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This article is taken from PN Review 227, Volume 42 Number 3, January - February 2016.

The Poet Alone (2): In a Green Shade Neil Powell

To consider the idea of the solitary poet in the context of a green space, such as a garden, I’ll need first to make a couple of rough-and-ready distinctions: between true pastoral and other green worlds, and between ideal and actual gardens. True pastoral, as its name suggests, concerns shepherds and very often nymphs too: although it’s an ancient and an important strand of poetry, it tends not to involve the first-person poet himself – for this is a world, imagined rather than described, in which he has never set foot. Ideal gardens are usually distinguishable from real ones by their hospitality to growing things unknown to botany, such as the grapes ‘of burnish’d gold, / So made by art, to beautify the rest’ to be found in Spenser’s ‘Bower of Bliss’, and by their disregard of ordinary horticultural processes: the ‘Garden of Adonis’ in The Faerie Queene needs ‘no Gardener to set, or sow, / To plant or prune’ and enjoys ‘continual spring, and harvest there / Continual, both meeting at one time’. But such rough-and-ready distinctions are very properly confounded by actual poems. Richard Barnfield announces a pastoral subject in ‘The Affectionate Shepherd’ – there are nymphs, too, although in truth neither Barnfield nor his shepherd seems much interested in them – and he opens his poem in an idealised landscape. However, as soon as he reaches the shepherd’s ‘garden-plot’, we find ourselves in a world of almost tangibly real plants:

There grows the gillyflower, the mint, the daisy
  (Both red ...

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