When it comes to the theme of unrequited love, John Donne and his metaphysical poetry are at their best! And, in ‘Twickenham Garden’, beloved Donne gives a dosage of heartfelt emotions to the readers.
John Donne is a name and brand in himself. His metaphysical touch along with his thought-provoking ideas grip the readers so deeply that they have to come to his poetry again and again. Be it ‘The Good-Morrow‘ or ‘The Sun Rising‘, each of his poems has something new to offer. His religious poetry needs no mention. This poem centers on a place called Twickenham Garden that belonged to Donne’s rumored lover Duchess of Bedford, Lucy. Here, modern readers can find some extraordinary conceits that will awaken their creative energy to decode the meaning of the text in their way.
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Summary of Twickenham Garden
The poetic persona of the poem, Donne’s poetic self, roams around the Twickenham Garden with a heavy heart. An emotionless lady has betrayed him in love. For this reason, he is in a diabolic mood that makes him think the “manna” of love is, in reality, the “gall” of a spider. However, he seeks to be a part of the garden in the second stanza of the poem. He wants solace and wants to express his truthfulness by being a part of nature. In the last section, his anguish steps up to his witty head and makes him say that his love is way better than all the lovers. Lastly, he mocks the lady, as a member of the “perverse sex” and says her apparent truthfulness kills him.
Structure of Twickenham Garden
There are a total of three nine-line stanzas in ‘Twickenham Garden’. Moreover, the rhyme scheme of the poem is quite interesting and it is ABABBCCDD. So the last four lines of each stanza form two rhyming couplets preceded by alternative rhyming lines. Apart from that, the overall poem is composed of iambic pentameter and iambic pentameter alternatively. However, there are few metrical variations such as the first foot of the first line. It is trochaic, containing a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one.
Literary Devices in Twickenham Garden
Donne uses several literary devices in this metaphysical lyric poem. The poem begins with a metaphor in “Blasted with sighs.” Here, he compares sighing to the blasting of an explosive. Thereafter, the poet uses a biblical allusion in the line, “True paradise, I have the serpent brought.” Moreover, the poet also uses anaphora in the poem. As an instance, the second and third lines of the third stanza contain anaphora. There is a personification in the line, “These trees to laugh, and mock me to my face.” Thereafter, in the third stanza, the poet uses a metonym for tears in “love’s wine.” Moreover, this stanza contains epigram and irony as well.
Themes in Twickenham Garden
The most impossible theme of the poem is unrequited love. The poet also employs several themes such as frustration, anguish, love, appearance vs reality, and natural beauty. Whatsoever, the person who roams around the Twickenham Garden talks about his feelings after being ditched by a lady whom he loved the most. The feeling of unrequited love makes his mind gall-like. What he expresses in this poem depicts his frustrated mood. Moreover, the poet also presents the theme of natural beauty that somehow gives solace to the speaker’s heart. Most importantly, in this poem, the speaker also talks about the nature of love in an angry vein. However, all those themes make this poem an interesting piece to read.
Analysis of 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 every thing.
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.
Donne’s poem, ‘Twickenham Garden’ begins with the portrayal of the speaker’s mind. The narrator of the poem is blasted with sighs and his mind surrounded by emotional thoughts. For this reason, he comes to the garden spring to pacify his burning heart. Moreover, the natural setting of the garden balms his eyes, and the soothing natural sound rings softly in his ears.
Thereafter, the poet uses a conceit of the “spider love” that, according to him, “can convert manna to gall.” So, the feeling of “love” is like the spider that feeds on “manna” of insects and its body turns it into “gall”. The “gall” using which it kills its prey. For this reason, this emotion is like a traitor in itself. Moreover, the poet uses another conceit of the “serpent” of Eden to compare it with love. As the speaker has this emotion in his heart, his sole presence ironically makes that garden a “true paradise.”
‘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 grow here,
Or a stone fountain weeping out my year.
In the second stanza, the speaker says it was wholesome for him if winter benighted the glory of the place and “grave frost” covered the trees of the garden. He wishes so as the trees laugh at his condition and mocks his mistake. But he may not endure such a disgrace. Moreover, he may not leave that place with love in his heart. Thereafter, the poet says love lets him be a “senseless piece” of that place.
In the last two lines, the speaker wants to be a “mandrake” so he may grow there or a “stone fountain” weeping out his memories of the past. It is important to mention here that the mandrake plant, also known as Mandragora, was used in folk medicines for good health. So the speaker wants to be of some help even after he is turned into a voiceless plant.
Hither with crystal phials, 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 perverse sex, where none is true but she,
Who’s therefore true, because her truth kills me.
Thereafter, the speaker refers to the lovers who come to that place with “crystal phials” (phials is a type of small glass container). Previously he has wished to be a fountain. So, the water of the fountain is his tears. Whatsoever, the lovers come to collect the fountain-water (that are his tears). The poet metaphorically compares this water to “love’s wine” and asks the lover to compare it with his mistress’ tears. That person will find that the tears of his beloved are nothing in comparison to the fountain-water or the speaker’s tears.
Moreover, the poet uses an epigram in the line, “Alas! hearts do not in eyes shine.” It means one cannot read one’s true emotions from the eyes. The speaker has done so and found it to be a mistake. That’s why he is there, in his lonely walk through the Twickenham Garden. Apart from that, he says none can judge a woman’s thoughts by tears or by “her shadow what she wears.” Here, “shadow” stands for the emotions (specifically the soft ones). In this way, the speaker paints the picture of the lady whom he loved.
Lastly, the speaker ironically refers to the woman as “perverse sex.” She was not truthful to him. When he came across this fact, the reality started to torture him. Using hyperbole, he says, “Who’s therefore true, because her truth kills me.”
Twickenham Garden as a Metaphysical Poem
‘Twickenham Garden’ contains several unorthodox elements that make it an example of a metaphysical poem. To begin with, the poet uses conceits, “the spider love” and “the serpent” interestingly. These comparisons between two different objects bring out an extraordinary quality of the poem. Thereafter, the poet’s wish to be a “mandrake” or “fountain” again presents his unconventional attitude while dealing with the theme of unrequited love. Lastly, the epigrammatic lines in the third stanza, reveal more than the face value of those lines. In this way, the poem becomes a metaphysical one for the extraordinary poetic diction and style of John Donne.
The following poems are similar to John Donne’s ‘Twickenham Garden’ and readers can refer to them for further details.
- Sonnet 96: Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness by William Shakespeare – In this one of the best love sonnets by Shakespeare, the speaker addresses the Fair Youth’s faults and how he can cloak them in goodness.
- The More Loving One by H. Auden – It’s one of the best W. H. Auden poems and here the poet depicts the feelings of a lovelorn speaker.
- Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley – In this best-known poem of Shelley, one can find a speaker’s plea to make love with his beloved.
- Sometimes with One, I Love by Walt Whitman – This poem explores the power of unrequited love. It’s one of the best Whitman poems.
You can also read about 10 of the Best John Donne Poems.