Study Guide

The Garden Form and Meter

By Andrew Marvell

Form and Meter

Iambic Tetrameter

Marvell loves the classics, and his choice of form and meter for "The Garden" is no exception. He uses a meter called iambic tetrameter, which means he's got four iambs per line. What's an iamb? It's a pair of syllables in which the first syllable is unstressed, the second one stressed: daDUM. ("Allow" is an iamb, for example.) Tetra- means four, so we know that iambic tetrameter means four iambs to a line, making each one sound like daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM. The rhyme scheme is also pretty straightforward. Marvell uses rhyming couplets, so each of the poem's nine octaves, or eight-line stanzas, contains the rhyme AABBCCDD, where each letter represents an end rhyme sound.

This is a fairly typical rhyme scheme, but Marvell executes it here with something that's eerily close to perfection. Take a look at this:

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 Syrinx speed,
Not as a nymph but for a reed
(25-32)

Now that is some poetry. See how all the lines are perfectly 8 beats, with no extra syllables clouding up Marvell's nice, crisp meter? His end-rhymes are perfect and concise and even his syntax, or the way he grammatically structures his lines, is parallel. Folks, if Marvell were still alive we'd owe him a standing ovation for this.

Marvell wasn't just trying to flex his poetic muscles though; he may have had other reasons for adhering to the metrical pattern so strictly. English gardens in the seventeenth century, it turns out, were often painstakingly designed and placed a huge emphasis on structure, symmetry, and formality—things that some scholars believe Marvell was trying to recreate with his incredibly symmetrical, structured use of meter and form in "The Garden."