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John Donne: Poem analysis » Twicknam Garden » Synopsis of Twicknam Garden

Twickenham

Possibly Lucy, the Countess of BedfordTwickenham is probably best known these days as the home of English Rugby football. However, in Donne's day, it was a pleasant and fashionable small village a few miles west of London, on the north bank of the River Thames. Twickenham Park was the country house of the Countess of Bedford from 1608-1617. She was also one of the patronesses or sponsors Donne had been courting to help him through the difficult period of his life after his marriage, when his career prospects nosedived.

A complaint?

Twicknam Garden could therefore be seen not so much as a love poem as a complaint that the Countess of Bedford has not welcomed his efforts at securing her patronage. This assumes the ‘she' is the Countess.

A joke?

Or it could be seen as a love play, a joke, where Donne is just playing with the idea of the Countess being his mistress, as a sort of flattery – she was, after all, well into middle age.

In melancholic mood?

On the other hand, the poem could be taken more as a mood poem: although it is springtime, the traditional time for lovers to be happy, Donne is deeply melancholic and with good reason.

Investigating Twicknam Garden
  • Look out for clues as to whether the poem is a ‘joke' or a ‘mood' poem.
    • What sort of clues could you look for?
    • Can you relate to being somewhere where you felt totally at odds with the general mood or the mood you were supposed to feel?

Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears,
Hither I come to seek the spring,
And at mine eyes, and at mine ears,
Receive such balms as else cure every thing.
But O ! self-traitor, I do bring
The spider Love, which transubstantiates all,
And can convert manna to gall ;
And that this place may thoroughly be thought
True paradise, I have the serpent brought.

'Twere wholesomer for me that winter did
Benight the glory of this place,
And that a grave frost did forbid
These trees to laugh and mock me to my face ;
But that I may not this disgrace
Endure, nor yet leave loving, Love, let me
Some senseless piece of this place be ;
Make me a mandrake, so I may grow here,
Or a stone fountain weeping out my year.

Hither with crystal phials, lovers, come,
And take my tears, which are love's wine,
And try your mistress' tears at home,
For all are false, that taste not just like mine.
Alas ! hearts do not in eyes shine,
Nor can you more judge women's thoughts by tears,
Than by her shadow what she wears.
O perverse sex, where none is true but she,
Who's therefore true, because her truth kills me.