Twickenham Garden by John Donne – Detailed Analysis & Explanation

John Donne Poetry Biography

Critical Appreciation

Twickenham Garden is a sonorous (resonant; high-sounding) and thoughtful lyric. Who has been addressed in the poem Twickenham Garden? 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 either nature cannot soothe or poetry. Only Donne’s emotion is the subject of this lyric. There is a sort of sling in the tail as 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.

Development of Thought

It is remarkable that the lady to whom the poem is addressing 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.

What is the theme of Twickenham garden?

The most distinguishing feature of the poem is the atmosphere of somber 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. La Relic Dame Sans Merci and Shelly’s song, “A Window Bird Sat Mounting“. We find the same bleakness, loneliness, and dry unrelenting aspect for a leaden skied winter. The poem is steeping 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-iron heart. For example, the cold hardness of a “stone fountain weeping out my years and “crystal vials” leave on the mind an unforgettable impression of poignant sorrow. The frigid expression of the year gives a unifying effect to the poem. The poet refers to tears in all three stanzas. Tears, in fact, control the diversity of imagery that we find in the poem.

Explanation of Stanzas

The poem contains some of the most marvelous 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 for the conversion 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.

“Twickenham Garden” is a short poem, but it is one of the greatest expressions in the literature of poignant sorrow and piercing sadness.

Inspired by Countess Lucy

This poem was perhaps inspired by Donne’s passion for the Countess Lucy of Bedford, a highly cultural 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 analyze to some extent, deserves admiration.

An Expression of Disappointed Love

He comes to Twickenham Garden in order that the beautiful sights and sounds around him might ease his anguish. But 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 turn 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 as a tone fountain, for he is always weeping. 

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