ime leaves a ghost of a garden in Algernon Charles Swinburne's "The Forsaken Garden." The landscape poem describes a barren garden where only the wind and the sea surrounding it stir. Swinburne defines the bleak setting by what used to be there. His garden is not so much dead, but rather, absent of life. Thorns and rocks are all that remain of the blossoms and meadows, and the silence is the result of the lovers that weep and laugh no more. Time assaulted the life of the garden, just as the natural forces of sea, rain, and wind assault the land. The result is not death, nor is it permanent, for the ghost of what was is still present in the garden. This ghost that remains seems to be a pause between death and life, evidence of what was and promise of what will be, and suggests a cyclical pattern of time:
All are at one now, roses and lovers,
Nor known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
In the air now soft with a summer to be.
Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
When as they that are free now of weeping and laughter
We shall sleep.
Though time has taken life from the garden, it has simply ushered in a new beginning. The time of a particular rose or a particular pair of lovers has passed, their lives united and leveled in death, leaving a trace not in the landscape, but in the imagination of the speaker. The speaker asserts, however, that just as they died and their breath no longer "sweeten[s] the seasons hereafter" so "we shall sleep." Time triumphs over one age, only to have the destruction he caused give rise to a new one:
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
Death lies dead.
Though the weeds and love are dead, the cyclical nature of time means that death never has the last word. It, too, dies, as life springs from it, clearing the landscape for a new age.
1. The rhyme scheme, the prevalent alliteration, the repeated imagery, and the three syllables comprising the last line of each stanza make the poem balanced and cohesive. How do Swinburne's choices here help convey the mood and meaning of the poem?
2. Does the title have religious implications? Given the "god self-slain" metaphor in the last stanza, does Swinburne imply anything about the nature of religion?
Last modified 5 November 2004