I’m sure the majority of us have been enjoying the sunshine and unseasonal warmth that has made up most of the country’s weather recently (it seems like there’s a perennial chance of snow in the most upper reaches), particularly well timed to fit in with extended breaks; I just hope I haven’t ‘jinxed’ things by writing this in advance and that when this post is published, on the May Day bank holiday, that the sun will still be out in full effect so everyone can really make the most of it.
The mere sight of a glint of sun calls to and coaxes us out of doors, even if we have other intentions, making us greedy for more and more; the blue skies, lush green grass and not just a breath but a lungful of sweet fresh air become addictive substances, completely intoxicating. It could almost be considered a crime not to be out in the garden on a glorious spring day; if not quite so severe, then certainly a waste of physical and mental pursuit. If for whatever reason your own exterior is inhospitable or just not quite up to scratch quite yet there are still a plethora of parks, fields and beauty spots – the gardens of everyone – to be amongst. I indulged in a lengthy stroll around the park at the height of last week’s sunshine; I use the word ‘indulged’ because even though it’s a rather simple activity, it’s one that provides me with such pleasure, peace and inspiration that it seems to warrant a certain sense of grandiosity. In every corner and curve, twist and turn there’s something to catch the eye and stimulate the mind. Right now a particular point of attraction and inspiration are the very pretty blossom trees – talk about the darling buds of May…(also especially relevant today as the May Day holiday was traditionally the time in which the Roman celebration of Floralia was held, in honour of Flora – the goddess of flowers.)
Parks and gardens are places very much rich in wonder, sensation and spirituality. Encompassing all of these emotions, as well as a lot more besides, is Andrew Marvell, whose thoughts are positively bursting into life in his own enriching garden. It’s a meditative piece through and through; from the first seed generated by ‘the garlands of repose’ follows a runaway train of thought which rattles through matters such as the ruthlessness of society, the contrasts between innocence, love and passion, temptation (bringing to mind the Garden of Eden several times, especially in the line ‘two paradises t’were in one/To live in Paradise alone’) and the transcendent and mystical. All such things, often widely conflicting, are tied together in this garden which also provides a pathway into not just one inner world of imagination but many multiple ones; the pure pleasure and tranquillity the green world provides paralleled in the wide opened expands of the mind.
Thoughts In A Garden
How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays,
And their uncessant labours see
Crown’d from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow-verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all the flowers and 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 busy 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 amorous 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! wheres’e’er your barks 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 wondrous 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 nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
Meanwhile the mind from pleasure less
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight 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 fountain’s sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree’s mossy root,
Casting the body’s 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 prepared 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 gard’ner drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new!
Where, from above, the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run:
And, as it works, th’ industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckon’d, but with herbs and flowers!
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
(And as a one-off visual accompaniment to suit the mood of the holiday and indeed the poem, here are some pictures of aforementioned blossom trees)