by Andrew Marvell
The Garden Introduction
In A Nutshell
Have you ever been hanging out by the beach or outside somewhere and been so relaxed that you totally lost track of time, waking up so sunburned that your best friend confused you with a scaly tomato? If so, this poem is for you. If not, well, you'll probably like it anyway so keep reading.
"The Garden" is a famous lyric poem written by a famous British poet named Andrew Marvell. Trimmed way down, it's essentially about a guy who thinks society is hopeless, people are lame, and nature is ten thousand times cooler than anyone or anything else in the whole world. Along with the majority of Marvell's poems, "The Garden" was published in 1681—a couple years after Marvell's death—by a woman claiming to be his wife but who was actually probably his housekeeper. And it's a good thing that Marvell had kicked the bucket, too, because had he been alive when it was printed, his writing could have gotten him into a lot of trouble.
You might be wondering how a poem about a guy who likes flowers could cause anyone problems, but it's important to understand that Marvell was a very slippery character, writing in an incredibly stressful and tumultuous time in English history. There were civil wars, foreign wars, a plague, economic crises coming out the whazoo—people were suspicious of everything, even poems about flowers. Check out this timeline if you want the historical specifics.
On top of that, Marvell was notorious for shifting his political and religious allegiances several times within this short span of history. Because of his questionable status and the constantly changing political climate, Marvell became an expert at disguising his opinions. His poetry is famous for including lots of double meanings, hidden interpretations, and being generally elusive—it's often very hard to tell what Marvell thinks about his own subjects. So if you're in the mood for a challenge, come dig around with Shmoop in "The Garden." As always with Marvell, you never know what juicy details you might uncover.
Why Should I Care?
If you're currently in school, you know that some people have the most bizarre-o study habits in the world. It only gets weirder in college. If you haven't started undergrad yet, just take our word for it; you will have classmates and friends who claim, nay, violently insist, that they will absolutely 100 percent fail a test or essay if they can't prepare for it in a coffee shop, at home, in a bar, in the library, on top of a historical monument, etc., etc. We are talking about competent, intelligent, normally rational people who will totally freak out if a certain chair in the library is taken, their lucky Pandora station shuts down, or a magical pen eventually runs out of ink. We at Shmoop think we work best when someone is hand-feeding us gooey chocolate chip cookies, but to each their own.
While a lot of this is admittedly ridiculous, there's something to be said for knowing where you think the best and what places and environments make you feel the most alive. For Andrew Marvell, this place is nature, and, boiled (way, way, way) down, "The Garden" is really just a poem about how awesome it is when you finally figure out where that place is in your own life. And that's an important thing to figure out because, chances are, when you're looking for a college or a career, you're going to want to be somewhere and do something that allows you to spend as much time in that place as possible.
Go back to line 33, where Marvell screams out, "What won'drous life is this I lead!" and think about whether or not there is anywhere in the world that makes you feel that awesome. If there isn't, maybe trying to discover if such a place exists for you is worth a little time and energy. And if there is, when are you going there next?