Twickenham Garden: by John Donne - Summary and Analysis

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Twickenham Garden

Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears,
Hither I come to seek the spring,
And at mine eyes, and at mine ears,
Receive such balms, as else cure everything,
But O, self traitor, I do bring
The spider love, which transubstantiates all
And can convert manna to gall,
And that this place may thoroughly be thought
True paradise, I have the serpent brought.

'Twere wholesomer for me, that winter did
Benight the glory of this place,
And that a grave frost did forbid
These trees to laugh, and mock me to my face;
But that I may not this disgrace
Endure, nor yet leave loving, Love, let me
Some senseless piece of this place be;
Make me a mandrake, so I may groan here,
Or a stone fountain weeping out my year.

Hither with crystal vials, lovers come,
And take my tears, which are love's wine.
And try your mistress tears at: home,
For all are false, that taste not just like mine;
Alas, hearts do not in eyes shine,
Nor can you more judge women's thoughts by tears,
Than by her shadow, what she wears.
O preverse sex, where none is true but she,
Who's therefore true, because her truth kills me.

Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears, Hither I come to seek the spring, And at mine eyes, and at mine ears, Receive such balms, as else cure everything, But O, self traitor, I do bring The spider love, which transubstantiates all And can convert manna to gall, And that this place may thoroughly be thought True paradise, I have the serpent brought.
Twicknam Garden

Summary and Analysis


      'Twickenham 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.


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

Stanza Wise Summary

      Stanza 1: Heaving sighs and shedding tears I come into the garden in search of spring in order to soothe my eyes and ears by enjoying sights and sounds of natural objects in spring time. But alas, even spring fails to cure the anguish of my heart. I am my own enemy, because along with myself I bring into the garden thoughts of love. Love is like a spider which transforms the character of everything. It can change even heavenly food into poison. I bring into this garden a serpent in the form of 'love' so as to complete the resemblance of this garden to the garden of Eden, the charm and beauty of which was marred by the presence of a serpent in the form of Satan (the devil).

      Stanza 2: I would have welcomed it if winter should have darkened (over-shadowed) the beauty and charm of this place and if a thick mist would have covered the trees of this garden so that they should not have mocked at my forlorn state to my very face. But in order that I may put up with this disgrace patiently (at the hands of trees who are mocking at him) and at the same time I should continue loving, I would like to be at inanimate object in this garden. I would like to be the mandrake plant growing here in this garden or I would like to be stone fountain, shedding tears in the form of jets of water throughout the year.

      Stanza 3: As I would be shedding tears constantly in this garden, let lovers come here with clear small glass bottles and gather my tears. Let them test the tears shed by their sweet-hearts by my tears because all tears that do not resemble mine are only crocodile tears. It is a sad fact that the eyes or the tears shed by them are no index to the sincerity of the love of a woman. A woman's real thoughts can no more be judged by her tears than her dress can be judged by her shadow. The fair sex is, as a matter of fact, a perverted sex. No woman except my beloved is faithful. My beloved is faithful and I, feel strongly attracted by her charm and personality but her faithfulness to another hurts me.

Critical Analysis

      The poem, Twickenham Garden was addressed to the Countess Lucy of Bedford-acultured 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 dejection. Even nature fails to soothe his tormented soul. Twickenham Garden 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 somber 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.

Inspired by Lucy:

      The poem, Twickenham Garden 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 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 case 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.

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