Green Thoughts: Andrew Marvell's 'Garden' of Enlightenment Thinking

Garrett Hazelwood


             There have been many critical interpretations of Andrew Marvell’s famous poem, “The Garden”, and these texts represent an enormous diversity of conflicting readings of the work.  Lawrence Hyman, for example, claims that the poem should be understood through purely sexual terms.  In contrast, Margaret Carpenter interprets the poem through a discussion of its relevance to the Book of Genesis.  In another reading, Nicolas Salerno views the poem through an exclusively historical lens and focuses on the ways in which the poem echoes popular 17th century horticultural manuals; while yet another critic, Daniel Stempel, imagines that the text demonstrates Marvell’s Cartesian leanings.  While each of these readings of “The Garden” - along with countless other approaches to the text - present compelling arguments as to the poem’s meaning, their incredible diversity and variously contradictory arguments demonstrate not only the complexity of the poem, but also the inherent impossibility of the simultaneous accuracy of the majority of those same interpretations.  In an effort to clear things up, this paper will humbly propose yet another reading of “The Garden”, and illuminate, in the most comprehensible terms possible, its actual meaning as intended by Andrew Marvell.  This explanation of the poem will examine textual and historical evidence, as well as build upon several earlier critical interpretations of its meaning, in order to illustrate its discussion of newly emerging 17th century enlightenment thought with its emphasis on the value of progress and reason.  Furthermore, I will endeavor to show the poem’s representation of the collision occurring at the time of its creation between increasingly antiquated medieval modes of thought and the divergent modern thinking that began to take hold during the early modern period and would eventually lead to a major revolution in western thought.  . . .

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