What can I say about this poem except that I love it and I've read it so many times that I know it by heart. It seems as if every poet in history has written at least one poem about nature. But "The Garden" by Andrew Marvell is among the finest nature poems I've ever read.
I've marked some of the lines with asterisks, which you may follow to the notes at the end (they represent a combination of my own thoughts and a selection of notes from my own copy of the poem). I welcome comments, and I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I do.
How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays,*
And their uncessant labors see
Crowned from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid,
While all flow'rs and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.
Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men.
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.*
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude
No white nor red was ever seen*
So am'rous as this lovely green.
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress' name.
Little, alas, they know, or heed,
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees, wheres'e're your barks I wound,
No name shall but your own be found.
When we have run our passion's heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat.
The gods, that mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race.
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow.
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.*
What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarene, and curious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
Meanwhile, the mind, from pleasures less,
Withdraws into its happiness:*
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,*
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas,
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.*
Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
Casting the body's vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There like a bird, it sits and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepared for longer flight,*
Waves in its plumes the various light.
Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate:*
After a place so pure, and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But 'twas beyond a mortal's share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises 'twere in one
To live in paradise alone.
How well the skillful gardener drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new,
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;*
And, as it works, the industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
But reckoned but with herbs and flowers!
the palm, the oak, or bays - awards for military, civic, or political achievement.
Your sacred plants, if here below / Only among the plants will grow - i.e., if there are symbols of Quiet and Innocence on this Earth, they must be among the plants.
No white nor red - symbols of a lady; I would say specifically of her makeup.
Apollo hunted Daphne so... Not as a nymph, but for a reed - the Greek god Apollo chased after the nymph Daphne in a fit of lust; she begged her father, a river god, to save her and he turned her into a laurel tree, which was thereafter sacred to Apollo. (Bernini's sculpture) Similarly, the god Pan pursued the nymph Syrinx, who turned into reeds, which Pan then made into his famous pipes.
Meanwhile, the mind, from pleasures less / Withdraws into its happiness - in other words, the mind withdraws from lesser pleasures and into itself. I believe the intent here is to contrast the largely flesh-based pleasures of the world of men with the more spiritual pleasures of nature and the mind.
The mind, that ocean where each kind / Does straight its own resemblance find - I see this as an allusion to Plato's Theory of Forms.
To a green thought in a green shade - possibly the most famous line of the poem. My copy of the poem notes that the thought is likely green because it is immature and unripe, and the shade is green because it is filtered through the leaves of trees. I like this interpretation; it speaks to how solitude and nature always seem to combine to create new thoughts we could not have had if we were without either one.
And, till prepared for longer flight - my copy of the poem suggests that "longer flight" may refer to the journey to the afterlife.
Such was that happy garden-state, / While man there walked without a mate - A reference to the Garden of Eden before the Fall. I see the poem as a celebration of nature, but with a clear longing for a return to a prelapsarian state. The title clearly alludes to the Garden of Eden as well.
Where from above the milder sun / Does through a fragrant zodiac run - i.e., the sun's rays are tempered by the aroma of flora that is in the air.