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Berwick Voluntary Centre

5 Tweed Street

Berwick-upon-Tweed

TD15 1NG

United Kingdom

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What is more evocative of peace and tranquillity than a garden? Yet what too has such ambiguous associations? The Garden of Eden was invaded by the serpent. The Garden of Gethsemane is a place of betrayal. In Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale a fateful temptation is induced in one. And yet ..... where would we be without gardens? Are they not often quite beautiful? Is it not better to remember that the Roman goddess Flora was thought literally to breathe pretty flowers? In this session with Dr. Richard Moore, we shall look at a range of poems connected with gardens and also look at some of the myths and legends associated with them.

Gardens in literature and particularly in poetry - are there many? Well, the answer is a resounding yes, but of course not all have particular significance. Act Two of The Mikado is set in Koko’s garden but this is at most a useful ploy for the scene-setters. It allows the introduction of some picturesque Japanese garden effects. A slightly more significant case is that in Alice in Wonderland. Here when the heroine enters the Queen of Hearts’ garden she comes upon three living playing cards painting the white roses on a rose-tree red. Red roses symbolise the House of Lancaster while white roses are the emblem of the House of York. Playing cards meanwhile with their arbitrary values reflect the paper-thin insubstantiality of power. Painted values replace intrinsic ones and the power-pattern can easily be reversed.

Whether decorative or meaningful, gardens have always been an important concept, obviously not least because of the Garden of Eden, the so-called lost paradise. This word paradise has multiple origins. It develops in Western languages from the Greek word paradeisos, the old Persian word pairidaeza, and the modern Arabic and Persian firdaus. All of these originally denoted a walled garden. In the arid environment of the Near East, a garden has to be carefully and laboriously constructed with watercourses for irrigation, and precious flowers and fruits protected from theft by a surrounding wall. The conflation of these words denoted exactly the type of garden built and cultivated in the Near East - a garden also linked with religious imagery of heaven, especially in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Such links have wide repercussions. They create a metaphorical bridge between the divine paradise and an elusive paradise on earth.

Another key aspect of garden literature is its use in Mediaeval allegory. For this we need to go back to the Roman de la Rose. This is a fascinating work in which the lover-narrator dreams of a crimson rose, which symbolises his lady’s love. Braving all obstacles, he seeks to pluck the flower. The task is set in a walled garden representing the ideal courtly society. It is a place of joy – a garden enclosed whose inhabitants include Delight and Liesse, meaning Jubilation.

The Garden of Joy can be set against the Garden of Woe. Here Gethsemane is an obvious example but there are also many ‘poison gardens in literature’, a few of which we may mention. The happier side, by contrast, is a matter of pleasure cut off from the pains and dangers of the outside world. Sometimes there is a mix, as in The Franklin’s Tale where the garden brings both joy and pain. Usually, however, mediaeval gardens are happy places. Here aristocrats indulge in the most refined pleasures of civilised life, singing and dancing, in a context of flowers. The whole thing accords well enough with the Roman idea of the garden as a place of beauty and repose – one where the goddess Flora, bedecked with blossoms, breathes out flowers with every breath.

Nowadays most of us value our gardens as places of peace and tranquillity – and quite often hard work, since the weeds grow faster than the blooms we most cherish. But what is it about gardens that makes them so important to us? Why do all cultures value them? In this study session we shall look at some lovely and interesting garden poetry and also hear something about the history of gardens in real life and literature, from Shakespeare’s Richard II to The Chalk Garden and from a real-life murder mystery in the paradise island of Floreana to the bliss of in a ‘garden enclosed’.

Come and be delighted, entertained and informed, bearing in mind that sun and shade make the best gardens and the poems we read will have both!

The lecture will be accessible to all and copies of the poems to be discussed are available as an attachment online, please click here, or can be posted out on request. (Pam Campion Tel 01289 303030).

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Date and Time

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Berwick Voluntary Centre

5 Tweed Street

Berwick-upon-Tweed

TD15 1NG

United Kingdom

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Refund Policy

Refunds up to 7 days before event

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