The Paradoxical Allusions to the Garden of Eden as Indicative of the Transient Nature of Paradise in Anne Finch's "from The Petition for Absolute Retreat"
November 29, 1999
In the poem "from The Petition for Absolute Retreat" Anne Finch appeals to Fate for a re-creation of a kind of Garden of Eden for her own purposes of escape. Through a series of paradoxes, Finch illustrates the transient nature of such a Paradise and foreshadows its inevitable demise.
Her paradise impenetrable retreat, or one not open to invasion, because of its "paths so lost, and trees so high." (4) The paths are meant to deter the invaders, but wouldn't she be equally lost in them? While lost on a winding path, there is no real liberty to be found. You are not free to go where you want because you don't know where you are or in what direction to go. Similarly, the high trees in the image remind me of bars on a topless cage or posts that form a fence. Here, the voice of the poem, in pursuit of liberty, cages herself.
A distinct impression of a temporary suspension of time is given by the image of "Grapes so crowded up/ As breaking through there native cup." (38-39) It's only a matter of time until the grapes burst through their skin. They can't last in its current state; the transient nature of the grapes' ripeness represents the impermanence of the retreat that Finch has conjured up.
In the fourth staze the voice rejects fashion and seeks clothing only for protection from the elements. "For my garments: let them be/ What may with the time agree;/ Warm, when Phoebus does retire,/ And is ill-supplied by fire" (48-51) The lines then shift immediately to spring and summer, skipping over winter in one or two lines. The stanza does not then describe a complete temporal cycle. Phoebus retires for only one line and then the stanza moves from a presumably warm May to the description sun rays about which she says, "When they do too fiercely beat,/ Let me find some close retreat,/ Where they have no passage made/ Through those windings, and that shade." (103-106) The voice of the poem has therefore moved from hiding from society in the first stanza to hiding from the sun in the fourth. Fall and winter are not described but rapidly glossed over; the passage of time and the seasons as they naturally occur are therefore distorted.
The allusion to Adam and Eve's naked splendor in this stanza are readily apparent. In Genesis, it says, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." (2:25) This passage is echoed in the imagery of the "Birds [that] have dropped their winter plumes," (55) and "the lily full-displayed." (56) Conceptually, this makes the "hiding" of this and the first stanza anachronistic. Adam and Eve hide only after they have eaten the fruit because in doing so they acquire the knowledge that they are naked and they hide from God because they are ashamed. By eating the fruit, which leads to the end of their time in the Garden of Eden, they learn to be ashamed and, in a way, seek the windings and the shade of poem.