Essays (Cowley)/The Garden

To J. Evelyn, Esquire.

I never had any other desire so strong, and so like to covetousness, as that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and large garden, with very moderate conveniences joined to them, and there dedicate the remainder of my life only to the culture of them and the study of nature.

And there (with no design beyond my wall) whole
and entire to lie,
In no unactive ease, and no unglorious poverty.

Or, as Virgil has said, shorter and better for me, that I might there studiis florere ignobilis otii, though I could wish that he had rather said Nobilis otii when he spoke of his own. But several accidents of my ill fortune have disappointed me hitherto, and do still, of that felicity; for though I have made the first and hardest step to it, by abandoning all ambitions and hopes in this world, and by retiring from the noise of all business and almost company, yet I stick still in the inn of a hired house and garden, among weeds and rubbish, and without that pleasantest work of human industry—the improvement of something which we call (not very properly, but yet we call) our own. I am gone out from Sodom, but I am not arrived at my little Zoar. "Oh, let me escape thither (is it not a little one?), and my soul shall live." I do not look back yet; but I have been forced to stop and make too many halts. You may wonder, sir (for this seems a little too extravagant and Pindarical for prose) what I mean by all this preface. It is to let you know, that though I have missed, like a chemist, my great end, yet I account my affections and endeavours well rewarded by something that I have met with by-the-by, which is, that they have produced to me some part in your kindness and esteem; and thereby the honour of having my name so advantageously recommended to posterity by the epistle you are pleased to prefix to the most useful book that has been written in that kind, and which is to last as long as months and years.

Among many other arts and excellencies which you enjoy, I am glad to find this favourite of mine the most predominant, that you choose this for your wife, though you have hundreds of other arts for your concubines; though you know them, and beget sons upon them all (to which you are rich enough to allow great legacies), yet the issue of this seems to be designed by you to the main of the estate; you have taken most pleasure in it, and bestowed most charges upon its education, and I doubt not to see that book which you are pleased to promise to the world, and of which you have given us a large earnest in your calendar, as accomplished as anything can be expected from an extraordinary wit and no ordinary expenses and a long experience. I know nobody that possesses more private happiness than you do in your garden, and yet no man who makes his happiness more public by a free communication of the art and knowledge of it to others. All that I myself am able yet to do is only to recommend to mankind the search of that felicity which you instruct them how to find and to enjoy.


Happy art thou whom God does bless

With the full choice of thine own happiness;
And happier yet, because thou'rt blessed
With prudence how to choose the best.
In books and gardens thou hast placed aright,—
Things which thou well dost understand,
And both dost make with thy laborious hand—
Thy noble, innocent delight,
And in thy virtuous wife, where thou again dost meet
Both pleasures more refined and sweet:
The fairest garden in her looks,
And in her mind the wisest books.
Oh! who would change these soft, yet solid joys,

For empty shows and senseless noise,
And all which rank ambition breeds,
Which seem such beauteous flowers, and are such poisonous weeds!


When God did man to his own likeness make,

As much as clay, though of the purest kind
By the Great Potter's art refined,
Could the Divine impression take,
He thought it fit to place him where
A kind of heaven, too, did appear,
As far as earth could such a likeness bear.
That Man no happiness might want,
Which earth to her first master could afford,
He did a garden for him plant
By the quick hand of his omnipotent word,
As the chief help and joy of human life,
He gave him the first gift; first, even, before a wife.


For God, the universal architect,

'T had been as easy to erect
A Louvre, or Escurial, or a tower
That might with heaven communication hold,
As Babel vainly thought to do of old.
He wanted not the skill or power,
In the world's fabric those were shown,
And the materials were all his own.
But well he knew what place would best agree
With innocence and with felicity;
And we elsewhere still seek for them in vain.
If any part of either yet remain,
If any part of either we expect,
This may our judgment in the search direct;
God the first garden made, and the first city, Cain.


Oh, blessèd shades! Oh. gentle, cool retreat

From all the immoderate heat,
In which the frantic world does burn and sweat!
This does the lion-star, Ambition's rage;

This Avarice, the dog-star's thirst assuage;
Everywhere else their fatal power we see,
They make and rule man's wretched destiny;
They neither set nor disappear.
But tyrannise o'er all the year;
Whilst we ne'er feel their flame or influence here.
The birds that dance from bough to bough,
And sing above in every tree.
Are not from fears and cares more free,
Than we who lie, or sit, or walk below,
And should by right be singers too.
What prince's choir of music can excel
That which within this shade does dwell,
To which we nothing pay or give—
They, like all other poets, live
Without reward or thanks for their obliging pains.
'Tis well if they become not prey.
The whistling winds add their less artful strains,
And a grave base the murmuring fountains play.
Nature does all this harmony bestow;
But to our plants, art's music too,
The pipe, theorbo, and guitar we owe;

The lute itself, which once was green and mute,
When Orpheus struck the inspirèd lute,
The trees danced round, and understood
By sympathy the voice of wood.


These are the spells that to kind sleep invite,

And nothing does within resistance make;
Which yet we moderately take;
Who would not choose to be awake,
While he's encompassed round with such delight;
To the ear, the nose, the'touch, the taste and sight?
When Venus would her dear Ascanius keep
A prisoner in the downy bands of sleep,
She odorous herbs and flowers beneath him spread,
As the most soft and sweetest bed;
Not her own lap would more have charmed his head.
Who that has reason and his smell
Would not among roses and jasmine dwell,
Rather than all his spirits choke'
With exhalations of dirt and smoke,

And all the uncleanness which does drown
In pestilential clouds a populous town?
The earth itself breathes better perfumes here,
Than all the female men or women there,
Not without cause, about them bear.


When Epicurus to the world had taught

That pleasure was the chiefest good,
(And was perhaps i' th' right, if rightly understood)
His life he to his doctrine brought,
And in a garden's shade that sovereign pleasure sought.
Whoever a true epicure would be,
May there find cheap and virtuous luxury.
Vitellius his table, which did hold
As many creatures as the Ark of old,
That fiscal table, to which every day
All countries did a constant tribute pay,
Could nothing more delicious afford
Than Nature's liberality,
Helped with a little art and industry,

Allows the meanest gardener's board.
The wanton taste no fish or fowl can choose
For which the grape or melon she would lose,
Though all the inhabitants of sea and air
Be listed in the glutton's bill of fare;
Yet still the fruits of earth we see
Placed the third storey high in all her luxury.


But with no sense the garden does comply,

None courts or flatters, as it does the eye;
When the great Hebrew king did almost strain
The wondrous treasures of his wealth and brain
His royal southern guest to entertain,
Though she on silver floors did tread,
With bright Assyrian carpets on them spread
To hide the metal's poverty;
Though she looked up to roofs of gold,
And nought around her could behold
But silk and rich embroidery,
And Babylonian tapestry,
And wealthy Hiram's princely dye:

Though Ophir's starry stones met everywhere her eye;
Though she herself and her gay host were dressed
With all the shining glories of the East;
When lavish art her costly work had done;
The honour and the prize of bravery
Was by the Garden from the Palace won;
And every rose and lily there did stand
Better attired by Nature's hand:
The case thus judged against the king we see,
By one that would not be so rich, though wiser far than he.


Nor does this happy place only dispense

Such various pleasures to the sense:
Here health itself does live,
That salt of life, which does to all a relish give,
Its standing pleasure, and intrinsic wealth,
The body's virtue, and the soul's good fortune, health.
The tree of life, when it in Eden stood,

Did its immortal head to heaven rear;
It lasted a tall cedar till the flood;
Now a small thorny shrub it does appear;
Nor will it thrive too everywhere:
It always here is freshest seen,
'Tis only here an evergreen.
If through the strong and beauteous fence
Of temperance and innocence,
And wholesome labours and a quiet mind,
Any diseases passage find,
They must not think here to assail
A land unarmed, or without a guard;
They must fight for it, and dispute it hard,
Before they can prevail.
Scarce any plant is growing here
Which against death some weapon does not bear,
Let cities boast that they provide
For life the ornaments of pride;
But 'tis the country and the field
That furnish it with staff and shield.


Where does the wisdom and the power divine

In a more bright and sweet reflection shine?
Where do we finer strokes and colours see
Of the Creator's real poetry,
Than when we with attention look
Upon the third day's volume of the book?
If we could open and intend our eye,
We all like Moses should espy
Even in a bush the radiant Deity.
But we despise these his inferior ways
Though no less full of miracle and praise;
Upon the flowers of heaven we gaze,
The stars of earth no wonder in us raise,
Though these perhaps do more than they
The life of mankind sway.
Although no part of mighty Nature be
More stored with beauty, power, and mystery,
Yet to encourage human industry,
God has so ordered that no other part
Such space and such dominion leaves for art.


We nowhere art do so triumphant see,

As when it grafts or buds the tree;
In other things we count it to excel,
If it a docile scholar can appear
To Nature, and but imitate her well:
It over-rules, and is her master here.
It imitates her Maker's power divine,
And changes her sometimes, and sometimes does refine:
It does, like grace, the fallen tree restore
To its blest state of Paradise before:
Who would not joy to see his conquering hand
O'er all the vegetable world command,
And the wild giants of the wood receive
What laws he's pleased to give?
He bids the ill-natured crab produce
The gentler apple's winy juice,
The golden fruit that worthy is,
Of Galatea's purple kiss;
He does the savage hawthorn teach

To bear the medlar and the pear;
He bids the rustic plum to rear
A noble trunk, and be a peach.
Even Daphne's coyness he does mock,
And weds the cherry to her stock,
Though she refused Apollo's suit,
Even she, that chaste and virgin tree,
Now wonders at herself to see
That she's a mother made, and blushes in her fruit.


Methinks I see great Diocletian walk

In the Salonian garden's noble shade,
Which by his own imperial hands was made:
I see him smile, methinks, as he does talk
With the ambassadors, who come in vain,
To entice him to a throne again.
"If I, my friends," said he, "should to you show
All the delights which in these gardens grow;
'Tis likelier much that you should with me stay,
Than 'tis that you should carry me away;

And trust me not, my friends, if every day
I walk not here with more delight,
Than ever, after the most happy fight,
In triumph to the Capitol I rode,
To thank the gods, and to be thought myself almost a god.