Sunday, November 7, 2010


“Twicknam Garden” is a sonorous (resonant; high-sounding) and thoughtful lyric. It was most probably addressed to the Countess Lucy of Bedford for whom Donne had a profound admiration. The lyric is distinguished by highly condensed feelings of sadness. The poet is obviously in a mood of dejection. He gives vent to the anguish of his heart which neither nature can soothe nor poetry. Only Donne’s emotion is the subject of this lyric. There is a sort of sting in the tail or in the last two lines. Donne calls the fair sex as the perverted sex but excepting this no scornful or bitter comments are made on women.

It is remarkable that the lady to whom the poem is addressed was never in love with Donne. The poet probably mistook her friendly regard for him for love. The poet feels irresistibly drawn toward this “one of the most accomplished and cultured ladies” of the seventeenth century. Her truth kills him, because he is deeply involved in her charm and personality.
The most distinguishing feature of the poem is the atmosphere of sombre desolation that pervades it. This cold, bleak and cheerless atmosphere is in perfect harmony with the anguish of the poet. The poem reminds us of Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Shelley’s song, A Widow Bird Sat Mourning. We find the same bleakness, loneliness, and dry unrelenting aspect of a leaden skied winter. The poem is steeped in grim and overwhelming despair. The poet strikes a piercing note of sadness with the very first line.
Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears, the well defined and concrete images drive home the utter despair and incurable pain of a love-lorn heart. For example the cold hardness of a “stone fountain weeping out my tears” and “crystal phials” leave on the mind an unforgettable impression of poignant sorrow. The frigid expression of tears gives a unifying effect to the poem. The poet refers to tears in all the three stanzas. Tears, in fact, control the diversity of imagery that we find in the poem.
The poem contains some of most marvellous of Donne’s “conceits”. In the first stanza we have the startling conceit of “spider love”:
The spider Love, which transubstantiates all,
And can convert manna to gall.
Again, we have an equally brilliant conceit when Donne compares sad and poignant memories of love to the serpent in the garden of Eden:
And that this place may thoroughly be thought,
True paradise, I have the serpent brought.
In the second stanza, the love-lorn poet yearns to be converted into the stone fountain which would be shedding tears throughout the year. In the last stanza, ‘tears’ are called “Love’s wine”. All these ‘conceits’ lend a peculiar charm to the lyric.
“Twicknam Garden” is a short poem, but it is one of the greatest expressions in literature of poignant sorrow and piercing sadness.
Inspired by Lucy
This poem was perhaps inspired by Donne’s passion for the Countess Lucy of Bedford, a highly cultured and accomplished lady who did not feel anything stronger than friendship for the poet. The poet has given a most powerful expression to his frustrated (baffled) passion. His art which we can analyse to some extent, deserves admiration.
An expression of disappointed love
He comes to Twicknam garden in order that the beautiful sights and sounds around him, might ease his anguish. But no, he finds that his bleak and desolate mood does not yield to the soothing influence of the atmosphere. On the contrary, the trees seemed to be laughing and mocking him to his face. If the garden were as beautiful as the garden of Eden, the thought of love within him was like the serpent to spoil the beauty of the place.
Contrast between the natural atmosphere and the poet’s mood
Donne expresses his mental state in a series of attractive conceits. He is a self-traitor, as he cherishes in his bosom the spider love, which transforms everything, even the heavenly manna can be turned into poison by it. If the garden is paradise, then his passion is the serpent. He wishes to be a mandrake and grow there in the garden (for the mandrake is a plant that feels pain) or a stone fountain, for he is always weeping,
Donne’s intellectual contempt for women
In the third stanza, his intellectual contempt for women is expressed in an intricate series of images. He is the stone fountain and his tears are the true tears of love. Lovers should come and take away in crystal phials these tears and compare them with those shed by their mistresses at home. If those do not taste as Donne’s do, then they are not true tears of love. Thus he implores lovers not to be misled by the tears their mistresses shed, for you can no more judge woman’s thoughts by their tears than you can judge their dresses by their shadow.
Paradoxical thought in the closing lines
Donne ends his poem with a paradox (anything that goes against the accepted opinion). The woman, he loves, is true and chaste; she is quite honest, that is why Donne cannot enjoy her love. And it is the perversity of the female sex that the only woman who is honest and true should be the one whose honesty and truth kill the poet, otherwise, perhaps she would not be so chaste and true. In Donne’s view, woman is a kind of plague devised by God for man.

This poem was addressed to the Countess Lucy of Bedford—a cultured and accomplished lady of the seventeenth century. She entertained a friendly affection for Donne the poet, which could hardly be given the name of “love”‘. The poet, a sad and forlorn lover, finds himself in a mood of dejection. Even nature fails to soothe his tormented soul. It is a song of sorrow pervaded by nothing except the bleakness of despair. It expresses the anguish of a lover’s heart who has fallen a prey to sorrow and who cannot drown it even in nature. For its sombre atmosphere and intensity of grief, the poem has not been surpassed by any lyric in English poetry. It is a passionate outburst of sorrow expressing yearnings of unfulfilled love. The lady to whom it is addressed was never in love with Donne. It is possible that Donne misconstrued her friendly regard for him. In its poignancy of sorrow, the poem reminds us of Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Shelley’s lyric, A Widow Bird Sat Mourning.

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