H.D. demonstrates the beauty of Imagism in the short lines of ‘The Garden.’ It uses no predetermined structure and a focus on clear images in order to depict its meaning. The poem is certainly up for interpretation. Meaning, some readers might walk away from it feeling as though the symbols mean something different and aren’t, in fact, combined with referencing the oppression of marginalized groups.
Explore The Garden
‘The Garden’ by H.D. is a beautiful and image-rich poem that uses nature as a way of expressing oppression and a desire for change.
The poem begins with the speaker expressing her admiration for a rose growing out of a stone. It has a strength that she can only wonder at. It manages to persevere through the harshest of environments. The speaker is living in a similarly harsh environment that she can’t change. It’s incredibly hot, likely a symbol of repression, and she asks the wind to help her cut a path through the heat. This path will provide some relief.
You can read the full poem here.
You are clear
from the petals
like spilt dye from a rock.
In the first stanza of ‘The Garden,’ the speaker begins by using an apostrophe. She’s talking to a rose, something that cannot hear her or respond to her. She admires its strength as it grows up through a rock. The speaker analyses it, noting that it’s far stronger than she is. She could never “break you,” she adds in the third and fourth stanzas.
If I could break you
I could break a tree—
I could break you.
The speaker goes on to say that “If” she could “break you,” she could do a lot of other things. But, she doesn’t think this is possible, nor does she try to accomplish it. She adds that there are other things she could do if she could “stir.” This leads into the second half of the poem, where the speaker spends time discussing the heat of the day. The word “if” is used several times throughout this piece and alongside the imagery, readers have interpreted it to refer to the possibilities of marginalized groups during H.D.’s time and how their rights were oppressed.
O wind, rend open the heat,
rend it to tatters.
In the first stanza of the second half of the poem, the speaker uses another apostrophe to talk to the wind. This time, she asks it to “rend open the heat / cut apart the heat.” It’s strong enough to destroy the heat of the day and bring in a cool breeze that should “rend it to tatters.” This is an interesting image, one that evokes the tenants of Imagism successfully.
Stanzas Two and Three
Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
Cut the heat—
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.
In the second stanza of the second half of ‘The Garden,’ ithe speaker uses hyperboles to describe how hot it is. She says it’s so hot that “Fruit cannot drop / through this thick air.” Nothing can move or change in this environment. This could be an allusion to the social environment that the poet was living in. The heat destroys the possibilities of these fruits, like “pears” and “grapes.” It pushes up and rounds their points.
The third stanza concludes the poem with another request to the wind to “cut the heat” and make a path through it where one could pass undeterred by the heat of the day. It appears the speaker is seeking out a way of moving through the world that’s not controlled or oppressed by the symbolic “heat” or repressive social norms of her time.
Structure and Form
‘The Garden’ by H.D. is a two-part poem. The first part has four stanzas and the second contains three. The poem is written in free verse, like most of H.D.’s verse is. This means that it does not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. This poem is also a great example of Imagism, a movement that H.D. helped to pioneer.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “clear” and “cut” in stanza one.
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the second stanza.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses especially interesting descriptions. For example, “I could scrape the colour / from the petals / like spilt dye from a rock.”
- Anaphora: can be seen when the poet repeats the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example: “I could break” which starts several lines in the second part of the poem.
The themes at work in this poem are nature and social norms. The poet is perhaps alluding through her imagery to the state of her contemporary moment and the oppression of feminist and LGBTQ groups during her lifetime.
The purpose is to show the passion in the speaker’s voice and her desire to feel strong, despite the oppression of the heat. It’s everywhere and influencing everything. She wants to find a way through it that’s more pleasant.
The tone is passionate and determined. At times, it may come across as pleading as the speaker talks to the rose and to the wind.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Garden’ should also consider reading some other H.D. poems. For example:
- ‘Helen’ – tells of the complete and total hatred that the Greek people feel for Helen of Troy after she causes the Trojan war.
- ‘Sea Rose’ – is a short interesting poem about a “sea rose.” It compares the rose to the more traditional “spice roses” found in English gardens.
- ‘Oread’ – a short but powerful poem that is told from the perspective of a wood nymph who tries to command the sea to “whirl”.