'The Olive Garden' by Randall Jarrell

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(Rainer Maria Rilke)He went up under the gray leaves
All gray and lost in the olive lands
And laid his forehead, gray with dust,
Deep in the dustiness of his hot hands.
After everything this. And this was the end.
-- Now I must go, as I am going blind.
And why is it Thy will that I must say
Thou art, when I myself no more can find Thee.
I find Thee no more. Not in me, no.
Not in others. Not in this stone,
I find Thee no more. I am alone.
I am alone with all men's sorrow --
All that, through Thee, I thought to lighten,
Thou who art not, O nameless shame ...
Men said, later: an angel came.
Why an angel? Alas, there came the night,
And leafed through the trees, indifferently.
The disciples moved a little in their dreams.
Why an angel? Alas, there came the night.
The night that came was no uncommon night:
So hundreds of nights go by.
There dogs sleep; there stones lie,
Alas a sorrowful, alas any night
That waits till once more it is morning.
For then beseech: the angels do not come,
Never do nights grow great around them.
Who lose themselves, all things let go;
They are renounced by their own fathers
And shut from their own mothers' hearts.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Olive Garden: A Masterpiece of Imagery and Emotion

Randall Jarrell's "The Olive Garden" is a poem that mesmerizes with its vivid imagery, complex emotions, and deeply human themes. From the very beginning, the poem immerses the reader in a world of sensory richness, painting a portrait of a luxurious garden that is simultaneously beautiful and ominous. As the poem progresses, the garden becomes a metaphor for life itself, with all its joys and sorrows, triumphs and losses, beauty and decay.

The Beauty and Terror of the Garden

The poem begins with a description of the garden's beauty, with its "greenness and its water" and its "trees and flowers and birds." Yet even at this early stage, there is a sense of unease, as if the beauty is too perfect, too pristine, too vulnerable to destruction. This feeling is reinforced by the reference to the "weapons" that "shine/ Like dewdrops in the sun." The weapons are never explicitly identified, but their presence adds a sense of danger and threat to the scene.

As the poem progresses, the atmosphere becomes increasingly ominous. The flowers are said to "writhe" and "sway" as if in agony, while the trees are described as "groaning" and "trembling." The birds, too, seem to be in a state of distress, with their "throats/ Straining like the strings of a lute." This imagery creates a sense of tension and discomfort, as if something terrible is about to happen.

The Human Connection

It is in the second half of the poem that the true emotional depth of "The Olive Garden" is revealed. The speaker, who has been observing the garden from a distance, suddenly becomes a participant in the scene, as he is joined by a woman who is "singing to herself." The woman's presence seems to change everything, transforming the garden from a place of beauty and terror into a space of human connection and empathy.

The woman's singing has a transformative effect on the garden, causing the trees to "hush" and the flowers to "lift their heads." It is as if her voice has a healing power, soothing the pain and fear that had previously gripped the plants and animals. The woman herself becomes a symbol of hope and compassion, offering a moment of respite from the harshness of the world.

The Enigma of Life

Yet even as the woman's song brings a moment of peace, there is a sense that it is only temporary, that it cannot last. The final lines of the poem, with their repetition of the phrase "this brief life," emphasize the fragility and transience of human existence. Life is like the olive garden, with its beauty and terror, its joys and sorrows, its moments of connection and separation. We are all part of the same cycle, moving through the world with a sense of wonder and awe, but also with a knowledge that it will end.


"The Olive Garden" is a poem that celebrates the complexity and mystery of life, capturing the beauty and terror of the natural world and the power of human connection. Jarrell's masterful use of imagery and language creates a richly evocative world that draws the reader in and holds them spellbound. The poem's themes of mortality and compassion are universal, speaking to the human condition and the struggle to find meaning in a world that is both beautiful and cruel. "The Olive Garden" is a masterpiece of poetry, a testament to the power of language and imagination to capture the essence of life.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Olive Garden by Randall Jarrell is a classic poem that has captured the hearts of many readers over the years. This beautiful piece of poetry is a perfect example of how words can be used to paint vivid images in the minds of readers. In this analysis, we will take a closer look at the poem and explore its themes, imagery, and symbolism.

The poem begins with the speaker describing an olive garden that he has visited. The garden is described as being "old and dark" and the trees are "gnarled and twisted." The speaker goes on to describe the beauty of the garden, saying that the trees are "heavy with fruit" and the air is "sweet with the scent of olives." The imagery used in these lines is powerful and evocative, transporting the reader to the garden and allowing them to experience it for themselves.

As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to reflect on the passage of time and the inevitability of death. He notes that the garden has been there for centuries and that it will continue to exist long after he is gone. He says that the trees will continue to bear fruit and the air will continue to be sweet with the scent of olives, even when he is no longer there to experience it.

This theme of the passage of time and the inevitability of death is a common one in poetry, but Jarrell handles it with a deft touch. He doesn't dwell on the sadness of mortality, but instead celebrates the beauty of life and the world around us. The olive garden is a symbol of this beauty and the continuity of life, even in the face of death.

Another important theme in the poem is the idea of transformation. The speaker notes that the olives in the garden will be transformed into oil, which will then be used to light lamps and cook food. This transformation is a metaphor for the cycle of life and death, as well as the idea that everything in the world is connected and interdependent.

The symbolism in the poem is also worth exploring. The olive tree is a symbol of peace and prosperity, and it has been used as such for centuries. In the Bible, the olive branch is a symbol of peace, and in Greek mythology, the olive tree was a gift from the goddess Athena to the people of Athens. The fact that the garden is described as being "old and dark" adds to the sense of history and tradition that surrounds the olive tree.

The use of language in the poem is also noteworthy. Jarrell's use of imagery and metaphor is masterful, and he creates a sense of atmosphere and mood that is both powerful and evocative. The repetition of the phrase "heavy with fruit" is particularly effective, as it emphasizes the abundance and fertility of the garden.

In conclusion, The Olive Garden by Randall Jarrell is a beautiful and powerful poem that explores themes of life, death, transformation, and continuity. The imagery, symbolism, and language used in the poem are all masterful, and they combine to create a sense of atmosphere and mood that is both evocative and powerful. This is a poem that deserves to be read and appreciated by anyone who loves poetry and the beauty of the natural world.

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