David Solway's "The Garden"

Updated on December 4, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

David Solway

Source

Introduction and Text of "The Garden"

The poem consists of six stanzas of varying lengths, each conveying a part of the puzzle regarding the "the word" that "has gone out" to the multicultural communities of the garden from the "pale lilac bush" to the "white pines."

The epigraph following the title, "Lyke as the Culver on the bared bough," offers a useful tidbit for orienting the reader to the theme of the poem. That epigraph is the first line of Edmund Spenser's Sonnet 89 from Amoretti and Epithalamion. The speaker in Sonnet 89 mourns the absence of his beloved sweetheart.

The Garden

Lyke as the Culver on the bared bough
Spenser, Amoretti, 89

Under the pale lilac bush
moorgrass whispers from its hidden bed
to the monarch-bearing milkweed,
and the plump robin freighting
the berry-cumbered honeysuckle
whistles the secret to the chickadee
darting between the hedges.

Laden with epistles
a tumult of bluets and fritillaries
prints the air with messages
as mullein leans its slender stalk
to confide in a tigering of bees
busy with their blacks and golds
and the honey of their living.

Even purple loosestrife
races across the lower meadow
panicked by the yellow trumpets
of the brassy, orchestral lilies,
and the wood dove creaks with fright
for the cover of the branches.

Now the hummingbird,
milking petalled flocks of lavenders and pinks,
stalls in mid-maneuver
while the double-decker dragonfly
in the aftermath of rain
hovers by the spires of the bull thistle,
murmuring its encyclicals
of desire and regret
for the wet and shimmering kingdom.

For the news has spidered out
in the cold opulence of its silks
to every corner of the garden:
to where the tender seed heads
of the ditch-green sedges
purple toward the future
and the ovals of the rosehips
ripe with orpiment
pour their hearts out in the plummeting sun.

For the word has gone out
to all the tremulous creatures
beneath the parable of the white pines
dropping their soft sickles
in russet masses to the ground.
The word has gone out
in the colloquies of those who love the garden
that in the radiant vacancies they inhabit
there is only the gardener
to love them back.

Commentary

This poem offers a lush scene of communicating plant and animal residents of a garden in spring.

First Stanza: Passing a Message

Under the pale lilac bush
moorgrass whispers from its hidden bed
to the monarch-bearing milkweed,
and the plump robin freighting
the berry-cumbered honeysuckle
whistles the secret to the chickadee
darting between the hedges.

The opening stanza of "The Garden" hints that a message is being passed from creature to creature about some news of great consequence in the garden. The lilac bush surely overhears as the "moorgrass whispers" "to the monarch-bearing milkweed," and the "plump robin" "whistles the secret to the chickadee."

Second Stanza: Keeping the Message Moving

Laden with epistles
a tumult of bluets and fritillaries
prints the air with messages
as mullein leans its slender stalk
to confide in a tigering of bees
busy with their blacks and golds
and the honey of their living.

A bunch of blue flowers and a passel of butterflies also get in on the messaging as they carry "epistles" and "print the air," while the stalky slender velvet plant bends and tells a whirl of bees about the latest scuttlebutt.

Third Stanza: Consternation Afoot

Even purple loosestrife
races across the lower meadow
panicked by the yellow trumpets
of the brassy, orchestral lilies,
and the wood dove creaks with fright
for the cover of the branches.

The speaker has observed "purple loosestrife" as it "races across the lower meadow / panicked by the yellow trumpets." The suspense grows now because the loosestrife is moving in a panic, and "the wood dove creaks with fright / for the cover of the branches." The news must be something that causes consternation among the garden community residents.

Fourth Stanza: The Message Moves On

Now the hummingbird,
milking petalled flocks of lavenders and pinks,
stalls in mid-maneuver
while the double-decker dragonfly
in the aftermath of rain
hovers by the spires of the bull thistle,
murmuring its encyclicals
of desire and regret
for the wet and shimmering kingdom.

The hummingbird seems to be standing in mid-air, as such birds are wont to do. He had been acquiring nectar from the purple, pink flowers. Also can be seen a dragonfly as he scopes and hovers over the bull thistle. The dragonfly then whispers his notions of the pairs of opposite to the freshly rained on garden.

Fifth Stanza: The Mystery Deepens

For the news has spidered out
in the cold opulence of its silks
to every corner of the garden:
to where the tender seed heads
of the ditch-green sedges
purple toward the future
and the ovals of the rosehips
ripe with orpiment
pour their hearts out in the plummeting sun.

The penultimate stanza states that the "the news" is out, and it has spread "to every corner of the garden." The mystery has continued to deepen as the creatures have been seen whispering, whistling, printing the air with epistles, panicking and demonstrating fright, in the state of stunned listening, and murmuring encyclicals.

Sixth Stanza: Divine Agency

For the word has gone out
to all the tremulous creatures
beneath the parable of the white pines
dropping their soft sickles
in russet masses to the ground.
The word has gone out
in the colloquies of those who love the garden
that in the radiant vacancies they inhabit
there is only the gardener
to love them back.

What is the momentous message that has all of these creatures in such a rush? All of the garden activity has described a well-oiled machine that is a garden; unlike the best of human-manufactured machines, this garden is created through the agency of the Divine.

Therefore, all of the species that live and thrive in the garden do so out of the love placed in each one of them by Divinity. As each insect, bird, flower, and tree struggles to contribute its own unique offering, it demonstrates all of the attributes that a duality-based existence requires.

The human observer/speaker, who has surveyed all of this activity, determines that those activities include fear and love. The creatures all act out of a combination of fear and love.

The bad news is, "those who love the garden / that in the radiant vacancies they inhabit / there is only the gardener / to love them back."

The good news is that that is all they need. To the human observer, the love of "the gardener" or God may seem meager, but the garden exemplifies the perpetuating power of infinite love bestowed by the Creator/Gardener upon His beloved creatures.

David Solway on Liberalism

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