Robert Frost's "God's Garden"

Updated on March 19, 2019
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.

Robert Frost

Source

Introduction and Text of "God's Garden"

Written circa 1890, this early Frost poem, "God's Garden," offers an interpretive dramatization of the Genesis narrative from the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. The Genesis creation myth is highly symbolic. This speaker appears to be offering guidance in spirituality to erring humankind.

God's Garden

God made a beauteous garden
With lovely flowers strewn,
But one straight, narrow pathway
That was not overgrown.
And to this beauteous garden
He brought mankind to live,
And said: "To you, my children,
These lovely flowers I give.
Prune ye my vines and fig trees,
With care my flowerets tend,
But keep the pathway open
Your home is at the end."

Then came another master,
Who did not love mankind,
And planted on the pathway
Gold flowers for them to find.
And mankind saw the bright flowers,
That, glittering in the sum,
Quite hid the thorns of avarice
That poison blood and bone;
And far off many wandered,
And when life's night came on,
They were seeking gold flowers,
Lost, helpless and alone.

O, cease to heed the glamour
That blinds your foolish eyes,
Look upward to the glitter
Of stars in God's clear skies.
Their ways are pure and harmless
And will not lead astray,
But aid your erring footsteps
To keep the narrow way.
And when the sun shines brightly
Tend flowers that God has given
And keep the pathway open
That leads you on to heaven.

Reading of "God's Garden"

Commentary

This poem employs an extended allusion to the Garden of Eden myth from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

First Stanza: Allusion to Garden of Eden

God made a beauteous garden
With lovely flowers strown,
But one straight, narrow pathway
That was not overgrown.
And to this beauteous garden
He brought mankind to live,
And said: "To you, my children,
These lovely flowers I give.
Prune ye my vines and fig trees,
With care my flowerets tend,
But keep the pathway open
Your home is at the end."

The speaker commences, "God made a beauteous garden / With lovely flowers strewn," an image comporting with what readers have come to expect of the depiction of the original garden. The speaker then offers an original thought stating that God put in the garden "one straight, narrow pathway" which is without the beauteous decoration of flower or tree.

After God creates the beauteous garden with lovely flowers and the one straight, clear pathway, God adds the further creation of humankind— "mankind to live"—directing humankind to care for the "vines and fig trees" and to watch over the flowers.

However, the human beings were also directed to "keep the pathway open / Your home is at the end." Instead of commanding humans not to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden as is in the original Genesis story, in Frost's version, God only instructs them to "keep the pathway open." It is the same command, just phrased differently.

Second Stanza: A Wrong Turn

Then came another master,
Who did not love mankind,
And planted on the pathway
Gold flowers for them to find.
And mankind saw the bright flowers,
That, glitt'ring in the sum,
Quite hid the thorns of av'rice
That poison blood and bone;
And far off many wandered,
And when life's night came on,
They were seeking gold flowers,
Lost, helpless and alone.

The speaker then makes the claim that an additional "master" who "did not love mankind" then came to the garden and "planted on the pathway / Gold flowers for them to find." This evil one wanted to distract the human beings from the original instruction to keep open the pathway; thus he planted distracting, alluring "gold" flowers.

Thus humankind began scampering down the wrong path searching for the empty, deceptive "gold" flowers, instead of obediently tending the luscious fruit trees and beautiful flowers they were originally instructed to tend. The "gold flowers" "hid the thorns of av'rice / That poison blood and bone" and would prove to be their downfall.

By failing to follow God's original command, humankind became embroiled in material experiences that caused their souls to suffer helplessness and loneliness, as they suffer the loss of soul knowledge.

The speaker describes that state of loss as "when life's night came on." The humans continued to indulge in sense pleasures, failing to work to keep their soul connected to its Creator. They thus lost the most valuable commodity of spirituality.

Third Stanza: To Seek the Genuine

O, cease to heed the glamour
That blinds your foolish eyes,
Look upward to the glitter
Of stars in God's clear skies.
Their ways are pure and harmless
And will not lead astray,
But aid your erring footsteps
To keep the narrow way.
And when the sun shines brightly
Tend flowers that God has given
And keep the pathway open
That leads you on to heaven.

The last stanza finds the speaker exhorting his listeners to abandon the fake "glamour / That blinds your foolish eyes." The speaker hopes to show others that by accepting the fool's gold of fake flowers, they fail to raise their eyes to the heavens to observe, "the stars of God's clear skies."

The metaphorical stars in "God's clear skies" reflect the original command of God to stay on the narrow road of right living. Avoiding the glittering deception of "gold flowers" which offer only vacuous sense experience allows the human being the time and space to walk the open pathway that leads to the soul's true home in heaven.

Rober Frost U. S. Stamp

Source

Life Sketch of Robert Frost

Robert Frost's father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist, living in San Fransisco, California, when Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874; Robert's mother, Isabelle, was an immigrant from Scotland. The young Frost spent eleven years of his childhood in San Fransisco. After his father died of tuberculosis, Robert's mother moved the family, including his sister, Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with Robert's paternal grandparents.

Robert graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School, where he and his future wife, Elinor White, served as co-valedictorians. Robert thEn made his first attempt to attend college at Dartmouth College; after only a few months, he returned to Lawrence and began working a series of part-time jobs.

Elinor White, who was Robert's high school sweetheart, was attending St. Lawrence University when Robert proposed to her. She turned him down because she wanted to finish college before marrying. Robert then relocated to Virginia, and then after returning to Lawrence, he again to proposed to Elinor, who had now completed her college education. The two married on December 19, 1895. Their first child, Eliot, was born the following year.

Robert then made another attempt to attend college; in 1897, he enrolled in Harvard University, but because of health issues, he had to leave school again. Robert rejoined his wife in Lawrence, and their second child Lesley was born in 1899 . The family then moved to a New Hampshire farm that Robert's grandparents had acquired for him. Thus, Robert's farming phase commenced as he attempted to farm the land and continue his writing. His first poem to appear in print, “My Butterfly," had been published on November 8, 1894, in The Independent, a New York newspaper.

The next twelve years proved a difficult time in Frost's personal life, but a fertile one for his writing. The Frosts' first child, Eliot, died in 1900 of cholera. The couple, however, went on to have four more children, each of which suffered from mental illness to suicide. The couple's farming endeavors continued to result in unsuccessful attempts. Frost became well adjusted to rustic life, despite his miserable failure as a farmer.

Frost's writing life took off in a splendid fashion, and the rural influence on his poems would later set the tone and style for all of his works. However, despite the success of his individual published poems, such "The Tuft of Flowers" and "The Trial by Existence," he could not find a publisher for his collections of poems.

Relocation to England

It was because of his failure to find a publisher for his collections of poems that Frost sold the New Hampshire farm and moved his family to England in 1912. This moved proved to be life-line for the young poet. At age 38, he secured a publisher in England for his collection, A Boy's Will, and soon after North of Boston.

In addition to finding a publisher for his two books, Frost became acquainted with Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two important poets of the day. Both Pound and Thomas reviewed Frost's two book favorably, and thus Frost's career as a poet moved forward.

Frost's friendship with Edward Thomas was especially important, and Frost has remarked that the long walks taken by the two poet/friends had influenced his writing in a marvelously positive manner. Frost has credited Thomas for his most famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," which was sparked by Thomas' attitude regarding not being able to take two different paths on their long walks.

Returning to America

After World War 1 broke out in Europe, the Frosts set sail back to the United States. The brief sojourn in England had had useful consequences for the poet's reputation, even back in his native country. American Publisher, Henry Holt, picked up Frost's earlier books, and then come out with his third, Mountain Interval, a collection that had been written while Frost was still residing in England.

Frost was treated to the delicious situation of having the same journals, such as The Atlantic, soliciting his work, even though they had rejected that same work a couple of years earlier.

The Frosts once again became owners of a farm located in Franconia, New Hampshire, which they purchased in 1915. The end of their traveling days were over, and Frost continued his writing career, as he taught intermittently at a number of colleges, including Dartmouth, University of Michigan, and particularly Amherst College, where he taught regularly from 1916 until 1938. Amherst's main library is now the Robert Frost Library, honoring the long-time educator and poet. He also spent most summers teaching English at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Frost never completed a college degree, but over his entire lifetime, the revered poet accumulated more than forty honorary degrees. He also won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his books, New Hampshire, Collected Poems, A Further Range, and A Witness Tree.

Frost considered himself a "lone wolf" in the world of poetry because he did not follow any literary movements. His only influence was the human condition in a world of duality. He did not pretend to explain that condition; he only sought to create little dramas to reveal the nature of the emotional life of a human being.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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