So back to Marvell in The Garden. Where had I got to? Ah, yes…drunkenly falling down laughing. ‘Stumbling on melons as I pass, / Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.’
I thought while I was walking this morning that Marvell’s fall in the poem must be related to the fall in that other garden – the Garden of Eden, which I know about through Paradise Lost, and behind that, through Genesis. When Adam and Eve eat of the fruit in Book 9 of Paradise Lost they do get drunk, though there drunkenness seems less innocent than Marvell’s – maybe because there are two of them, and they start fighting. But here, in Marvell’s garden, once he’s fallen, he seems to go into a kind of trance, more like an opium-dream than a drunken passing out:
This is as impenetrable as anything I’ve read so far! I don’t understand the first two lines:
Withdraws into its happiness;
Things are noticed in detail (the fountain’s sliding foot, the moss at the base of the tree) as the soul becomes part of the garden and sings. It’s a gorgeous, non-human, out-of-time experience. I think I have had that experience a little bit, sometimes in my garden or out walking. You go elsewhere.
But then Marvell comes back, man-like, remembering Eden before Eve!
Such was that happy garden-state,
Oddly narky, this stanza seems – as if others, particularly one’s beloved – can really interfere and mess things up and I suppose that this kind of mystical communing with universe is a solitary experience. If we were only soul we’d be like this all time, but we are not! We are physical, sexual, beings and need, (see how he play’s on ‘helpmate’, ‘help-meet’), someone else.
I feel the worldly disappointed tone is coming from the sense that it would have been better to be alone:
Two paradises ’twere in one
Why two? Because you had paradise and you had it alone! I just don’t know if I’ve got the tone right here. Everything seems to shift around quickly. Ok, so I come back to consciousness realising that I am not just a lone spirit/consciousness, I am never going to be completely alone while human (think that is implied in the last two lines above) but then Marvell seems to jump back into his real body in real time – here again now in the real garden, made by a human:
How well the skillful gard’ner drew
I feel sort of stuck so I go back to read the whole poem again, and that helps, gives a better rhythm to the thinking. It is about solitude, being alone, being gone out of oneself and then coming back. Last verse seems to be about a made-of-plants sundial – you can’t measure the time you’ve been as it were out of your mind except in this way, by the flowers and plants themselves.
Loved reading this, this last few days and it has made me long for the experience of being out in the green garden. To which ‘I must arise and go now..’ as Yeats said.
The single red Camellia trying to get in through the window
I’m just going to concentrate on a few verses of ‘The Garden’ by Andrew Marvell. You’ll find the whole poem here. I found it in the Oxford Book of English Verse. Like many famous English poems, I read it as an undergraduate at University. But those readings often went over my head – or perhaps heart? I don’t think I’ve ever read it since.
To weave the garlands of repose.
I have no idea what’s happening in this opening stanza!
I’m going too fast here and in a kind of reading panic because it’s a famous poem and I don’t understand it. What do we do when we don’t get it? We read it again, more slowly, a little bit at a time. I take a breath and start again, going for the first chunk of meaning;
As I read it aloud I realise ‘single’ is a clue here. There’s one kind of thing (lines 1-6) which is to do with ‘single’ and then there’s another kind of thing (lines 7&8) which is to do with ‘all’.
When I’m trying to read I often have to do without knowing and so sketch out a murky unclear area I don’t yet understand and just leave it there. I often think of that space as ‘x’, as if reading was a bit like math equations, and you have to accept there are lots of parts you don’t know. You mark them as unknowns and then try to work out other bits. Eventually ‘y’ may reveal ‘x’.
But I do now know that these opening lines are about the difference between ‘single’ and ‘all’. It’s about taking notice of a the entirety of a garden rather than some special plant, is it?
While all flow’rs and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.
But also the difference between ‘uncessant labours’ and ‘repose’. The ‘single/all’ split has made me notice another, which is the difference between ‘uncessant labours crowned’ and ‘garlands of repose’. And now I notice the difference between ‘crowns’ and ‘garlands’.
Hmm.I’m taking it at face value, but now it strikes me that this poem may not be about a garden. It’s the word ‘vainly’ that makes me think it’s bigger than that. Can’t do anything with that thought yet. People strive to win ‘the palm, the oak, or bays.’ They are plants that are signify winning. Winners get a crown of bays, and those bays are cut from trees. Bays in particular are often clipped and manicured, as the trees here seem to be;
Whose short and narrow verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
I think this is a poem against a life of clipping bays. Don’t clip and contain natural energy – go with the flow.