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How vainly men themselves amaze   
To win the Palm, the Oke, or Bayes;   
And their uncessant Labours see   
Crown’d from some single Herb or Tree,   
Whose short and narrow verged Shade           
Does prudently their Toyles upbraid;   
While all Flow’rs and all Trees do close   
To weave the Garlands of repose. 
Fair quiet, have I found thee here,   
And Innocence thy Sister dear!    
Mistaken long, I sought you then   
In busie Companies of Men.   
Your sacred Plants, if here below,   
Only among the Plants will grow.   
Society is all but rude,    
To this delicious Solitude.   
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! where s’eer your barkes I wound,   
No Name shall but your own be found.   
When we have run our Passions 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.   
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 Nectaren, and curious Peach,   
Into my hands themselves do reach;   
Stumbling on Melons, as I pass,   
Insnar’d with Flow’rs, I fall on Grass.    

Mean while the Mind, from pleasure less,   
Withdraws into its happiness:   
The Mind, that Ocean where each kind   
Does streight its own resemblance find;   
Yet it creates, transcending these,    
Far other Worlds, and other Seas;   
Annihilating all that’s made   
To a green Thought in a green Shade.   
Here at the Fountains sliding foot,   
Or at some Fruit-trees mossy root,    
Casting the Bodies Vest aside,   
My Soul into the boughs does glide:   
There like a Bird it sits, and sings,   
Then whets, and combs its silver Wings;   
And, till prepar’d for longer flight,    
Waves in its Plumes the various Light.   
Such was that happy Garden-state,   
While Man there walk’d without a Mate:   
After a Place so pure, and sweet,   
What other Help could yet be meet!    
But ’twas beyond a Mortal’s share   
To wander solitary there:   
Two Paradises ’twere in one   
To live in Paradise alone.   
How well the skilful Gardner drew    
Of flow’rs and herbes this Dial new;   
Where from above the milder Sun   
Does through a fragrant Zodiack run;   
And, as it works, th’ industrious Bee   
Computes its time as well as we.    
How could such sweet and wholsome Hours   
Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs!

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) was an English metaphysical poet and politician, being elected to Parliament in 1659 until his death. 

‘The Garden’ is one of Andrew Marvell’s most famous poems – about his meditation in a garden. He mentions three aspects of his public life: 1) military service (represented by the palm leaf), 2) civic life (the ‘Oke’ oak leaf), and 3) poetic life (the ‘Bayes’ bay leaves). He knows his life in public service will end one day, just as ‘all Flow’rs and all Trees do close.’ Away from politics, he values the quiet solitude of a private garden. He describes it as a sacred place removed from the rudeness of society. 

He prefers the shade of green in the garden, rather than white and red, which critics believe shows his life is now mellow. Lovers carve their loved ones’ name into trees – ‘Cut in these Trees their Mistress name’ – which he thinks is useless. He prefers trees to retain their own botanical name.

Marvell loves the plentiful fruit and flowers in the garden, tripping over the melons and falling to the grass. He mentions the colour green again, which critics believe is him alluding to creativity – becoming more creative than political as he ages. 

He imagines the Garden of Eden, the paradise, where people go at the end of their public life and at the end of their physical life. He imagines that his soul will eventually leave his body, but it will remain in the garden, gliding seamlessly into the bough of a tree, but first he must wait for that to happen, like a bird sitting perched on the bough, because he is not dead yet – ‘My Soul into the boughs does glide: There like a Bird it sits, and sings. Then whets, and combs its silver Wings; And, till prepar’d for longer flight, Waves in its Plumes the various Light.’ 

Andrew Marvell ends by describing the garden as the ‘fragrant zodiac’ of time and fate while he – like the ‘industrious bee’ – continues his working life until the end. 

Photographer: Martina Nicolls

MARTINA NICOLLS – MartinaNicollsWebsite

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