The Formal Gardens, and Beyond

I visited an old estate today

Whose gardens, much acclaimed throughout the world,

Spread out beyond the gated entranceway

In scenic splendors gradually unfurled.

Bright potted blooms sprung beaming by the drive,

While further off, large topiary yews

Rose stoutly in the air. The site, alive

With summer, traded sunned and shaded views.

This composition—classical, restrained—

Bespoke the glories of a golden age:

An equilibrium perchance ordained

By god-directors on an earthly stage.

I set off lightly down a stone-laid path

With boxwood gathered cloudlike at each side;

Here, no hint of nature’s chastening wrath

Impinged upon man’s flourishes of pride.

Proceeding, I pressed forward on a walk

Of gravel, through an arch of climbing vines

And ramblers—where a long, inquiring stalk

Of fragrant musk rose, with its fuzzy spines,

Pressed toward my face with luscious pale-pink blooms.

Aha! At once, I almost could distill

A wayward slant within these outdoor rooms!

Though order reigned, I glimpsed some riot spill

From bush and bending bough. Each bordered sward

Spoke elegance, encasing gemlike pools—

Appointed, each, with cherubs keeping guard—

Yet moss had gathered round the sculpted stools.

Still rapt by these core plats, I shortly passed

Into the grounds beyond—deep green and vast.

Mincing, I issued from that inner fold

To find ahead a trilling rivulet

With flowers on either side; yet how controlled

Was even this—a cautious, cool vignette!

Nonetheless, as in some scattered spots

I’d seen before, there crept a shaggy clump

Of unmown grass—a few forgotten blots

Upon this bloom-besprinkled sphere; a bump

Of wild daylilies, mowed along with lawn;

And, further yet afield, a sprawling mire

Spread forth, less fettered still. Here berries’ brawn

Arose obscenely through the bulbs—each briar

Announcing more desuetude in this place—

Until, at once, stopped short all tended space.

There meadows shot up—shaggy, coarse, and plain;

Wiry weeds and scabbed grass, and the mad buzz

Of insects’ millions; here the splattering rain

Had mothered slug and bug and mugworts’ fuzz.

Beyond, thick woodlands, reckless and abrupt,

Loomed, calling, “Ho, enough of tended stuff!

We are what’s real!”—threatening to erupt—

Ah, dizzy, blowsy trees—nature’s high rough


And so I mused upon the human mind:

Its own mild garths and cool Augustan plots

Were laid for promenades—sedate, refined—

A genteel garden park, it seems, of thoughts.

Or so it might appear—yet gather close,

O marveling guest, round something slantwise spied:

An errant feature free of plan or pose—

A rankling thing you’d wish you hadn’t eyed!

Here, stark, the prankster stands—perhaps a spire

Of malice rising prideful in the air;

Perhaps a wild confusion of desire;

Perhaps a raw delusion, none too rare.

Unchecked, untrimmed, they hint at countless more

Uncomely details sprung at every edge

Of reason’s fair cross-axis, past the door

Of harmony’s last stand; truth’s final hedge.

Observe: my own best traits were raised by force

In soil hauled in from some more fertile strand.

My consciousness, when nature takes its course,

Still bristles, as if tended by no hand.

Stripped were the grounds from which my grace was carved;

Spaded, seeded, hoed its gaping womb—

Beaten and blazed its weeds; its vermin starved

To press my brain toward paths and gorgeous bloom.

Friend, pass no further from my watered spheres,

Well-groomed to please men’s civil hands and eyes!

For past these bounds, a roiling madness rears;

The way of chaos rules and wilds arise!

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