This morning I found ‘Hope’ through a woman I’ve hardly met

pink shrub.JPG
Anyone know the name of this beautiful,slightly scented, shrub in profuse flower?  It’s on the back wall in the Old English Garden at Calderstones, August 2017 

London day yesterday and no time to slot my morning reading and writing into a very busy early start day. But this morning,  browsing through All The Days of My Life, the anthology put together years ago by my husband for me, because I wanted a good anthology of religious poems, and which became a book, which is now out of print but often available secondhand on Amazon, I found ‘Hope’ by Ann Finch, Countess of Winchilsea. I may have read it through in the past, but I’ve never read it properly and though I know Ann Finch’s name, I don’t think I know any of her works. So, a woman and a poem new to me. And hope is always welcome.

Once you start reading, you need to know something about the Christian story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve. Had Ann Finch read Milton’s Paradise Lost ? She was born a few years before it was published. Was it well read, or well-known, twenty, thirty years later?  I don’t know – possibly. But Ann may more likely have been drawing on the Eden story as it appears in The Bible – King James Version would have been the one she used. Either way –  the Eden story is a model of experience in her mind, and opens up a series of thoughts for her:

Hope

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

The poem is written to someone, perhaps to herself, though that is not immediately obvious. It seems to start like a set of facts, almost scientifically laid out, like an  argument, the colon at the end of line two acting as a sort of hinge which holds the two  parts of the argument together.

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:

There were two important trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ( but not forbidden the tree of life ) and were tempted into doing so by the serpent. I can’t see any reference to the Tree of Life being removed to heaven after the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, as Ann finch asserts here, though there is a reference to the Tree of Life being in Paradise in Revelation 2:7  so I’m going to take it that that was a common understanding  – we ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge and tree of life  was removed …those who get to heaven will experience it…)

But I’m getting lost in biblical textual history !! Let me get back to the poem:

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:

In my Shared Reading group I’d be asking, can anyone paraphrase this – can you put it into modern English? What do you think ‘prov’d’ means? Proved it existed? Proved (by eating the fruit) that it was the tree of knowledge?  It’s a sort of test, isn’t it?  Proving bread –  proving as in test? Here’s my modern English version:

In Eden, humans were tested and found disobedient to God, and proved that there was such a thing as the tree of knowledge, and became knowledgeable about sin.

No so concise as poetry! A lot rests on the verb ‘prov’d’. It faces in two directions, proving something about us as well as about the tree.

To continue with my modern translation. Once the above had happened, then:

The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:

Interesting to look up ‘thence’ – I had no idea! (‘From a place or source previously mentioned’.) Is is a combination of time and place – is it related to ‘hence’? Heaven hasn’t been previously mentioned. It’s like ‘then’ – a time word. but it is also place, from thence= from there. Or to heaven – thence to Heaven. Online etymological dictionary  tells me it means ‘from that place’. So the tree of life was from that place (Eden ) removed…and taken to heaven.

Sorry everyone! What a long palaver!

But we have the facts established. I suppose now I want to think, what does it mean that the tree of life is unavailable to us , is up there, is out of reach…

We get the hinge, the colon at the end of that line and the first word of the next is ‘hope’. Read it again:

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

It now feels to me that the poem has been heading to this word ‘hope’ from the beginning – read it again and feel the rhythm of it. A lot of stress falls on the word – it’s as if the previous two lines have been building to it, their semi colon and colon leaning forward to announce it: hope!

But it is hope in the absence of the tree of life, is it, grown from earth, of earth. And  does it comeafter those other two have caused us a lot of pain? and yet it is now all we need, better than the tree of life?

the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Oddly, when I first read this I read it as ‘either Heav’n or Earth could want….’ I assumed it was a comparison but actually of course it is just two different names for the same place. if hope wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Heav’n or Paradise’ it’s odd that it is a growth of earth, is it?

I’ve spent a long time this morning looking at the King James Bible, so used up my time and only 4 lines of poetry read… finish this one tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “This morning I found ‘Hope’ through a woman I’ve hardly met

  1. orientikate August 10, 2017 / 11:32 pm

    I wonder, Jane, if there’s a connection between Earth (as) Plant (in) Paradise (where Paradise = Walled Garden) … I like to think about the cosmologies that informed people of those days and the ways it integrated with the deep stories of faith.

    Reading the verse again it feels to me as if the 2 Trees are kind of done and dusted, like – OK, we’ve been told about those – we chose (for better, for worse?) knowledge over life. But where that leaves us, actually & after all, is tending the plant of Hope. (Ain’t that the truth!)

    I was puzzled by the spelling ‘cou’d’ – what is up with that?

    P.S. great post title!!!

  2. drjanedavis August 11, 2017 / 5:13 am

    Hi Kate, I’ve responded a little to your main thought in today’s post (11.08.17)

    As for cou’d – it’s a contraction of ‘could’ but not one I’ve ever paid attention to or queried (so thank you for noticing it). I couldn’t see a reason or explanation easily via google, but found a page in a book which seemed to be about this kind of thing… not enough for me to understand it, though!

    https://tinyurl.com/yd5jyba4

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