Imagery and symbolism in The Garden

Pastoral imagery

The imagery in The Garden is necessarily pastoral. Unlike other metaphysical poets, Marvell derives some of it from classical references, though most comes from where he actually is, whether that be Nun Appleton House or some similar idyllic retreat.

The classical images are of crowning the victor in stanza one, and the myths of Apollo and Pan, in stanza four. The image of the bird with the silver wings is quite Platonic, too. The neo-platonic Irish poet, [3W.B.Yeats3], uses similar images.

Colour symbolism

Critics commenting on the colour symbolism Marvell uses have discussed endlessly the meaning of ‘green Thought' and ‘green Shade', and the force of ‘annihilating', which literally means ‘to reduce to nothing'. Here as throughout the poem, green is the literal colour of the garden, but Marvell also plays with the other meanings of the word: mild, jealous, immature, tender, flourishing, gullible, unseasonal, perceptibly fresh and new.

The mind as an ocean may be a more difficult image. It derives from the belief that what is underwater corresponds to what is on land. Thus, the mind also constructs a world which corresponds to (and is better than) the material world.

‘The Bodies vest' is a Platonic image: the body is just a garment, which the soul can slip out of ‘like a Bird' since, birds have freedom of movement, as the imagination does, and can soar up to heaven, as the soul.

Investigating The Garden
  • Look at the closing stanza of The Garden
    • Discuss the final symbol, of the flower clock
    • Pick out words of order and beauty
    • Do the natural images here tie in with those in stanza five?
      • Or do they represent some quite different idea?
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