Layers of influence on an individual’s response to place

Both Alain De Botton’s The Art of Travel and Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘The Garden’ successfully represent the many layers of influence on an individuals response to a landscape. They particularly reflect this through the influence of the individuals prior attitudes and experiences on their later responses.

Alain De Botton represents the many layers of influence on his response to the natural landscape as he has a real experience of a London neighbourhood park. In representing this influence, he metaphorically compares the grass to a ‘forbidding arena’, highlighting his existing emotions of despair, finding ‘ready encouragement in the sodden dark-red brick buildings’ which ultimately act as this initial influence in how he will come to perceive the landscape. However his real experience of this ‘desolate spread of mud and water’ acts as an additional layer of influence that prompts him to having a remembered experience in the same park that provides him with a similar sense of the connection he has ‘as much at home in the world as in my own bedroom’. It is the fact that he had this initial experience that influences how he now responds, with despair, but is also what prompts him to have the remembered experience of how beautiful it was. Within this remembered experience De Botton recalls that he had “let (his) bare feet slip from (his) shoes to caress the grass”. The tactile imagery represents the sensory nature of the real experience that for him allows for a profound transformative experience into a remembered one, as he ‘(recalls) how…the intense heat of the previous summer’ had invited a ‘sense of freedom and expansiveness’. His tone of delight ultimately reflects the transformative nature of the influence of the physical experience to a more emotional one. Ultimately it is the memory of what the park was like ‘the previous summer’ that allows him to respond with this heightened sense of enlightenment and connection to the natural landscape.

Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘The Garden’ similarly represents the many layers of influence on his response to the garden through reinforcing the capacity of the garden to engender a transcendental response from the individual. The personas initial relationship with the physical landscape is represented through the gustatory image of the ‘luscious clusters of the vine Upon my mouth do crush their wine’ along with the repetition of ‘my’ which highlights the persona’s sensory experience of the real and physical landscape of the garden. This physical relationship is further heightened as the persona personifies ‘the nectaren and curious peach’ as they ‘reach’ for him which ultimately reinforces the influence of the mutual curiosity that the relationship is based upon. The influence of these physical sensory experiences ultimately engender his response of a meditative imaginary experience of a landscape that he moves his mind to, as he personifies his mind and metaphorically compares it to ‘that ocean’ that transcends this physical experience into an imagined one. That his experience of the garden has allowed him an enlightenment and understanding that he didn’t have prior to. Marvell states that these ‘other worlds’ are ‘annihilating all that’s made’ where the present participle verb ‘annihilating’ reinforces his idea of the superiority of these imagined ‘green’ landscapes over anything in the physical or ‘made’ world. This ultimately highlights his representation of the many influences of the physical landscape in engendering a strong spiritual response from the individual.

Alain De Botton represents the many layers of influence upon his experiences by depicting the influence of his real experience of the landscape in Ambleside as an initial experience that later engenders an emotional response from him. He observes ‘a clump of trees’ which he personifies as not seeming ‘to care that the world was old’, where the initial influence is his anxiety that he wishes to have ‘restored by their smell.’ The olfactory and tactile imagery of this desire is ultimately reflecting his response in what he hopes to gain from this experience. But this only has a resonating influence on his life as he sits in a traffic jam and has a remembered experience of Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’ and of the ‘trees’ that ‘came back to (him)…asserting themselves in (his) consciousness’. The present participle ‘asserting’ highlights the resulting connection that remains strong and continuous. Whilst in personifying the trees, De Botton is representing a previously unrealised relationship with the landscape, one which now offers him a metaphoric ‘ledge against which (he) could rest (his) thoughts’. He is representing his emotional response to the landscape by acknowledging this alteration of mood from one of ‘anxiety’ to feeling he has a ‘reason to be alive’ simply through the influence of his initial experience. In further recalling this experience, he personifies the trees ‘whose names I didn’t know but which I could see…’ where the verb ‘see’ highlights that the trees have become the catalyst for his experience in memory. In moving to this remembered experience, De Botton is reinforcing the influence of both his prior emotions and the initial experience that have engendered this emotional response from him.

Andrew Marvell continues to represent these layers of influence on his response to the garden through expressing the spiritual elevation that results from the influence of his physical experiences. The para-rhyme in ‘foot’ and ‘root’ acts as an initial influence in firmly anchoring the persona’s subsequent spiritual elevation to the physical features of and his experience within the garden. Immersed in these features, he metaphorically casts ‘the body’s vest aside’ so as to allow for the freedom of the soul influenced by the physical experience of the garden. Marvell’s choice of the verb ‘glide’ as ‘(his) should into the boughs does glide’ reinforces a smooth transition from earthly contemplation to a form of spiritual elevation. That at the ‘foot’ of the fountain or ‘root’ of the tree and in this state of deep contemplation influenced by ‘this delicious solitude’ in the natural world, he is removing the body’s vest so that what remains is a spiritual elevation of the soul. He continues to respond to the influence of these physical elements by comparing the soul to ‘a bird’ that ‘whets, and combs its silver wings’. The sibilance expresses the serenity of the soul once exposed from the ‘body’s vest’, suggesting the influence of the spiritually elevating connection that the persona has with the landscape. The ‘silver wings’ and the ‘various light’ of the soul possesses visual and symbolic connotations of enlightenment that have resulted from this physical experience. That the physical relationship with the garden engenders a strong spiritual response from the persona.

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