I wrote this in a poetry class inspired by Voltaire’s dictum ‘You must cultivate your garden’. Over the years, these words have echoed back to me from the pages of novels, and moments of life. What Voltaire really meant when he wrote the scene in which Candide asserts that ‘he must cultivate his garden’ has been debated over centuries, whether it is a dejected seclusion from the harsh reality of the external world or a transition from dry philosophical rumination into a joyous reality where the sweetness of hard work keeps away vice, poverty, and boredom. The author’s cheeky, satirical tone leaves the ostensibly happy ending open to the reader’s personal interpretation as I have done here using the garden as a metaphor for a significant relationship and children.
At the end of the day, man or woman,
You must cultivate your garden.
With fancy designations, in corporate suits
You must still cultivate your garden.
Step out of luxury cars and branded boots,
You must work barefoot in your garden.
Take pride in your art and its pursuits,
Yet you must also attend to your garden.
In sunshine and storm, in rain and snow,
You must faithfully tend to your garden.
The answers you seek to the meaning of life
They are all there for you, in your garden.
The music that will soothe your soul
You will find it within your garden.
At the end of the day, Indu, madwoman,
You too must cultivate your garden.
A few months after I wrote the above lines in 2016, this poem by Helen Hoyt arrived as the poem of the day in my mailbox. Hoyt’s poem has unmistakable spiritual undertones but to me it was a reply from across the decades, a reassurance from the Universe. The gates have remained closed as yet, and as I type these lines I wonder if they would open one day and the sun and rain and dew will descend upon my garden.
Do not fear.
The garden is yours
And it is yours to gather the fruits
And every flower of every kind,
And to set the high wall about it
And the closed gates.
The gates of your wall no hand shall open,
No feet shall pass,
Through all the days until your return.
Do not fear.
Soon let it be, your coming!
For the pathways will grow desolate waiting,
The flowers say, “Our loveliness has no eyes to behold it!”
The leaves murmur all day with longing,
All night the boughs of the trees sway themselves with longing…
O Master of the Garden,
O my sun and rain and dew,
Helen Hoyt, The Garden