How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the Palm, the Oke, or Bayes;1
And their uncessant Labours see
Crown'd from some single Herb or Tree,
Whose short and narrow verged shade2
Does prudently their Toyles upbraid;
While all Flow'rs and all Trees do close
To weave the Garlands of repose.
1) associated with military, civic, and poetic fame,
2) verged: extended
This is another type of poem - the hortus
(garden) poem. As English gardens developed, so did poetry
about them. Marvell sometimes criticized turning productive land
into gardens, but here he praises the garden.
People put themselves through much trouble to win the little parts of
trees that become the crown of recognition, especially when they could
have the whole tree without toil.
Fair quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence thy Sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busie Companies of Men.
Your sacred Plants, if here below,
Only among the Plants will grow.
Society is all but rude
To this delicious Solitude.
He is now moving from the physical garden to the hortus
mentis, "the garden of the mind." Experiencing solitude
in the garden helps you find yourself.
No white nor red was ever seen*
So am'rous 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! were s'eer your barks I wound,
No Name shall but your own be found.
3) white and red: associated with feminine beauty.
green: the color of the garden. Signifies hope, transcendence,
4) Fond: foolish
Hug trees, not women.
He criticizes the practice lovers had of carving their initials into
trees. (This is what lovers did before they had overpasses to spray
paint with their names.)
When he carves a tree, it will only have the tree's name on it.
Indeed, it seems he never married. The woman who claimed to be
his widow seems to have been his housekeeper. It usually works the
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 Syrinz speed,
Not as a Nymph, but for a Reed.
He refers to ancient myths. Apollo fell for Daphne, who
ran from him until she was turned into the laurel, which then becomes Apollo's
The story of Pan and Syrinz is similar.
Marvell says they were actually after the plants, not the women.
What wond'rous 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 Nectaren, and curious Peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on Melons, as I pass,
Insar'd with Flow'rs, I fall on Grass.
Images of another Eden. The plants try to feed him.
Mean while the Mind, from Pleasure less,
Ensnared, fall - ominous references to the possible loss of the garden,
just as Adam & Eve fell.
Withdraws into its happiness:
The Mind, that Ocean where each kind
Does streight its own resemblance find;6
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other Worlds, and other Seas,
Annihilating all that's made
To a green Thought in a green Shade.7
6) land animals and plants were popularly supposed to
have their counterparts in the oceans
Here at the Fountains sliding foot,
7) cf.Virgil, Eclogues. 9.19-20.
This is the hortus mentis (garden of the mind) theme again.
The mind withdraws from the garden into itself. He's following the
neo-Platonic philosophy of the time.
Or at some Fruit-trees mossy root,
Casting the Bodies Vest aside,8
My Soul into the bough does glide:
There like a Bird it sits, and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver Wings;9
And, till prepar'd for longer flight,
Waves in its Plumes the various Light.
8) Vest: robe, gown
9) whets: preens
his soul is a bird in this garden.
"various Light" - the feathers shine with various colors.
Such was that happy Garden-state,
While Man there walk'd without a Mate:
After a Place so pure, so sweet,
What other Help could yet be meet!10
But 'twas beyond a Mortal's share
To wander solitary there:
Two Paradises 'twere in one
To live in Paradise alone.
10) meet: suitable, fitting. This is a
reference to Genesis 2:18, where God makes a helpmeet for Adam.
How well the skillful Gardner drew
We have shifted from present transcendence to the Garden of Eden.
The garden of Eden would have stayed perfect if woman had not been created.
God created Eve as something of a curse, not really as a helpmeet.
Of flow'rs and herbes this Dial new11
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 recokon'd but with herbs and flow'rs!
11) Dial: sundial
At the conclusion, we're back in the actual garden.