Retiring to the Garden of Eden

Thomas Cole, “The Garden of Eden”


Julia and I arrived yesterday in Sewanee, Tennessee, the place where I grew up and where we hope to spend our remaining years. We arrived exhausted, having spent weeks boxing and disposing. On Saturday and Sunday we finally loaded everything on a U-Haul and headed south, stopping at a cousin’s wedding on the way. Driving a 24-foot truck itself took a lot out of me, but when I stepped out into the 18-acre mountaintop wood that surrounds my mother’s house, all the stresses fell away. It was as though I was Milton’s Adam waking up in the Garden of Eden on that first morning:

Now Morn, her rosy steps in the eastern clime
Advancing, sowed the earth with orient pearl,
When Adam waked, so customed; for his sleep
Was aery-light, from pure digestion bred,
And temperate vapors bland, which the only sound
Of leaves and fuming rills, Aurora’s fan,
Lightly dispersed, and the shrill matin song
Of birds on every bough…

To be honest, I didn’t think of this particular passage—that came later–but of waking up on the first day of summer vacation when I was a child and letting the fact that there was no school wash over me. In Tennessee the schools let out in the middle of May so the breeze and the temperatures were the same as I remembered them. All seemed fresh and possible then and all seems fresh and possible now.

While Milton’s Eden may surpass my mother’s wood, they share in common an untouched quality. The poet, articulating the philosophy that goes into the English garden (as opposed to more the more structured French garden), makes the point that no human intervention has been necessary to make everything perfect:

But rather to tell how, if Art could tell,
How from that sapphire fount the crisped brooks,
Rolling on orient pearl and sands of gold,
With mazy error under pendant shades
Ran nectar, visiting each plant, and fed
Flowers worthy of Paradise, which not nice Art
In beds and curious knots, but Nature boon
Poured forth profuse on hill, and dale, and plain,
Both where the morning sun first warmly smote
The open field, and where the unpierced shade
Embrowned the noontide bowers: Thus was this place
A happy rural seat of various view…

And so the next stage begins.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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