Originally read: March 31, 2013
More information about the Poet: Andrew Marvell
It's poets like this where I feel that I wouldn't do an analysis justice to the poem since this poem has many allusions (biblical garden, and others) and works within a form -- couplets within a single stanza. For a while, I was thinking of looking up scholarly articles about the poem to validate my thoughts. But, this blog is not so much about analysis, but rather experience of the poem -- I should keep this thought in mind and not be so hesitant about trying to figure out this poem.
In any case, I've been relooking and rereading this poem on and off during my "break" and I came to the conclusion that this poem appropriates the idea of "Adam's Garden" to "Manifest Destiny" through the sexualization or the emasculation of "the other." However, the "other" -- the flowers and the land that leads to lust, is actually the interesting part of the poem for me. Lust as an ego trip.
Yes, let's not get to far without some lines that lead back to this reading. The focus in the first lines is the interaction between "man" and the garden. And how the man can shirk off the responsibility of "vice" with these lines:
He first enclosed within the garden's square
A dead and standing pool of air,
And more the luscious earth for them did knead,
Which stupefied them while it fed.
With these lines it is the garden which is luscious and compelling which "stupefies" the man. Note there isn't a mention of a woman in this point. So the first allusion to Adam and the garden is in the first lines. There could be an argument that the garden and the woman share the same qualities because look how sexualized the symbols become: "The pink grew then as a double as his mind:" "The tulip, white, did for complexion seek, / And learned to interline its cheek." The personification of the "plants" which takes and desires "feeds" from the man.
So there's an interplay of who is really the "victim."
Then the poem takes a turn which I think is pretty smart of the poem, "Another world was searched, through oceans new, / To find the marvel of Peru." With these lines the kind of surreal imagery of the man and the garden dissipates and expands into the real. Look how the image shifts to the expanse, a a sort of manifest destiny, that leads to the man -- unwittingly of course -- down a treacherous, lust induced path (man -- always playing the victim).
But what is man to do in such an allured state. Man is needed, right? And here is the core line of this poem for me, "He grafts upon the wild the tame,". It's not the idea of how man tames nature -- rather the verb here in the line, "grafts." Grafts implies an aware mark -- an awareness to leave a mark. Now, man shouldn't control his lusts and vice, no, no. Man should control and graft those that induce a loss of control and vice. The next line after this also has a very good adjective/noun combination,
"That the uncertain and adulterate fruit / Might put the palate in dispute." So "adulterate fruit" not only grafts an emotion onto the fauna (the land) but alludes to the garden -- that damn apple that leads to knowledge. And if the poem ended here, then this would be a good post-modern cynical interpretation of the poem (reverse gendered power struggle anyone?).
However, the later lines like, "To procreate without a sex," leads to the point of view of nature. Where, "willing nature does to all dispense / a wild and fragrant innocence,". Past me (oh so young) wrote this, "Does the garden, wild, fragrant innocence keeper of the pure retain itself through 'gods?' or gods represented by 'man' or 'other man.'"
What I'm referring to is that the "man" dealing with lust is projecting his lust and grafting his desire on the land; meanwhile, the land -- nature -- is pure and innocent and it is, "the gods themselves with us do dwell" that makes them a figure. Man (the us) changes and manipulates anything to satiate a need that is no fault of the man, but of the other.
I like this interpretation, but I'm pretty sure this is not what Marvell intended.