musick, Thou, he said,
    Who canst not be the partner of my bed,
    At least shall be the confort of my mind:
    And often, often to my lips be joyn’d.
    He form’d the reeds, proportion’d as they are,
    Unequal in their length, and wax’d with care,
    They still retain the name of his ungrateful fair.

    Is Marvell trying not to make the same mistake of letting his passions over-rule him? After all he uses those verbs Ensnar’d and fall when in an ‘intoxicated’ state.

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