Marvelling The Garden’s Metaphysics
RADHA PRATHI on the relevance of Marvell’s notes on the garden.
Green is the order of the day. Just about everybody, who matters or doesn’t, appear to be saying the right things about our environment and ecology. Research reveals the wealth of goodness a well-planted garden can have on man. At this juncture, the 17th century poem titled, The Garden, written by the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, caught my attention.
It is perhaps the most complete poem on the subject, as it traverses through every conceivable aspect of greenery and garden with great precision. Though this piece of verse is a couple of hundred years old, each and every word of it is strikingly relevant.
To Marvell, The Garden was not merely a place full of flowering plants and trees, but a blend of sensuous fulfillment, intellectual appeal and spiritual elevation. You must have realized all over again the importance of, “the leafy crown”, apart from the medals in the recent past, when the Olympics was going on. The poet has captured this wonderful vanity of men, who crave for a bunch of leaves when they can have a whole flowering tree for themselves.
When the poet says:
How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak or bays,
And their incessant labours see
Crowned from some single herb, or tree,
Whose short and narrow-verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all flowers and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose!
Even as one ruminates on the harsh truth of ephemeral fame, the poet draws our attention to a very universal and commonplace occurrence. Wherever you live in the world, if you have visited any park or garden, one very general observation is that lovers eternalize their mutual love by carving their names on to the bark of a tree. This serves as a memorabilia of their love for each other, nourished and sheltered under that particular tree.
The poet, a lover of these trees, is positively distressed by the action of these heartless lovers, who do not appreciate the beauty of these trees, which are far more beautiful than their partners. He proclaims that if a situation should arise when he is forced by circumstances to write something on the trees, he would:
Fair trees, wheresoever your barks I wound,
No name shall but your own be found.
Marvell then resorts to Greek mythology to put across the value of trees. He alludes to the legend of Apollo and Daphne with a vein of humour to support his line of thought. It is said that Apollo chased Daphne, in order to attain her sensuously. Daphne, who was running away from him, could not bear the strain any longer. So with the grace of mother Goddess, she turns into a tree, thereby escaping the amorous reach of Apollo.
The poet feels all the passion of the God was exhausted in the race and his love culminated by way of a tree. In his other allusion the poet refers to the legend of Pan and Syrinx, where the latter was sought after by Pan not in the capacity of a nymph but as a material for his reed; soon after she turns into one. Andrew Marvell interprets the legends to achieve his end of enhancing the value of trees.
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.
The poet, quite simply, concludes pursuance of worldly pleasures even by the Gods themselves who find their nemesis in a tree as a retreat. It encapsulates the religious endeavour and fervour, which in turn leads to an ethical enhancement of the personalities of the celestial beings who are saved from sin. It is in the tree that the poet sees a transition from sensuous love to the love of solitude and peace. According to him, there could not be a better retreat than a tree to get away from the passions of the world. Perhaps Gautama Buddha realized this truth and chose the pipal tree to seek his truth.
The poet, who experiences perfect contentment and happiness, is suddenly saddled with a sneaky feeling that God perhaps felt a little green about Adam’s double happiness. Adam seemed to be enjoying the best of both the worlds — by enjoying his stay in paradise and in The Garden.
Marvell appears to be rather certain, when he remarks casually that God made Eve to spoil the boundless joy of man in the Garden. Though one feels enraged by his misogynistic attitude, one cannot but help forgive his thought, as he is preoccupied with The Garden rather than anything else. One cannot but help praise the superior metaphysical wit and the ever so subtle remark by Marvell.
Annihilating all that is made
To a green thought in a green shade.
All at once, the poet is able to comprehend the timelessness of eternity, the mortality of man and man’s need to go beyond the physical and realize life’s ultimate truth.
The poem stands like a beacon to the present world that is choking at its gills.