Study Guide

The Garden Themes

  • Man and the Natural World

    Marvell and an oak tree sittin' in a tre-—heyyy, wait a second… that's not right. Except that in "The Garden," it's pretty much exactly right. Our speaker is obsessed with the garden. He loves it. But is the speaker arguing that nature is a necessary escape from the real world, or that his life in the garden should become an everyday reality? And what do you make of the fact that this poem is a pastoral, and the natural world described by the poet is too perfect to exist in real life?

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Where is the speaker when the poem begins? During the poem? When it ends?
    2. How does Marvell make his garden seem simultaneously natural but also ordered and comfortable?
    3. What makes "The Garden" a pastoral as opposed to a poem about nature? Does it have to be a pastoral? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The superiority of nature championed by the speaker is true for the specific individual in question but Marvell does not mean to say that it is true for everyone. Different strokes for different gardeners.

    The passages praising nature in "The Garden" are ironic because everything the speaker is celebrating was put there by the society he condemns. We mean, doesn't he know there's a difference between a cultivated, manicured garden, something that was clearly designed by humans, and a forest? (Hint: there is.)

  • Isolation

    If Marvell thought it was hard to get some time to yourself back in the 1650s, it's almost impossible to imagine what he would have to say if he were alive today, what with people tweeting 24-7 and eyes glued to their smart phones. Getting some time alone, though, is just as important now as it was then, although we're not saying you need to go to the extremes recommended in "The Garden." Isolation is of supreme value and importance in "The Garden," and the speaker doesn't care who he has to throw under the bus in order to get it. It's associated with escapism (the speaker is trying to blow off all of society), but also with futility—the speaker knows he can never truly have the solitude that he craves.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. The speaker seems to be discounting the relationships people form with each other as "natural." Do you think this is fair? Why or why not?
    2. Do you agree or disagree with Marvell's statement that, "Two Paradises 'twere in one / to live in Paradise alone"? Why or why not?
    3. Does the speaker seem to accept the fact that he can never have the solitude that he craves? Why do you think so?

    Chew on This

    The speaker in "The Garden" is totally self-absorbed. He is way more concerned with himself than he is with nature. (His favorite flower? The narcissus.)

    Give the guy a break. The speaker's desire to be alone in the garden is not anti-women, it is an expression of his desire to live in an environment where sexual temptation cannot lead him astray.

  • Ambition

    Tackling "The Garden" is a pretty ambitious literary goal, so we think it's only fitting that ambition is one of the themes at work in the poem. In fact, it's the first major theme to pop up, but it's not exactly being portrayed in a positive light. Our speaker spends several lines criticizing ambition in the opening stanzas, but a little digging reveals that he isn't without ambitions of his own. So does "The Garden" define good ambitions versus bad ones? And where is that line in the poem? Let's find out…

    Questions About Ambition

    1. Would you describe the speaker as ambitious? Why or why not?
    2. What is the difference between the ambitions of the speaker and those of the men he criticizes in stanza 1?
    3. What literary devices does Marvell use to convey ambition? What is the effect?

    Chew on This

    The speaker's criticism of men's public ambitions in stanza 1 is unfair, as the speaker is an ambitious figure himself. So take that.

    "The Garden" portrays ambition as a bad thing, a character flaw, and thinks the same thing of the people who strive for recognition. (Guess we'll just slink away now…)

  • Philosophical Viewpoints: Metaphysics

    You know that song by Olivia Newton-John, "Physical" (warning: Speedos were involved in the making of this music video)? Well we're going to take it a step further and get metaphysical, because this, folks, is what Andrew Marvell is all about. He deals with big questions about tough topics, and "The Garden" is no exception. The mind, soul, and human existence are at the heart of this poem; it just takes a little bit of digging to figure that out.

    Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: Metaphysics

    1. Pick one of Marvell's metaphysical metaphors and explain how it works. How does it relate to the rest of the poem? Why do you think he chose that specific metaphor? Is the metaphor necessary?
    2. Compare and contrast the view of time in "The Garden" to the view of time in "To His Coy Mistress".
    3. How is the mind presented in "The Garden"?

    Chew on This

    Marvell uses a natural setting, the garden, as a stage for his metaphysical thoughts to play up the contrast between the physical and the metaphysical. Sly move, Andrew.

    The natural world as described in "The Garden" is an example of metaphysical thinking; Marvell is describing a garden, not as it exists, but as one of the "far other worlds" the speaker's mind is capable of dreaming up. Trippy.