Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 October 2020
Andrew Marvell's “The Garden” foregrounds the role of subtraction in aesthetic creation and seeks to imagine sameness independent of metaphor, similarity, and relation. The poem employs a subtractive poetics that challenges modern presuppositions about the networked, connected essence of literature. It also points to the critical limitations of recent accounts of surface and formalist reading, both of which still present poetry as productive, especially insofar as it heightens attention. For Marvell, in contrast, the value of lyric resides in the ways in which it challenges the dialectical notion of creative destruction and, instead, conceives of an annihilation that does not transform into its more respectable opposite. “The Garden,” then, shows that we and our students are overburdened with connection—that there is too much relation, not too little—and that the function of poetry is to dismantle these links in the interest of creativity.