Commentary on The Mower against Gardens

Luxurious gardening

In The Mower against Gardens, the Mower is denouncing the corruption he feels typified by the ornate enclosed garden that was coming into vogue in the seventeenth century, fed by the new horticultural advances being made in Holland, and explorers returning from the New World with new plants. He refers to the enormous prices being paid for new types of tulips (l.13), and the great efforts being made to discover new plants (ll.15-18; 24-25). The mower feels this is where man's desire for luxury is most in evidence in his time, rather than in houses, clothes or jewellery. ‘Luxurious man' is how he opens the poem. Marvell's readers would have remembered luxuria (meaning lust or indulgence) was one of the Seven Deadly Sins, hence ‘his Vice'. The term covers what we mean by ostentatious consumerism and hedonism. The garden of luxurious man's making is just the opposite of the original garden, the Garden of Eden, which is what Marvell describes in his poem The Garden, yet both gardens are, in their way, signs of the Fall of Humankind and fallen nature, both represent Nature (or Creation) corrupted by man.

Tampering with nature

The first half of the poem covers evidence of consumerism and human misapplication of the simplicities of Nature: the doubling of flowers; new scents; new species. This, by itself, the Mower would be willing to forgive (‘these Rarities might be allow'd'). What makes the display insupportable is the cross-breeding, grafting one kind on another, which he sees as ‘Forbidden mixtures', a sort of incest. Identity, kind and species become confused. We can think of modern agricultural experiments, and the suspicion many of them arouse, in genetic engineering.

All this interest in the artificial means that ‘the sweet Fields do lie forgot'. Man is cut off from Nature by all this, and the spiritual force of Nature, represented mythologically by the ‘Fauns and Faryes', have become lost to mere ornaments, statuettes in the gardens, which are lifeless.

Investigating The Mower against Gardens
  • Pick out words and phrases in The Mower against Gardens which suggest the Mower's strong displeasure.
  • What has modern society lost, in the Mower's view?
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