Wednesday 13 July 2011

A Marvellous garden

What wondrous life is 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,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

The Garden, written in the seventeenth century by Andrew Marvell is one of my favourite poems. I’m sure you can see why this verse sprang to mind when I opened the door to the bedroom terrace where the vines have overreached themselves…

Until I came to Provence, I thought Marvell’s overblown opulence here (“Stumbling on melons”, for goodness’ sake!) was pure amusement with a touch of bathos, as indeed it was probably intended. But now I’m not sure sure he didn’t have somewhere just like our garden in mind, where the excess does feel slightly mad, lightly crazy.

Like the old poet, I too love to sit in a green shade and think and simply be, comforted by the knowledge I have no pressing engagements or people to see. While I was at university, while I still hardly knew my own character – the real one, as opposed to the extravert carapace I’d spent years building as protective cover – I wrote a dissertation on Marvell and the conflict between private and public life.

Such is the power of poetry: it connects with the emotions rather than everyday logic. I must have felt this strongly myself, though it had yet to filter up through my subconscious. Though, obviously, my life was nothing like his public life as a politician, administrator, philosopher balanced with a private life of poetry, unpublished during his lifetime: it was more a recognition of his admission that the introvert can go out and achieve as much as the extravert but then needs time alone to settle the nerves and re-arm inner resources.

Marvell’s The Garden opens with some wonderful and intricate punning that cleverly captures the kind of frenetic activities that lead to the desire for seclusion:

 How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays
And their uncessant labours see
Crowned from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid
While all the flowers and trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.

I love the way “vainly” means both “in vain” and “with vanity”; “amaze” has all the force of “amazement” but with a strong sense of being stunned, hit with force, and also of confusion: “a-mazed”, perhaps, trapped in a maze with no way out. The great honours are symbolised by trees, such as the bay (or laurel), but he would rather have the tree itself.

In the garden, the calmed mind finds its own happiness: Annihilating all that's made To a green thought in a green shade. 

You can read the whole poem by clicking here. And if you’re curious about Andrew Marvell now, there’s plenty more information about him on the same Luminarium site.


Maureen said...

Lovely post.

Elizabeth Young said...

You have me interested Deborah! I'm going to go over there next. I loved this post for many reasons. What a beautiful place to be...

Annie Boreson said...

Wonderful poem. Delicious to read. Thanks for introducing me to Marvell.

Muriel said...

Wonderful poem. Stumbling on melons (and tomatoes as well, actually) seems perfectly natural to me. Not at all over the top. But then, you need to see my father's garden!

Anonymous said...

Bravo pour ton poème, Deborah.
Et vraiment, ton jardin représente complètement le Lubéron!

thelmaz said...

Thanks for the lovely post. I envy you your garden

aguja said...

Wonderful! I remember being `wowed' by this poem at school. A brilliant post which depicts Marvell so well. I love the photographs and agree that it is fantastic just to 'be' and know that you are being your very self. I love to sit in my garden and enjoy its bounty. I delight in Marvell's lush images and the way in which he shows the two sides of glorifying plants.

I find it a coincidence that my post brought back to you 'Three men in a Boat' and that you have revived Marvell for me.
Thanks a million!

aguja said...

Back again, just to say that I have sent an email via your web site. I hope that it gets to you.

Jyoti Mishra said...

Indeed it looks like a wonderful Garden..


Adiante said...

La première photo est superbe ... Un jardin comme j'aime ...

Bel été Deborah.

Airelle said...

(there is an award for you on my blog...)

Olga said...

I really like your description of the power of poetry. I think that being in the garden can inspire any creative person. Nature communes with you at that moment.

Unknown said...

Deborah, that is just such a lovely post.
And as always, your choice of photos are stunning.

Forest Dream Weaver said...

Lovely post Deborah. The words and photos are luscious and beautiful.
Thanks for the poem,I don't think I've ever before read the complete version.

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