Study Guide

The Garden Stanza 6

By Andrew Marvell

Stanza 6

Lines 41-42

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:

  • While our speaker is physically busy relaxing in the garden, his mind, it seems, is busy as well.
  • To be precise, the mind is "withdrawing into its happiness," or basically getting itself to a swell state where the mind can do what it loves to do—think.

Lines 43-46

The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas; 

  • In line 43 we see the mind described as "that ocean." Since we know the mind is not actually an ocean, this means we have a metaphor on our hands. But before we can really dive into the meaning of that metaphor (no pun intended), there are some things you need to know about seventeenth century philosophy. Sound fun? Great!!
  • The logic behind this "mind is ocean" metaphor goes back to a theory about nature that was in vogue back in Marvell's day, namely that for every species on land there is a corresponding species that lives in the ocean. Ever heard of manatees referred to as " sea cows" or tuna called "the chicken of the sea"? It's kind of like that, except that the theory goes farther and says that there is a tuna = chicken kind of equation for every single species on earth. 
  • Now, Marvell's metaphor compares the mind to the ocean, but what he's really trying to say is that, just like the all the ocean creatures correspond to all the land creatures, the mind has in it a corresponding image for every the object in the world. 
  • Think of it like this: you've seen a desk before, yes? Okay. So, now you can picture what that desk looks like in your mind. A desk isn't physically in your head (ouch!), but there is an image of a desk in your mind that you can call up should you ever need to remember what a desk looks like.
  • But we're not done yet. Marvell has to take the metaphor even further to get to his real point, which goes something like this: the mind is capable of holding all these images of things that exist in the real world, but it is also capable of creating worlds of its own, that is, imagining things that do not exist in real life. 
  • The speaker of "The Garden" thinks these images that the mind creates "transcend" or surpass any images that are merely remembered or absorbed from the physical world. For example, no one has seen the soul, but using our minds we can think about the soul and imagine what it might be like. This, according to the speaker, is the highest and best level of thinking, and being in the garden is a good thing because it seems to help the speaker reach this higher level. Phew.

Lines 47-48

Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.

  • We're going to preface this section of the summary by telling you that this is one of the most debated and famous passages, not of this poem, but of Marvell's poetry in general. And that's saying a lot because the dude talks about some pretty complex stuff. Okay, on with the analyzing. 
  • We're still talking about the imagination, or the capacity of the mind to create and imagine things that don't exist in the physical world. These images that the mind comes up with annihilate, or obliterate, all the images of things that do exist in the physical world. 
  • Fun fact: another definition of "annihilate" is to "treat as non-existent," which we think works perfectly with what Marvell is trying to say.
  • But what does it mean to annihilate something "to a green thought in a green shade"? There are theories, Shmoopsters, but no definitive answers. But this sounds fun so we'll have a crack at it anyway.
  • Let's take it piece by piece. What do you think a "green thought" is? 
  • A good place to start is to go back to other places in the poem where Marvell has mentioned the color green. Remember back in stanza 3, when the speaker talked about green as "am'rous"? 
  • But also remember that he's not talking about amorous in the normal sense. The speaker's got a thing for trees. So, "a green thought" is possibly a kinda-sorta-romantic thought about nature. Which makes sense, because if you're thinking about nature, you're likely thinking about things that are green.
  • The same principle applies for figuring out "in a green shade." Our speaker is in a garden and we know he feels that being in the garden allows him to think better. So, "a green thought in a green shade" is talking about an original kinda-sorta-romantic thought about nature made while in nature.
  • Put all together, the lines say: the mind rejects thinking about what exists in the world in favor of coming up with original thoughts about nature, and original thoughts about nature can only occur while the person thinking them is actively in the natural world.
  • So here's a question for you Shmoopsters: by that standard does this poem qualify as "a green thought in a green shade"?