Summary and Analysis of Twickenham Garden by John Donne

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About John Donne

John Donne was born in the year 1572 in London. He was a pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets, meaning that his work was characterised by the inventive use of conceits, and has a greater emphasis on the spoken rather than the lyrical quality of the verse. He mostly wrote satirical poems, love poems and elegy and sermons. The latter is because he was also a priest and a lawyer. His most notable works are The Flea, The Good-Morrow and Holy Sonnet: Death, be not proud among many others. A man of many talents, John Donne died in the year 1631, aged 58 of natural causes.


About Twickenham Garden

Twickenham Garden is a lyrical sonnet typical of the age when it was written. It was a age where poems with love-struck and heart-broken protagonists and beautiful and aloof counterparts theme was popular. True to that, this poem has a heart-broken man seeking soothing in the garden of ‘the’ lady, by whom his heart was broken.  

Setting of Twickenham Garden

The poem is set in a garden, referred by the title of the poem itself. Twickenham is a leafy affluent suburban area in south-west London.

Poetic Devices in Twickenham Garden

Allusion:

The speaker does not specifically say that his love was unrequited. But it can be seen through the verse. In the same way, the receiver of his love, the woman is not specifically mentioned. But going by the setting of the poem, it can be assumed to be Countess of Bedford, to whom the Twickenham Park belonged to.

Rhyme:

The rhyme of the poem is unconventional. But as if to make this irregularity a regularity, the poet uses the same rhyme scheme in all the three stanzas. The rhyme scheme is ABABBCCDD.

Enjambment:

Some sentences of the verse have their continuation in the next line. For example, “I do bring/ The spider love’ and ‘thoroughly be though/ True paradise’.

Personification:

There is some personification in the second stanza. The trees are said to ‘laugh and mock’; both actions of a person.

Alliteration:

In the second stanza, there is alliteration used. ‘frost did forbid’, ‘mock me to my’ and ‘make me a mandrake’ are examples of alliteration. Each of them starts with the same consonant.

Symbol and Metaphor:

In the last line of the poem, the speaker says he brought a serpent into the Paradise. The serpent, as one can guess, is not literally a one. It is taken from the Biblical verse of Adam and Eve. The serpent tricks Adam into taking an apple from a tree, which gets him exiled into the world to live by the sweat of brow. The serpent the speaks of is something similar.

Summary of Twickenham Garden

The speaker of the poem is broken-hearted. He goes into a garden to be soothed, to receive a cure for his broken heart. But that is not to be so; because he also gets his worries and his love into the garden too and they won’t allow him to heal.

The garden which was originally full of glory was now ‘benighted’ by the ‘winter’; meaning that his broken heart made the garden look like a sinister place. He felt as if the trees were laughing and mocking him. He wants to be some senseless piece of the garden so that he can escape from this vicious cycle.

The speaker says that the tears that does not taste like his’s are all false. The speaker laments the inability to see a woman’s heart clearly. Because of this, he says only the woman knows the truth and her truth causes a lot of pain to her lover.


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Analysis of Twickenham Garden

The speaker starts right away by saying how broken hearted he is. He is ‘blasted with sighs’ and ‘surrounded by tears’; both powerful expressions indicating the extent of his love for ‘her’. The woman in the poem is not specifically mentioned. But going by the setting of the poem, Twickenham Park was the residence of Countess of Bedford; and hence, she might be the person the speaker was alluding to. The speaker came into that garden to seek ‘spring’. Spring is the season of new life. He came there to start a new life too, and to get a cure for both his eyes (tears) and ears (sighs).

The speaker then calls himself a self-traitor. Because though he wanted to start a new life, he brought into that garden of glory, his love; and his love was now not completely pure. He calls it a spider’s love. A spider lives off filth and dirt. The speaker says his love was now nothing but that. This love transubstantiates all. Transubstantiation is, according to the church, the process by which the bread and wine given in the church, transform into the flesh and blood of Jesus. The speaker says his love was such, that can convert manna to gall. Manna is a edible substance which God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert. Gall is something bitter and disagreeable. By this, the speaker means to say that his love makes him see everything good as something bitter.

The garden of Adam and Eve was a paradise till the serpent came along and spoiled it. The speaker the garden he was in now was also a paradise. But akin to that text, he brought a serpent, his love, into this garden and made this a paradise in the truest of sense.

The garden was something meant to heal him, to cure him; but his love erased the glory of that place. He felt it transform from good to sinister. He felt as if the trees were mocking and laughing at him, and that only the fog, which in normal substances would be seen as beautiful, was keeping him from directly seeing those trees.

The speaker does not want to endure this disgrace, the disgrace of being laughed at, but he cannot also leave, for if he leaves now, he will leave still loving the woman in his heart. The original purpose of coming to the garden would be lost. As a solution, the speaker says that he wants to become some senseless piece of the garden; like a mandrake or a stone fountain.

The speaker continues the next stanza assuming he was transformed into a stone fountain. He would weep out his ‘year’; meaning he would weep out his broken heart. He tells lovers to come to him and take his tears which he calls as love’s wine. He tells them to compare them to their mistress’. If they do not taste the same, then their love was not true love.

The speaker laments the inability to look through a woman’s heart. They do not shine in their eyes nor can they be judged by a few tears. Just like we cannot decipher by her shadow what she wears, their thoughts too are undecipherable by such means. There is a deep meaning in the shadow and dress phrase. The dress can be as complicated as it can be, woken with the finest of silk and laden with intricate designs, but in its shadow, all it is but a simple and even darkness.

He calls the sex perverse. He says that because he believes in love, nothing is true but she. He believes so because it is said that ‘truth brings pain’. And she is true, because she brings a lot of pain to her lover.

Central Idea of Twickenham Garden

The central idea of the poem is to show a broken heart, a man who loves a girl dearly but cannot receive back the same from her, and the emotions it goes through.

Tone of Twickenham Garden

The tone of the poem is sad and bitter; sad at the beginning and bitter at the end, but never turning hostile towards the lady who is alluded to in the verse.

Conclusion

John Donne writes a simple and beautiful piece of verse with some deep meanings, and shows the emotions and thoughts a true broken-hearted love feels.

Contributor: Uttej Reddy

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