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This article is taken from PN Review 28, Volume 9 Number 2, November - December 1982.

Marvell in Yorkshire, Yeats in Sligo Mairi MacInnes

To a certain limited but useful extent, language can be thought of as a metaphor for a wordless and uncategorical knowledge of things that we acquire as small children. This knowledge comes to us before names or verbal references or the world of talk. A garden can be thought of as a metaphor of the same sort. Here the original is the apprehension, mute again, of gratuitous chaotic nature (in the West usually taking the form of wilderness or wild hills or moors) and the processes that govern it. A garden is an arrangement, obviously artificial, of growths and processes obviously natural, set up for the spirit rather than for the stomach. All creation may be there for man, but the garden contains more spirituality than the land outside it. Its influence may even be moral and improving. 'We will endeavour to shew how the aire and genious of gardens operat upon humane spirits towards virtue and sanctity, I meane in a remote, preparatory and instrumental working,' wrote John Evelyn to Sir Thomas Browne on 28th January 1657/8, about a book never to be completed, Elysium Britannicum. Such a garden could represent a distillation of God's will at work in nature, and this was part of Evelyn's justification for thinking of the garden as a moral object.

When, in times self-conscious or conscious of history, man's destiny in the timelessness of nature needed stressing, the garden recorded and expressed it through such commemorative furniture as obelisks, grottoes, ...


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