I can’t stop reading and re-reading this poem…

May 30, 2010 at 1:41 pm (Anglophilia, books, Poetry)

Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy. 1844–1881


I made another garden, yea,
For my new Love:
I left the dead rose where it lay
And set the new above.
Why did my Summer not begin?
Why did my heart not haste?
My old Love came and walk’d therein,
And laid the garden waste.

She enter’d with her weary smile,
Just as of old;
She look’d around a little while
And shiver’d with the cold:
Her passing touch was death to all,
Her passing look a blight;
She made the white rose-petals fall,
And turn’d the red rose white.

Her pale robe clinging to the grass
Seem’d like a snake
That bit the grass and ground, alas!
And a sad trail did make.
She went up slowly to the gate,
And then, just as of yore,
She turn’d back at the last to wait
And say farewell once more.


I had never heard of this poet or this poem until I encountered them yesterday in Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry.

I think I will not give too much away if I say that these lines are read out at a funeral. It is an inappropriate  choice, to say the least. The effect it produces is shock, both to the listeners and to myself, the reader.

I had been listening to the audiobook, beautifully read by Bianca Amato. As soon as I got home, I ran upstairs to the computer and found the text of this astonishing, profoundly disturbing poem.

More later on Audrey Niffenegger’s equally astonishing novel, after it has been discussed by the Literary Ladies. And I really am dying – perhaps I’d do better to say, eager – to talk about this book.

Her Fearful Symmetry is much concerned with London’s famous Highgate Cemetery, burial place of Karl Marx, among others.

The novel’s title caused me to revisit  ” The Tyger” by William Blake:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night :
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears :
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night :
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Audrey Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I have not read, but may do now.


A final word on Her Fearful Symmetry and “I Made Another Garden:” It is not so easy to banish the dead.


Audrey Niffenegger


  1. kathy d. said,

    I’m not into reading books about death or the dead, but I add one point here: George Eliot is also buried at Highgate Cemetary.

  2. Joanne S-L said,

    I am very eager to hear more of your thoughts on this book. I guess I can be patient a little longer. Thanks for the Highgate info-fascinating!

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