The purgative, the illuminative, and Marvell's "The Garden".
The via purgativa and the via illuminativa are not neatly separate stages in the psychology of religious experience, for although one leads into the other, they necessarily overlap, just as do mortification and sanctification in Calvin's thinking on the individual religious life. (5) As its name implies, the purgative way involves renunciation. Its aim is the gradual but decisive purging of evil and, therefore, of illusion from the soul. The illuminative way, its counterpart, is concerned with the soul's developing a sense of the divine presence, enhancing its spiritual perceptiveness, and intensifying its spirituality. Thus, the two stages of religious experience are interactive rather than distinct. In "The Garden," Marvell's speaker refashions them. He does not concern himself with renunciation of evil but with repudiating the negotiant born of ambition, fame itself, and sexual desire as illusionary or illusionistic. He does not seek to locate the authentic self in devotion or imitatio Christi or "sacrum illud coniugium" but in virtuous otium and quies won by retreat from the desire for pre-eminence in public life and from sexual involvement. (6) He seeks illumination by reading the Book of Nature, but he reads it in light of classical philosophy and fable as well as the scriptures; and he seeks illumination by way of the imagination, the phantasia. He nostalgically perceives the garden as a fallen likeness of Eden and immerses himself in its immediate physical richness as well as looks beyond it. He reaches the boundary between illumination and union with the divine, an epiphanic moment articulated in terms that are, at best, obliquely Christian. (7) His is an all but secularized remaking of the ways in which he displays a connoisseur's amused engagement with pastoral tradition and with myth, a tranquil and evasive spirituality.
As I mentioned above, near the end of the poem Marvell's persona reveals that his withdrawal into the unworldly space of the garden is a preliminary to his spiritual journeying in quest of an otherworldly home. Only by slight gestures does he indicate that his desire for home, his nostalgia, is Christian; at the same time he indicates that it is inclusively so. Imaging his desire for home, he evokes Plotinus, Boethius, and the Psalms--in such a way as to harmonize with the neoplatonic affinities of much preceding that phase of his soliloquy. There he seems to evoke Plotinus, if also Epicurus. (8) In addition, he apparently alludes to (or at least allows recognition of his connections with) Christian contemporaries of Marvell, such as Mathias Casimire, John Smith, and Henry Vaughan, who were interested in the Hermetica or Neoplatonism. But the speaker goes beyond the obliquely or inclusively Christian. Markedly, near the poem's end, he blithely turns away both from scriptural narrative in Genesis and from orthodox interpretations of it, such as those by Calvin. He interlaces the reticently and encompassingly Christian with the obtrusively irreverent and the heterodox.
The poem begins with a leisurely hauteur that almost masks the intricate doubleness of Marvell's language as his persona repudiates the negotium of public ambition, along with the fame it may achieve, and celebrates otium:
How vainly men themselves amaze To win the palm, the oak, or bays; And their uncessant labours see Crowned from some single herb or tree, Whose short and narrow verged shade Does prudently their toils upbraid; While all flow'rs and all trees do close To weave the garlands of repose. (1-8)
The language through which Marvell's speaker rejects the strivings of those ambitious for public recognition is, ironically, busy in its elegant play with the metaphorics of fame. "How vainly," he begins. At the very outset of his soliloquy, he unmistakably, if indirectly, suggests that emptiness, futility, and pride are the hallmarks of negotium linked to the desire for fame. (9) Then, focusing on the material tropes of fame awarded for achievement in civil life--"the palm, the oak or bays" symbolic respectively of martial, civic, or poetic achievement (2)--the speaker suggests that the "uncessant labours" of the ambitious are problematic even, or perhaps especially, when triumphant. Commentators on the poem have frequently noted that, according to Marvell's speaker, those who labour incessantly for public distinction receive acknowledgment symbolized by one fragment from one part only of the natural world. Their strivings are "[c]rowned from some single herb or tree" (4). Their labouring culminates in mere tokens. These signify, because they embody, limitation or diminution rather than completeness: as a result, the "short and narrow verged shade" of the garlands won by those who have struggled for fame "[d]oes prudently their toils upbraid" (5-6). It has also often been remarked that the speaker obliquely identifies civil ambition as inseparable from confusion ("amaze," 1) and the "labours" of those pursuing fame as snares ("toils," 6). Yet, his effortlessly elaborate disdain for the pursuit of fame and its works sets in motion a dialectic that is much larger than the sum of its ingenious detail.
Two elements of that detail give particular impetus to the dialectic he initiates: "prudently ... upbraid" (6), a trope cunningly positioned in its line, and the trope that concludes the first stanza, "garlands of repose" (8). The first of those tropes puns on "upbraid" to hint at reproof's being implied by the very wreath that marks success, its "shade" weaving disapproval round the labours ("toils") of those who wear it. More important are the trope's initial term ("prudently") and its structure. "[P]rudently," while also a pun, primarily summons the notion of prudentia, that is, of practical wisdom. According to Cicero's famous maxim, prudentia is "the practical knowledge of things to be sought for and of things to be avoided" (Cicero, De Officiis, 1.43.153). (10) Marvell's speaker indicates that the "narrow verged shade" of the victor's wreath wisely reproves its wearer. After all the negotium generated by pursuit of fame, he is not now "at ease beneath the shade" ("lentus in umbra") (Virgil 1.4). (11) His efforts have not been rewarded with, and he is not enjoying, an expansive ease. He seems not to have gained otium at the conclusion of his striving. (12) Marvell's speaker would have us infer that a thin parody of otium is the corollary of fame. The "short and narrow verged shade" cast by the victor's wreath neither equates with the "green shade" of the garden environing Marvell's persona (48) nor connotes the profound otium to be experienced within it. Therefore, that shade cast by the wreath intimates wisdom inasmuch as it signals a lack of prudentia in the person who has striven for and then gained public recognition. It is implicit that his negotiant has not led, and could not lead, to otium. As Marvell's speaker goes on to suggest, the victor's "uncessant labours" have brought him neither "repose" (8) nor "[qjuiet" (9). His laborious pursuit of fame may have been heroic, but it has not been wise. Moreover, not only does Marvell have "toils" simultaneously gesture towards negotium yet devalue it; he deftly frames that self-disparaging allusion with a trope that associates the toilsome quest for fame with a failure of practical wisdom.
Those connections among negotium, fame, and imprudentia--which the speaker delineates with such precision by means of "prudently ... upbraid"--are counterpointed by the connections he posits among retreat, otium, and contemplation - which he begins to identify in his subsequent and antithetic "garlands of repose." Whereas the first trope obliquely condemns, its successor overtly celebrates. The speaker's retreat from the public world into the home-like space of the garden, Eden's distant reflection, affirms his repudiation of fame and its works as illusionary. There, furthermore, he finds what supersedes them. He discovers the completion and ease parodied by the very symbols of fame, for, having withdrawn into what he discerns as a type of humankind's original home, and having renounced the struggle for public recognition and its rewards, he perceives the garden itself as a living and various wreath that encloses the individual. Its entirety, in fact, encircles him with otium: "all flowr's and all trees do close/To weave the garlands of repose" (7-8). The triumph of otium is won by retreat; a form of completion is represented by and experienced amid the enclosing fullness of the hortulan world. That environment of completion, as it might be called, is of course not ultimately identified with self-fulfilment. Yet, it leads there, or, at least, in its specific direction. We are told by Marvell's speaker, near the start of his monologue, that the garden encloses him in "the garlands of repose." At the centre of his soliloquy, he tells of his luxuriantly sensuous fulfilment in the garden (33-40). Then, towards his soliloquy's end, he speaks of retreat from personal physicality, and from all but the garden, into contemplation. He implicitly identifies self-tulfilment with contemplative apprehension of the final home and homeland, if not with the via unitiva itself (49-56). It is, as a result, from the contradictions between those two tropes of wreathing that Marvell chiefly shapes the first phase of his poem's dialectic, the interplay of priorities which at first informs his refashioning of the purgative and illuminative ways.
The main terms of that interplay are clear. At the poem's start, Marvell's speaker suggests that, for all the labor expended to achieve fame, its version of immortality does not bring self-fulfilment. Limitation or diminution is its hallmark. Yet, there, too, he initiates the contrary idea that contemplation leads to an encounter with the immortal itself --to a participation in the immortal anticipatory of ultimate fulfilment in it. Simultaneously, he indicates that the struggle for fame does not bring ease or peace even when fame has been won; and he begins to suggest that retreat from the pursuit of public recognition (in fact, from communal life) brings an ease and peace that are encompassing, rich, profound. Setting those priorities against each other, he likewise plays prudence against contemplation. They were often held to be, respectively, the lower and higher forms of wisdom. Marvell's speaker shows prudence condemning imprudent action and opening the way to contemplation, which in turn transcends both imprudence and prudence alike. However, as his speaker proceeds to dismiss the initial set of terms in those contraries--negotium, fame, and imprudentia--Marvell presents them evocatively amid the very process of repudiation. His speaker's act of renunciation is a wry, stylish, and urbane purging of vanitas, but also one laden with affirmation. Authoritative voices echo in agreement round the speaker's own, as if he were in a whispering gallery of the learned and like-minded. It is with a discreet display of philosophic kinship that Marvell has his speaker renounce the desire for undying public recognition as vain.
Given that the speaker's simulating of the illuminative way has affinities with Plotinus, as I shall illustrate presently, it is no surprise that his gestures of renunciation should also. This early moment of "The Garden" harmonizes with a passage in which Plotinus considers the active life as displaced contemplation:
In the same way, human beings, when weak on the side of contemplation, find in action their trace of vision and of reason: their spiritual feebleness unfits them for contemplation; they are left with a void, because they cannot adequately seize the vision; yet they long for it; they are hurried into action as their way to the vision which they cannot attain by intellection.
They act from the desire of seeing their action, and of making it visible and sensible to others when the result shall prove fairly well equal to the plan. Everywhere, doing and making will be found to be either an attenuation or a complement of vision - attenuation if the doer was aiming on at the thing done; complement if he is to possess something nobler to gaze upon than the mere work produced.
Given the power to contemplate the Authentic, who would run, of choice, after its image?
The relation of action to contemplation is indicated in the way duller children, inapt to study and speculation, take to crafts and manual labour. (Plotinus 3.8.4)
Marvell's speaker will joke in stanzas 3-4 that sexual desire should by rights be redirected towards a consummation more physically natural than human, more cerebral than physical. In doing so, he will propose that the fables of Apollo and Daphne, of Pan and Syrinx, actually tell of urgencies other than the erotic. But here, in broad agreement with Plotinus, he proposes that to pursue fame is to misdirect what should be a quest for the otium that can engender contemplation.
There is as well an Epicurean resonance to the speaker's rejection of fame and its works as illusionary, one that offers a narrower and more strictly pertinent view on prudentia. In Walter Charleton's rendition of Epicurus, the account "Of Prudence Civill," includes this:
But, as for those, who are not by Nature Comparated to much imployment, but to Quiet and Ease; or have by force of Reason repressed their Natural Ambition and vain Affectation of Popularity; or having learned, by their own costly Experience, the certain troubles, and uncertain duration of Grandure, have withdrawn themselves from the storm [s], that frequently threaten men of Public Charges; ... good reason is there, that these should esteem the quiet of a Private condition, much better than the disquiet and dangers of a Popular; unlesse, perhaps, some accident intervene on the part of the Commonwealth. ... (Charleton 12.3)
Now, seeing the scope of a Wise-man is the very same, namely, Security and Tranquillity of life; pray, by how much nearer a way doth he arrive at that end, when avoiding the tumults of a civill life, he directly and immediately placeth himselfe in a most profound quiet, and a state of highest silence and tranquillity? (12.6)
And so Marvell's speaker turns to his re-fashioning of the illuminative way, his elusive and serio-ludic account of what Plotinus calls "the passing of solitary to solitary" (6.9.11).
Informing that account is celebration of retreat, otium, and contemplation at the expense of their various opposites. As the dynamic between the via purgativa and the via illuminativa would lead one to expect, the conflicting priorities within the poem's dialectic are interactive almost all the way throughout it and are not presented sequentially. Further, after his ironic purging of the vanities, Marvell's persona at once celebrates and explores what he values above them. He acknowledges the implausibilities and impossibilities that are all but inseparable from what he commends. From this entwining of praise with scrutiny follows the equivocal tone of his monologue in voicing experience of the illuminative path. Transition to that path having been signalled by his "garlands of repose" trope, he then enters upon it with the paradoxical apostrophe which forms the second stanza:
Fair Quiet, have I found thee here, And Innocence thy sister dear! Mistaken long, I sought you then In busy companies of men. Your sacred plants, if here below, Only among the plants will grow. Society is all but rude, To this delicious solitude. (9-16)
Typically of Marvell's speaker in "The Garden," there can be no enthusiasm unobservant of contraries and distinctions.
Here he begins to engage conceptually with the world of the garden. He implies that to read the book of nature is to become almost at one with it: to discover that the grafts, or shoots, or seedlings of divine states or qualities can be nurtured in the soul, if at all, only amid the garden's verdure ("plants", in 13, playing on plantae). In so reading the garden, he opposes the reclusive and occlusive hortulan world to the social, by implication the contemplative life to the active, and thus the productive to the sterile. Yet the terms at stake in this play of opposites are less distinct than those obvious contrasts might lead one to expect. Given its context, "Quiet" aligns with, and perhaps is meant to recall, Cicero's "locus quietis et tranquillitatis plenissimus" from De Oratore, (13) Nevertheless it also carries overtones of ataraxia in Epicurus' sense and of quies in Augustine's. (14) "Innocence" signifies absence of guilt and harmlessness in intent, but the range of its meanings is unclear. For example, it connotes sexual innocence, and denial of--or retreat from--the erotic is the focus of the poem's two subsequent stanzas. Not only the speaker's positive terms are indistinct, for the condemnatory "rude" is likewise revealingly indefinite. Although from its derivation ("rudi's") it suggests the unpolished or coarse, for the same reason it suggests being in a state unimproved by art: relevantly, since Marvell's speaker is in a garden, being in an uncultivated state. (15) The priorities of retreat and otium are, therefore, patently affirmed at this moment of the speaker's monologue, but the terms initially emphasized in connection with them are amorphous, as is the term stressed in connection with their contraries. What results is a smoothly amused and defiant transvaluing of civilitas.'6 The first qualities of a truly civil life, Marvell's speaker suggests, are a quiet and innocence that he chooses not to delimit. Contrasted to "solitude" in the garden world (16), which brings delight because it allows those qualities to develop in the soul, civil life is almost coarse and regressive. In fact, unlike the garden, it can be seen as "all but" uncultivated (15). Preoccupied with negotium, the "busy companies of men" (12) seem oblivious of the qualities that a civil life should be able to produce - those which the life of retreat and otium does produce. The speaker's celebration of retreat and otium, his interweaving of repudiation and illumination, ostentatiously and of course precariously metamorphose the notion of civil life, foreshadowing his immediately following transformations of pastoral motif and Ovidian myth.
The second phase of the poem's dialectic sets retreat, otium, and thence contemplation against sexual desire: the lower eros that must be renounced in favour of the higher. As I have argued elsewhere, Marvell's speaker begins by querying whether a misapprehension of nature and self does not lie within traditional pastoral. And this he does by turning the pastoral's inscription motif against itself:
No white nor red was ever seen So amr'ous as this lovely green. Fond lovers, cruel as their flame, Cut in these trees their mistress' name. Little, alas, they know, or heed, How far these beauties hers exceed! Fair trees! Wheres'e'er your barks I wound, No name shall but your own be found. (17-24)
The speaker merges a playful renouncing of sexual desire with a shrewdly ludicrous re-imagining of the inscription motif He conjectures its inscribing, at his hands in the future, a redirection of eros. Then, he promises, the inscription motif will commemorate what constitute the "garlands of repose" and, thereby, the appreciation of the quiet and innocence they make possible, which is entailed in his slyly ridiculous exclamation, "How far these beauties hers exceed!" (22, emphasis added). The speaker will subsequently show that those are states leading to contemplation and so, at the last, to glimpses of the true homeland. They are, however, states unfamiliar to the anguished lovers who inhabit the pastoral tradition. Those lovers' focus is elsewhere; consequently, from this speaker's perspective at this moment, their desire is misdirected. In effect, his extravagantly comic promise queries whether a significant loss of both nature and self is not elemental to pastoral. (17)
If that redirection of eros involves denial and transformation, no small part of its doing so is an incorporation or subsuming of Petrarchism. The "white" and "red" metonymic of fleshly beauty are obviously Petrarchan terms. It is, therefore, apt that in the following meditation on "retreat" from sexual desire Marvell should emphasize the myth of Apollo and Daphne, which lies at the heart of Petrarch's Rime sparse. His transformation of that erotic fable tells both of eros refocused and of Petrarchism revalued. "When we have run our passions' heat, /Love hither makes his best retreat," his speaker begins, in marked allusion to the cursus atque calor atnoris (25-26). By way of effecting a crucial transition, his play on "heat" is followed by one on "end": "The gods, that mortal beauty chase, /Still in a tree did end their race" (27-28). As the reader immediately discovers, "end" puns on "finis" to signify, among other things, an end as such, yet also a purpose or chief good, for "so, /Only" creates a syntactic illusion, where notions of consequence and purpose merge (29-30). Marvell invites us to see that not merely the conclusion but the final cause of Apollo's pursuing Daphne was her metamorphosis. He sought the laurel tree, not the nymph: "Apollo hunted Daphne so, /Only that she might laurel grow." (18) He desired, then, what he would make the living symbol of his godhead--of his creative intellect and its influence on others. Daphne herself is almost wholly lost in Marvell's abrupt and flamboyant transformation of the Ovidian fable. Her virtual erasure implies a revaluing of Petrarchism. The focus of desire should by implication be not any given avatar of Daphne and, hence, Laura, but rather the creative achievement that she mediates. At once, furthermore, the speaker's reinvention of that Ovidian myth is supported by his similar re-imagining of another. If Apollo in truth sought the laurel tree, so even his antithesis, Pan, likewise sought the musical "reed" and not Syrinx herself (31-32). Repudiating the lower eros, affirming a redirection of eros from the flesh towards "the garlands of repose," Marvell's speaker creates calculatedly extravagant illusions in presenting sexual desire as radical misapprehension (17-24) or paradigmatically misidentified (25-32) as illusion's fellow traveller. From this second phase of the poem's dialectic follows the imaging of insistently singular illuminative experience. Marvell's re-making of the via illuminativa offers an idiosyncratic and eclectic simulation of the mystical, in which his speaker portrays illumination at first as sanctified luxuriating and then as transformative contemplation.
Earlier in the poem, Marvell's speaker has recognized that the "sacred plants" of "Quiet and Innocence" could be nurtured, if at all, "[o]nly among the plants" of the garden (9-14). One aspect of his illuminative experience here, later in the poem, is a perception that the more obvious fruits of the garden are virtually nurturing him, engaging with him rather than solely he with them. What he envisages is a comic, even triumphant, felix culpa.
What wondrous life is this I lead! Ripe apples drop about my head; The luscious clusters of the vine Upon my mouth do crush their wine; The nectarene, and curious peach, Into my hands themselves do reach; Stumbling on melons, as I pass, Insnared with flow'rs, I fall on grass. (33-40)
In the garden, "[r]ipe apples drop" in availability to the speaker; he does not pluck them. No latter-day prohibition forbids his doing so, in any case. Further, ensnared not by sin but by flowers, he falls harmlessly "on grass." This is evidently a Fortunate Fall, a happy parody of the Fall itself in a type of Eden that lies within, yet is removed from, the postlapsarian world. This is also a moment of luxurious interaction with the natural. For all that, the moment does indicate both a divine sanction and the speaker's awareness of the sacred. In his Ex sacro Salomonis Epithalamio (Ode 21. Lib. 4), Casimire writes, as translated by G. Hils:
No want appeares; th'officious Vine doth stand With bending clusters to our hand. Here, thou shalt pick sweet Violets, and there Fresh Lillyes all the yeare: The Apple ripe drops from its stalkc to thee, From tast of death made free. The luscious fruit from the full Figtree shall Into thy bosome fall. (Casimire 54) (19)
This vision of paradise regained, which goes on to merge scripture with the Messianic Eclogue, at some points closely resembles how interaction with the garden's plenty is voiced by Marvell's speaker. But, what matters most here is that this intense and corporeal illuminative experience forms part of a re-imagined trajectory of ascent, a re-visioning of the trajectory described in influential detail by Plotinus and, among Marvell's contemporaries, pursued in its familiar Christian guise by Casimire as well as, for example, by Smith and Vaughan.
In Marvell's poem, the speaker's bodily participation in the illuminative appears to waver between the sacramental and the suavely whimsical. When he begins to tell of illumination experienced by way of the mind, his tone becomes more measured but his account remains obliquely Christian; in fact, it is far more secular than religious. Nevertheless, recounting his withdrawal from physical nature and the senses into the phantasia, he evokes a conventionally religious idea. He lightly alludes to the topos that humankind's power to imagine distantly parallels the creative power of God:
Meanwhile the mind, from pleasures less, Withdraws into its happiness: The mind, that ocean where each kind Does straight its own resemblance find; Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds, and other seas; Annihilating all that's made To a green thought in a green shade. (41-48)
The mind's "happiness," according to Marvell's speaker, lies in contemplation (42)--and in contemplation that is active rather than passive. The contemplative mind "creates" (45), and this generative capacity allows it to transcend the boundaries of nature (45-46). Affirming the mind's power to invent, he is, of course, in harmony with predecessors such as Sir Philip Sidney. "Only the poet," Sidney had written, "disdaining to be tied to [nature], lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow in effect another nature." Like Sidney too, after his own manner, Marvell's speaker is concerned with the notion that if nature's "world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden" (Sidney 343-44). Retreating from the "brazen" world, he knows--quite unlike Sidney and in marked departure from his Protestant poetics--that the closest thing to its "golden" original is to be found in the green world of the garden. There, he finds the imperfect likeness of that perfect original; and, from there, the ultimate source of the perfect original can itself be sought. In fact, the way to that source, for him, effectively begins with the imagination's immersion in and transformative action within its green surroundings. Perhaps, the most famous lines voiced by the speaker are this stanza's last: "Annihilating all that's made/To a green thought in a green shade" (47-48).
Marvell's speaker suggests both the scope and content of the contemplative mind's activity in the garden. In particular, he focuses on the metamorphic power of the phantasia. Within the mind within the garden, "all" is transformed, not least and by choice the very intellect at play upon the hortulan world and what lies beyond it. If the speaker's thought is not yet otherworldly, it is on the border of this-worldly experience. He captures a moment at once purgative and illuminative, at once liminal and uncanny. Intriguingly, he indicates the temper of his thought through emphasis upon annihilation and greenness. Early meanings of annihilate include "to treat as non-existent" and "to extinguish virtually" (OED v3 and 4, respectively). (20) "Annihilating," therefore, signals that Marvell's speaker nears the conclusion to his process of renunciation and retreat, his pursuit of the via purgativa. Not merely negotiant and the fame it may achieve are now repudiated, for "all that's made" is, as it were, uncreated in the generating of a "green thought in a green shade." The contemplative mind, immersed in the garden world, is wholly colored by its surroundings. Permeated by the values and significances accepted as unique to the garden, it knows itself and its felicity in articulating them anew. What it speaks to itself amid this experience of illumination is a version of what it has chosen to become within the green microcosm. Marvell implicitly portrays a metamorphosis that counterpoints the fables of transformation to which he alluded earlier. Displaying his connoisseurship of myth, he reimagines the fables of Apollo and Daphne, of Pan and Syrinx; here, he portrays the all but absolute transformation of his persona.
As we see at once, that interplay of virtual unmaking and engendering --simultaneous, comprehensive, intense--is, in fact, a prelude rather than an end. The absolute transformation of Marvell's speaker comes with the contemplative mind's liberation in exstasis, in the soul's abandonment of the corporeal. The soul's retreat from the flesh is the last of those detachments and redirected engagements that structure the speaker's retreat from the world. It fulfils his pursuit of both the purgative and the illuminative ways:
Here at some fountain's sliding foot Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root, Casting the body's vest aside, My soul into the boughs does glide: There like a bird it sits, and sings, Then whets, and combs its silver wings; And, till prepared for longer flight, Waves in its plumes the various light. (49-56)
Immersion in the hortulan world has enabled transcendence of it. The contemplative mind, participating in the soul's freedom from the body, is also free of the garden while still just within the garden's boundary. Its liberating transformation takes it closer to the limit between the garden as a fallen type of the earthly paradise and paradise itself, that is, between a semblance of humankind's original earthly home and the ultimate homeland. A sign of the advance to that threshold's very edge can be seen in the transition from "green thought in a green shade" to song in "the various light": from contemplation in and of the garden to contemplation in the garden but of the otherworld; from one level of purgative and illuminative experience to a higher, one level of enlightenment to a further. In an epiphanic moment, the contemplative mind perches at the border of the unitive way, of that continuous union with the divine that succeeds the processes of purgation and illumination.
It may be that the speaker's image of the disembodied soul's lingering ascent in contemplation, his analogy between soul and bird, derives in part from Boethius. (21) It may be, too, that Marvell is once again reworking Sandys. (22) More important, it highlights the inclusiveness with which he simulates the purgative and illuminative ways. One could cite this passage from Plotinus: "Our task, then, is to work for liberation from this sphere. ... There is another life, emancipated, whose quality is progression towards the higher realm" (Plotinus 2.3.9). But this line, on exstasis, is especially pertinent:
Here, we put aside all the learning; disciplined to this pitch, established in beauty, the quester holds knowledge still of the ground he rests on, but, suddenly swept beyond it all by the very crest of the wave of Intellect surging beneath, he is lifted and sees, never knowing how; the vision floods the eyes with light, but it is not a light showing some other object, the light is itself the vision. (6.7.36) (22)
Marvell's learning surrounds the re-creation of his speaker's visionary moment, yet that moment itself is shown to be vivid with illumination, not learning. If Plotinus resonates with Marvell here, so do more contemporary voices. Casimire's A Palinode: To the second Ode of the booke of Epodes of Q. H. Flaccus, and his Epigram 31 are congruent with "The Garden," because likewise concerned with illumination by way of the Book of Nature. (24) No less harmonious is John Smith's The Excellency and Nobleness of True Religion. Introducing his eighth chapter, he writes: "The Sixth Property or Effect wherein Religion discovers its own Excellency is this, That it Spiritualizes Material things, and so carries up the Souls of Good men from Earthly things to things Divine, from this Sensible World to the Intellectual" (John Smith 184). (25) He goes on: "Religion, where it is in truth and in power, renews the very Spirit of our Minds, and doth in a manner Spiritualize this outward Creation to us [...] and teaches the Soul to look at those Perfections which it finds here below, not so much as the Perfections of This or That Body, ... but as they are so many Rays issuing forth from that First and Essential Perfection" (185). Smith's words, which bear particularly on stanzas 5-7 of Marvell's poem, suggest the extent to which "The Garden" corresponds with and diverges from conventional trajectories of the illuminative way. In that respect, Henry Vaughan's verse is suggestive as well. A couple of his translations from Casimire are much concerned with illuminative reading of the Book of Nature. (26) Yet, one recalls "The Water-fall", too. Its speaker, after his devoutly contemplative engagement with the natural, concludes: "O my invisible estate, /My glorious liberty, still late! /Thou art the channel my soul seeks, /Not this with cataracts and creeks" (Vaughan 37-40). Like Marvell's speaker, he is looking homeward. His nostalgia, however, has an urgency unlike that of his counterpart, who re-imagines rather than re-traces the mystical paths. Marvell's speaker, individuated through a sophisticated interplay of echoes with dissonances, will nevertheless be presented as more insistently singular in what follows.
After that stylized rendering of momentary, otherworldly apprehension in the seventh stanza of "The Garden" follows a sudden, wry retreat from exstasis itself. Marvell's speaker reflects, his mind now focused away onto habitation of at once the garden and its archetype:
Such was that happy garden-state, While man there walked without a mate: After a place so pure, and sweet, What other help could yet be meet? But 'twas beyond a mortal's share To wander solitary there: Two Paradises 'twere in one To live in Paradise alone. (57-64)
The speaker's mingling of wistfulness and drollery transgresses not merely against scripture but against the words of God himself as reported in Genesis 2:18: "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an helpe meet for him." Commentary has been quick to notice the biblical allusion and to explore its implications, among which is of course the yearning for an eternally prelapsarian world. But if no Fall, then no Incarnation; for all its wishfulness and light irony, for all its play of notionally innocent questioning against sell-divided concession, the speaker's preference for man's original solitude is markedly heterodox. Marvell's speaker, in his quietly amused way, would re-write history if he might. He would know better than God. The scope of his heterodoxy becomes apparent if we consider Calvin's thinking on Adam and Eve, that is, what one of the most influential Protestant reformers extolled as the foundational importance of marriage to the Christian life.
It is Calvin's sermons on Genesis, rather than his commentary, that are revealing. In the sixth sermon, Calvin seems at first to be in agreement with Marvell's speaker. "Nothing was more desirable than Adam's first state," he announces (John Calvin, Sermons on Genesis, 105). (27) Then he continues: "If we could imagine what it was like when he was created in that state of wholeness that we spoke of, when all his senses inclined him to be conformed to his Creator, when the whole world was under his feet" (105). (28) In the ninth sermon, he emphasizes the point again: "[O]ur father Adam lacked nothing" (154). (29) But Calvin does not mean that Eve was thus just supplementary to Adam's existence. On the contrary, she had, in fact, been with him from the start. Calvin asserts in his eleventh sermon: "[T]he woman had already been created within the person of Adam, just as we have read: 'God created them male and female.' Therefore, the woman was already prepared within the person of Adam" (182). (30) Moreover, near the beginning of the same sermon, Calvin observes that, without Eve, Adam would have "always remain [ed] half a person, unfinished" (180). (31) Without her presence in Eden "the order of nature would be ... violated" (108). (32) "[N]othing is more contrary to our nature than loneliness," Calvin says, adding, "if each of us had an earthly paradise in which we had to live alone, would that life not be very sad and seem half dead? We would only languish in the midst of such felicity. We all know that. ... [A]nd yet each of us wishes to withdraw from others and be content with himself" (180-81). (33) There may be similarities between the wish for solitude in Marvell's poem and remarks on solitude in verse by Cowley--although those likenesses co-exist with differences and provide no decisive evidence for dating "The Garden"; nevertheless, the contrast between Marvell's speaker and Calvin is more immediately suggestive. (34)
It indicates, for a start, the extent to which the speaker's defiance of Genesis 2:18 is a consciously transgressive fantasy of life beyond not merely sexuality but all community. Calvin's views on human sexuality and community as established in the persons of Adam and Eve are evident from the passages cited above, yet perhaps they are most clearly expressed throughout the eleventh sermon. There, in addition to what has been already quoted, he insists, "[M]an will be dejected in life and miserable unless he has a companion" (188). (35) He goes on: "Men must be blinder than blind because of ingratitude if they do not realize that God showed he was abundantly generous when he joined the human race together in such a beautiful covenant in his desire that marriage would be the means for maintaining the human race in its condition, with a man having an individual helpmate and the woman also having the companionship of her husband" (191). (36) By way of minimal compromise and confirmation he declares, "[I]f a man does not get married, he is nonetheless obligated to associate with his neighbours, and the same is true of a woman" (191). (37) As one might anticipate, Calvin takes the relationship between the unfallen Adam and Eve in Eden as paradigmatic. Almost invariably essential to fulfilment of individual human life is the "beautiful covenant" of marriage instituted with them. Calvin concedes that there are some who will live outside it; even so, they are still obliged to participate in society. Marvell's speaker, however, can certainly imagine life in Eden without Eve, can experience life in the garden without "languish[ing] in the midst of ... felicity," and has made it plain from the outset that he "wishes to withdraw from others and be content with himself." He understands home and homeland in terms of a comprehensively unsanctioned solitariness. In fact, his aspirations centre on "the passing of solitary to solitary."
Then, from the problematic nostalgia of his speculation on Eden, which ultimately implies condemnation of his very retirement, Marvell's speaker turns to a final celebration of the garden in terms that both question and support retreat:
How well the skilful gard'ner drew Of flow'rs and herbs this dial new; Where from above the milder sun Does through a fragrant zodiac run; And, as it works, th'industrious bee Computes its time as well as we. How could such sweet and wholesome hours Be reckoned but with herbs and flow'rs! (65-72)
Complimenting "the skilful gard'ner," Marvell's speaker reminds us that the garden unites human artifice with nature and, moreover, that it was not made for the interest or pleasure of one person alone: that, in other words, experience in it partakes of the social even when repudiating the social. It was no more made for one person than was Eden. Even so, his allusion to the "fragrant zodiac" reminds us as well that the garden, in its artifice, microcosmically suggests a greater pattern of design and correlatively a greater designer. Reminded of the divine artifice and artificer, we are drawn inevitably towards the illuminative way - although, as throughout this poem, it may not be the via illuminativa in an entirely traditional form. Yet, we are drawn, nonetheless, in the direction of personal, spiritual engagement with the Book of Nature, and thereby retreat within. Thus, the close of "The Garden" harmonizes with the opening of Bacon's Of Gardens: "God Almightie first Planted a Garden" (139). Further, the last lines of Marvell's poem echo the tone of Bacon's immediately following remarks: "And, indeed, it is the Purest of Humane pleasures. It is the Greatest Refreshment to the Spirits of Man" (139).
Marvell's achievement in "The Garden" is foreshadowed by that moment in the third stanza when his speaker re-imagines the inscription motif from pastoral: "Fair trees! Wheres'e'er your barks I wound, /No name shall but your own be found" (23-24). As I have suggested above, at that moment the speaker simultaneously participates in and queries pastoral tradition. His astutely comic promise contributes to reflection upon whether a loss of nature and of self is not implicit within the pastoral mode. A similar process, and seemingly generated likewise from a sense of cultural belatedness, can be seen throughout "The Garden" as a whole in its dealings with the via purgativa and the via illuminativa. There one sees participation, reformulation, and questioning as Marvell re-invents rather than replicates those mystical ways. Amid implicit acknowledgment of the implausibilities and impossibilities attendant on what is a spiritual as well as physical retreat from public life, his speaker acts out a version of mystical experience. That is to say, displaying both virtuosity in an allusive dialectic and connoisseurship in the re-invention of Ovidian myth, he simulates the purgative and illuminative paths. With a sense of the religious that is obliquely or indistinctly Christian, inclusively Christian, and even heterodox in being Christian, he searches beyond a type of humankind's original home for humankind's ultimate homeland--coming to the border of and yet not entering upon the via unitiva. His is a tranquil and evasive and not unproblematic spirituality, one urbane rather than enthusiastic, secular rather than sectarian, and yet by no means incapable of aspiration or wonder.
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(1) See, among many instances: Wallerstein 318-35; Rdstvig Vol. 1, 154-72; and Godshalk. Those scholars are concerned with the explanatory exclusiveness of patristic and neoplatonic tradition. Against exclusive approaches to The Garden, see: Colie 141-77 and Lobsien 141-55.
(2) The widely ranging accounts of Marvell's poem include (additional to the studies mentioned in note 1): Klonsky, Kermode, Martz, Leishman, Hodge, Shifflett, Matthew C. Augustine, Yoshinaka, and Faust. There used to be widespread agreement that the poem was written in the early 1650s. J.B. Leishman concurrs with that dating but notes an apparent likeness between Marvell's poem and Cowley's The Garden (306-07). Allan Pritchard used possible similarities between the two as, in part, the basis for redating Marvell's poem from 1650-52 to 1668. Nicholas von Maltzahn, tentatively agrees (102); so too, hesitantly, does Nigel Smith, in his The Poems of Andrew Marvell (152). (Subsequent reference to the poem is from Smith's edition, cited as Smith.) Derek Hirst and Steven N. Zwicker reasonably date the poem once more to the early 1650s (164-70).
(3) On the purgative and illuminative ways see, for example, Bonaventure 1.2-3 and 4.3. See also: Underhill 198-265 and McGinn 102-12.
(4) For a general account of the via unitiva, see Underhill 413-43.
(5) For example, see Institutes 2.16.13. Reference in general, and to the Institutes when in English, is from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.
(6) Calvin's trope for the believer's union with Christ, 'sacrum illud coniugium', occurs in Institutio Christianae religionis, 3.1.3. I do not cite Calvin because I wish to position his thought as normative for later reformed theology. Rather, given the scope and systematic nature of his thought, I wish to identify him as a major but of course by no means the sole theological authority of Marvell's time: as an important point of reference for understanding what Marvell's contemporaries saw as reasonable (if not necessarily incontestable) Christian belief As Andrew Pettegree remarks: "Calvinism succeeded as an international movement because his disciples honored Calvin as inspiration, teacher, and theologian. But they also appreciated that their churches had to grow out of the shadow of Geneva" (222). See also R. Ward Holder, especially at 245. On the problems with uncritically taking Calvin's thought as normative, see Carl R. Trueman, especially at 225-28 and 239-40. In addition, see John Spurr 166-70 and Nigel Smith, Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon, 129-30.
(7) On notions of contemplative ecstasy and the unitive way, see Underhill, 367-75, and McGinn, 44-61, 154-57, 205-10.
(8) Sometimes Lipsius is seen as pertinent to Marvell's thinking in the poem. The best case for Lipsius's inclusion here is made by Shifflett, as cited in note 2.
(9) With reference to Marvell's use of "vainly," note these meanings of vanitas as listed by Lewis and Short: literally, "emptiness, nothingness, nullity, want of reality," as well as "uselessness, purposelessness" and "falsity, falsehood, deception"; tropically, "vanity, vainglory."
(10) "quae est rerum expetendarum fugiendarumque scientia."
(11) On some meanings attached to the term otium in the Renaissance, see Vickers 1-37, 107-51.
(12) Cf Eclogues 1:6.
(13) If indeed an allusion, then an ironic one. See De Oratore 1.1.2.
(14) See Augustine, Confessions, 1.1. From an Augustinian perspective, Marvell's speaker would be enjoying a quiet anticipatory of or foreshadowing the quies he is enabled to glimpse in his moments of contemplation.
(15) According to Lewis and Short: "unwrought, untilled, unformed, unused, rough, raw, wild"; "unpolished, uncultivated, unskilled, awkward" and so on.
(16) From Lewis and Short again: "the art of government, politics" and "courteousness, politeness."
(17) As I have also mentioned elsewhere, although the speaker of Hortus is much more broadly comic in manner, he indirectly raises the same question. See McQueen and Rockwell 25-31. See also Cousins.
(18) Cf Rostvig 155. She perceives Marvell's syntactic play--which relates to ut clauses in Latin - but not the Latinate wordplay introducing it, and not the function or scope of the illusion he creates.
(19) On the close knowledge of Casimire--and especially of Hils' translation--by Marvell and his literary circle, see Rostvig, 331 (n30), and Nicnolas McDowell 129.
(20) Smith observes, as have others, that during the seventeenth century annihilate was sometimes used to suggest self-negation in pursuit of oneness with God (158).
(21) This was first noted, as far as I am aware, by Fowler. See Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, 4, pros. 1.35-met. 1.1-6.
(22) Noted by Smith, at 158. For Sandys's paraphrase see The Poetical Works volume 1, 186.
(23) Also worth noting, with reference to The Garden in general, are these remarks by Plotinus: "Supposing we played a little before entering upon our serious concern and maintained that all things are striving after Contemplation, looking to Vision as their one end. ... Well--in the play of this very moment am I engaged in the act of Contemplation? Yes; I and all that enter this play are in Contemplation: our play aims at Vision" (8.1.1).
(24) His Ad Albertum Turscium has a counterpart to Marvell's "various light" in its second stanza (60).
(25) Smith died in 1652; his text was published in 1660. Cf. Thomas Stanley lines 160-96.
(26) See Odes III xxii, 15-20 and Epodes iii, 39-46.
(27) "Car il n'y a rien plus desirable que cest estat premier d'Adam." See Jean Calvin, Sermons sur la Genese, Chapitres 1, 1-11,4, 1,66. Subsequent reference is to this edition, cited as Sermons.
(28) "Si nous pouvions concevoir que c'est, quand il fust cree en ceste integrite que nous avions dite, que tous ses sens tendoient a se conformer a son createur; et puis que tout le monde estoit mis comme souz ses piedz ..." (Sermons, 1,66).
(29) "[R]ien n'a deffailly a nostre pere Adam."
(30) "[D]esja la femme avoit este cree[e] en la personne d'Adam, ainsi que nous avons veu: 'Dieu les crea masle et femelle'. Il y a le mot d"homme', et puis 'masle et femelle'. Ainsi done la femme estoit desja aprestee en la personne d'Adam" (Sermons,
(31) "[T]ousiours comme a demy et imparfait" (Sermons, 1,125).
(32) "[L]'ordfre de nature seroit viole" (Sermons, 1,126).
(33) "Car il n'y a rien plus contraire a nostre naturel que solitude' (Sermons 1,126). '[QJuand chascun done auroit un paradis terrestre, a condition qu'il deust la habiter seul, ceste vie la ne seroit elle pas pleine de tristesse et comme une demye mort? Nous ne ferions que languir au milieu de telle felicite, chascun congoit cela" (Sermons, 1,126). "(C)cpendant chascun de nous se voudra retirer a part, se contantant de sa personne" (Sermons, 1,127).
(34) See for instance the seventh stanza of the poem in Cowley's Of Solitude: "Oh Solitude, first state of Human-kind!/Which blest remain'd till man did find/Even his own helpers Company. /As soon as two (alas!) together joyn'd, /The Serpent made up Three" (396). Marvell's speaker does not overtly consider or emphasize the Fall. Also, in his The Garden, Cowley at first celebrates John Evelyn's having chosen a life of "Books and Gardens," then proceeds to compliment Evelyn's married state as follows: "And in thy virtuous Wife, where thou again dost meet/Both pleasures more refin'd and sweet: /The fairest Garden in her Looks, /And in her Mind the wisest Books" (422, stanza 1).
(35) "[L]'homme, que tousjours il ne languisse en vivant et qu'il ne soit miserable, sinon qu'il ait compagnie" (Sermons, 1,132).
(36) "[L]es hommes soient plus qu'aveugles en leur ingratitude, quand ilz ne congnoissent pas quc Dieu s'est monstre plus que liberal cn cest endroit, quand il a ainsi uny le genre humain d'une si belle liaison, qu'il a voulu quc le mariage fust le moien pour entretenir le genre humain en son estat et que l'homme auroit une aide particuliere, e'est a dire chascun pour soy, et que la femme aussi auroit la compaignie de son mary" (Sermons, 1,134).
(37) "Ainsi done, quand un homme ne sera point marie, si est ce qu'il est oblige encores a s'entretenir avec ses prochains, et une femme aussi bien" (Sermons, 1,134).
A. D. Cousins is Professor in English at Macquarie University. He has authored books on Thomas More, Shakespear's non-dramatic verse, and religious verse in the English Renaissance. He is co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet. Currently he is completing a monograph on Marvell and a co-authored volume on debates about home and nation in Britain between the English and the French Revolutions.
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|Title Annotation:||Andrew Marvell|
|Publication:||Explorations in Renaissance Culture|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2013|
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