The Garden of Love - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of The Garden of Love

The Garden of Love

The speaker goes to the Garden of Love and finds there a new addition. A chapel has been built in the middle of it, on the green where the speaker used to play. The chapel gates are locked and over it is a sign ‘Thou shalt not'. So the speaker turns to the garden which used to bear many flowers. Now the garden is full of graves and tomb-stones replace the flowers. Black-gowned priests patrol it, constraining the speaker's pleasures and desires with briars.


In this poem, Blake is attacking the way in which human sexuality has been inhibited and distorted by the prohibitions of organised religion (‘Thou shalt not') and the development of shame in its regard. He felt that sexuality should be unselfconscious, bringing joy and life (playing on the green, bearing flowers). However, its fallen expression now locks people into their bodies as though they were dead – their bodies are like coffins (tombs and gravestones). Sexual joy and desire is now hedged round with fears and prohibitions, policed by the power of the Church. The natural freedom of the garden and its greenness (fertility) is set against the closed, human-made chapel and its black-robed priests, denoting death.

Within the literary tradition, the Garden of Love is used as an image of the relationship between lovers and also of their inner selves. The garden here also has this double aspect. It is an expression of the social restrictions on sex but also of the speaker's inner self. It is characteristic of the poems of experience that the speaker blames the inability to express ‘joys and desires' only on external factors like the Church and ignores any personal responsibility.

Investigating The Garden of Love

  • What are the associations of a garden which make it an appropriate metaphor for love and sexuality?
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