To what extent do you agree with the view that pastoral writing typically celebrates the innocence and freedom of a childlike state? Nathan Goldblatt
In several of the poetic pieces by Andrew Marvell, the great pastoral and metaphysical poet, the themes of tranquillity, innocence (or the age of innocence) and freedom of a childhood state are exhibited and counter-argued in various ways. I have chosen to observe each poem and analyse the various themes within. The Garden is a poem which reflects on a magnificent garden shared by pre-lapsarian themes, evoking the lost Garden of Eden and Greek myths. This has been considered Marvell’s finest piece and it is this poem that clearly articulates his pastoralism and Platonist views. The first theme of tranquillity we may find in the poem are the nine stanzas of the poem which flow from one to the other in what seems a single meditative train of thought by The Mower. It is a meditation based on being in a particular place, working in ways very similar to Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale. The place influences the meditation, allowing the poet to enter a new realm of imagination, as is expressed by the line in stanza 6 “Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less, / Withdraws into its happiness”. This employs a difference of nuance, where pleasure feels more generic and carnal and happiness feels more cerebral. The stanza goes on to say how the mind it its infinity can create numberless worlds but forever returns to a “green thought in a green shade”. The theme of tranquillity goes hand in hand with the theme of meditation and is displayed by Marvell as he speaks to the ‘quiet’ he has found in solace in the garden. Marvell speaks about how he once attempted to find peace among his fellow Man but was unable to do so “mistaken long, I sought you then/ in busy companies of men”. Marvell goes on to say that society is “all but rude”, claiming that society is in fact uncivilised and exhibits true pastoralism by claiming that true society can be found in the garden than in the supposed bastion or proof of civilisation; the City. Thirdly, the garden itself is described as rich and abundant with nature’s bounty. Stanza 5 describes the pre-lapsarian abundance, a lushness that is clearly indicative of the Garden of Eden. It is a garden where sweet, juicy fruit is but an arm’s reach away “Ripe apples drop about my head / the luscious clusters of the vine / Upon my mouth do crush their wine” and so on. The garden is so good that the only fall in this garden is to trip over a supersized melon. It is this line “Stumbling on melons as I pass, / Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass” that wittily and playfully pokes fun at the fall of man at the advent of Eve. Stanza eight returns to the thought of Adam alone in the Garden of Eden and here is referred to as the ideal state being before the creation of Eve. Marvell isn’t being anti-women but is making the point that Adam was solitary in the Garden so was devoid of any sexual temptation. This displays man in his infant state, where he would have been master of his domain and not a slave of his flesh. This is like childhood, a term of our lives deemed abolished upon sexual awakening. It also serves as a tongue-in-cheek comment as this statement that man was better off alone directly contravenes Christian beliefs. In the final stanza, Marvell remarks upon the skill involved in making the clock or ‘dial’ of plants and flowers, a feature that was common in the seventeenth century. This shows that time goes forever by and the Mower has not escaped it into the timelessness of eternity. However, the rate of time is so slow in the garden it is almost still and there is almost no sense at all of the transience of life. Conversely, we can see that the garden is by no means a perfect Arcadia. Despite the points made about the beauty found in solace within nature, the absence of the fairer sex and the pre-sexual awakening, these elements are not absent in the...
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