Sheltered Garden by H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)

‘Sheltered Garden’ by H.D. is a nine stanza poem which is separated into groups of lines which range from two to sixteen. The poem does not have a consistent rhyme scheme, but a reader should take note of the moments of repetition which appear in the text. The speaker reiterates a number of times that although her world is beautiful it is without strength. The entire poem is in itself an extended metaphor for the life the speaker is leading and the one she is hoping for. 

 

Summary of Sheltered Garden

‘Sheltered Garden’ by H.D. describes the sheltered life led by the speaker and how she is looking for a world which is more “wind-tortured” and real. 

The poem begins with the speaker stating that although her world is beautiful, it is made of nothing but repetition. There is no variety to her life, nor risk, danger, or true reality. The poet makes use of a number of different metaphors in the stanzas, most of which revolve around fruit and how it is “coax[ed]” from the tree. She would have it rot on the branch or suffer in the frost, at least then it could grow of its own accord. 

In the final lines the speaker describes how if she could, she would tear her world limb from limb. It would be scattered with the remains of the perfect, coddled plants she has grown to despise. 

 

Analysis of Sheltered Garden

Stanza One

I have had enough.

I gasp for breath.

In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by describing the overwhelming feel which permeates and drives the poem. She has “had enough.” What exactly she has had enough of becomes clear as the poem progresses. For now it is enough to know she is suffering, so much so that she has to “gasp for breath.”  

 

Stanza Two 

Every way ends, every road,

every foot-path leads at last

to the hill-crest—

then you retrace your steps,

or find the same slope on the other side,

precipitate.

The next stanza, which contains six lines, gives a reader further details in regards to what exactly it is that she is had enough of. The first line speaks of a general exasperation with her location and options. She describes how “Every way ends” and “every road, / every foot-path leads at last / to the hill-crest.” When first reading this section it is hard to tell what it is about her world that is unappealing to her.

In the second set of three lines though it becomes clear that the path really leads to no where but the other side of the hill. One must “retrace” their steps or “find the same slope on the other side.” Her options in life are limited. She is only able to return the way she came, or follow a similar path on the other side. This choice is described with the word “precipitate.” It is not truly as option as one would have to be acting irrationally to choose it. 

 

Stanza Three 

I have had enough—

border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,

herbs, sweet-cress.

In the third stanza, which is made up of three lines, the speaker reiterates her opening statement. She says once more that she has “had enough.” After this first line she goes on to list out some of the things which she is tired of. Once again these elements of her life, in this case plants, do not seem like things one would be frustrated with. 

She lists out some of the plants she is general tired of, among others, “wax-lilies,  / herbs, sweet-cress.” 

 

Stanza Four

O for some sharp swish of a branch—

there is no scent of resin

in this place,

no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,

aromatic, astringent—

only border on border of scented pinks.

From this point on the stanzas are longer, ranging from six to sixteen lines each. 

This stanza describes how the speaker is pinning for “some sharp swish of a branch.” She is looking for something unplanned, and maybe even a bit dangerous. There is, she states, “no scent of resin.” There is nothing real about “this place,” as there are no elements of a truly natural environment. She points out the lack of the “taste of bark” and “of coarse weeds.” The speaker misses the “aromatic” and “stringent” scents that those elements bring to the wold. 

These lines, as well as those which follow and precede it, are used as an extended metaphor to describe a speaker’s life. She feels as if the world she is living in is too preplanned and perfectly executed to be real or worth living in. 

 

Stanza Five

Have you seen fruit under cover

that wanted light—

pears wadded in cloth,

protected from the frost,

melons, almost ripe,

smothered in straw?

The next stanzas contain a couple of different questions directed to her listeners and readers. The first, queries whether “you” have “seen fruit under cover / that wanted light” or other fruits, such as “pears” and “melons” which are “smothered in straw?” She is seeking out something which is not perfect. 

The speaker is looking for plants which do not grow properly, which are suffering, or unsuccessful in their surrounds. These fruits are likely a stand-in for the speaker herself and ones who are living lives similar to her own. 

 

Stanza Six 

Why not let the pears cling

to the empty branch?

All your coaxing will only make

a bitter fruit—

let them cling, ripen of themselves,

test their own worth,

nipped, shrivelled by the frost,

to fall at last but fair

With a russet coat.

The sixth stanza asks why “you” do not “let the pears cling / to the empty branch?” She needs to know why every piece of fruit must be picked immediately, coddled and “coax[ed].
The speaker knows from experience that this tactic will “only make / a bitter fruit.” 

She asks that the reader “let them cling” and ripen on their own terms. This way the fruit, or people they represent, will be able to “test their own worth” without being dictated to or prescribed a way of life. 

They might become “shrivelled by the frost,” but that’s okay as they will fall and end up with “a russet coat.” 

 

Stanza Seven

Or the melon—

let it bleach yellow

in the winter light,

even tart to the taste—

it is better to taste of frost—

the exquisite frost—

than of wadding and of dead grass.

In the seventh stanza she reiterates the ideas presented in the previous. She utilizes the image of a “melon” this time rather than a pear. 

The speaker asks that the melon be left to “bleach yellow / in the winter light,” and if need be, develop a “tart” taste. She believes that it is better for the melon to taste of “frost” rather than of “wadding and of dead grass.” These final two elements represent the world she grew up in. She was raised and coaxed in the “dead grass,” she didn’t get to “test” her “own worth.” 

 

Stanza Eight

For this beauty,

beauty without strength,

chokes out life.

I want wind to break,

scatter these pink-stalks,

snap off their spiced heads,

fling them about with dead leaves—

spread the paths with twigs,

limbs broken off,

trail great pine branches,

hurled from some far wood

right across the melon-patch,

break pear and quince—

leave half-trees, torn, twisted

but showing the fight was valiant.

The eighth stanza is the longest of the poem and describes how even though her world might look beautiful, it has no strength. This lack of ability “chokes out life.” She is unable to thrive in her home any longer, she has had enough. 

The remaining lines of this section are a list of the things the speaker does want from her world. She is looking for some “wind” which will “break” and “scatter these pink-stalks.” It would be ideal for their heads to “snap off” and their “limbs” to break. She wants to take apart, piece by piece, the world she is in and the person it has made her. 

The speaker looks to find a world which is covered in “torn, twisted” branches and trees. This will tell her that “the fight was valiant” and that the people who live there had choices and independence. 

 

Stanza Nine 

O to blot out this garden

to forget, to find a new beauty

in some terrible

wind-tortured place.

In the last four lines the speaker concludes her narrative and asks that “this garden” be removed from the earth. She wants it to be forgotten, that way everyone is able to “find a new beauty / in some terrible / wind-tortured place.” This is her ideal world, she has had enough of the “sheltered garden.” 

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