Study Guide

The Garden Stanza 4

By Andrew Marvell

Stanza 4

Lines 25-26

When we have run our passions' heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat:

  • We've moved onto the next stanza, but we're still talking about romantic love in line 25. The line essentially reads "when we have exhausted our sexual desire," but there is a pun going on with the word "heat." Marvell is immediately referring to "heat" as in romantic heat, but it also refers to the "heat" as the heats of a race.
  • The pun on "heat" introduces us to the predominant metaphor in this stanza, which compares the pursuit of sexual passion to the running of a race.
  • After our sexual desires are exhausted, love retreats to "hither." Now "hither" is an old-timey word that probably even your grandparents are too young to have used. It basically means "towards this place," a.k.a. the garden.
  • But what is Marvell really saying? That after we're sick of loving people we start loving plants? How does Love, a feeling, retreat anyway?
  • Notice that Marvell personifies Love in line 26 by referring to "his […] retreat" (our emphasis). Love is no longer a feeling, but a person. The retreat, then, is a person's retreat. This raises lots of questions concerning the speaker's opinion of the worth of romance and of society in general. Chew on that one Shmoopsters, and let us know what you come up with.

Lines 27-32

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. 

  • Just in case you don't believe that all love stories end with dudes ditching their women for trees, Marvell has some good old-fashioned mythology to back up his point.
  • The gods, he says, known connoisseurs of "mortal beauty," really weren't into the ladies; they only wanted women for the plants they would become. 
  • This isn't as totally crazy as it sounds. People are occasionally turned into plants according to Greek mythology. But it doesn't go down quite how Marvell tells the story, either.
  • Marvell uses the stories of Apollo and Daphne and Pan and Syrinx as examples, which you can read in more detail here and here. In super-abbreviated form, both stories involve men (Apollo and Pan) who fall madly in love with ladies-nymphs (Daphne and Syrinx), but the ladies want nothing to do with them or any other man. The men chase the women all over the woods and are about to catch them when river gods decide to swoop in and save the day by turning the ladies into plants. (Daphne becomes the laurel tree and Syrinx becomes a reed.) Hence, the "race" of the gods ends in trees.
  • Marvell's rendering of the story, though, leaves out the part where Apollo and Pan are devastated and the river gods were actually being sneaky and vindictive. (Daphne's father really wanted grandchildren and was punishing his daughter for wanting to remain a virgin.)
  • But, once again, Marvell knows this. He isn't using the stories to support his "trees are better than people" point because he thinks that's how it actually happened; he's twisting the stories around in an attempt to be witty.
  • We think Marvell's super witty, but that doesn't change the fact that this stanza gives readers, especially modern readers, some serious pause. Is there some resentment of women lurking under the surface here? And if there is, does that affect the way you look at the rest of the poem?
  • The tone of this stanza is a little tongue-in-cheek, but also a little dark.
  • Marvell is, after all, making a joke out of two myths about rape. Eek.