The Secret Garden
Hello. I needed a break from all my writing, so I thought I’d read a book other than poetry. I went through my bookcases, and came across a book I’d bought a couple years ago, The Secret Garden, a classic English book, written in 1911 by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the book just reeled me in. It’s not a long book, 173 pages, but I took my time reading it, savoring it (why am I thinking about chocolate bonbons right now?). It was meant for children, around the age of ten and twelve, but I quickly found that this old man found it just as charming, appealing and without being sentimental, a beautiful picture of the world. The star of the book is the secret garden, which a little hard-hearted sour-faced unhealthy girl, living with her parents in India, and given to tantrums, getting whatever she wanted. So she’s very spoiled and unpleasant to be around. Her parents don’t have time for, or interest in, let alone love for her, so they hand her over to an Indian servant who caters to Mary’s every wish. But then an especially virulent form of cholera comes through, killing everybody, including her Ayah and her parents. She hides in fear, is forgotten, and when discovered finally, is shipped back to England to live with her Uncle in Yorkshire, who is rarely around. But she hears about a secret garden, locked up these past ten years after the untimely death of her uncle’s wife. Naturally, being told she’s not to do something makes her want to do it, so after various machinations, she finds the key, the hidden door to the garden, and everything takes off in the most wonderful way. She meets a boy, Dickon, who makes friends with wild animals and plants, and teaches her all kinds of things. And eventually, she begins to improve, physically as well as emotionally. There is also a boy, presumed to be a dying, half-witted boy, Colin, son of the Uncle (which makes him and Mary first cousins), who is a spoiled brat, given to terrorizing the palace staff and because he is the heir to the huge estate, they are bound to obey his every command, all of which are delivered most imperiously.
I won’t tell you any more of the story–you really should read the rest on your own. But I like the metaphor of the garden, the children not being idealized: they get angry, they get bossy, they become friends, their little hard hearts are softened, and they begin to understand something about themselves and others. (Dickon and his family are the only ones who don’t have hard hearts.) And they learn the best kind of love–not romantic; they’re too young for that–love for the world and all that is on it. Clearly, that’s the moral of the story, but it’s not at all didactic or commanding: they learn it the best way, by digging and planting and getting fresh air and taking care of the world, the whole world, not just the humans. And the broken-hearted Uncle, moping about Europe? I won’t tell you how it ends, but it works beautifully.
As I said at the beginning, this is a book for children. Maybe. But it works magic on older folks too, including this one. (I’m ready to break into a Yorkshire way of talking.) And maybe that’s because we were all children once, and we had to learn to love as well. And as I savored my way through this book, I realized it’s a lesson we must continue to develop, tend to all our lives. And you see that in the characters, ranging from the children to old men like Ben Weatherstaff, one of the gardeners, who can also talk to animals.
I am so excited about this book that I want everyone to read it. And if you have younger children, I think one of the best things you could do is read this aloud, a few short chapters at a time, to your children. And maybe even someone who can’t get around well anymore, and would like to be read to. I’m a poet, and I think poetry is meant to be read aloud. And people like to hear stories. Thanksgiving is coming up, when people come together. What do they do besides feast and watch football (or soccer, which I much prefer)? They tell stories. Family stories, school stories, friend stories, dreams, wishes . . .
I’m so excited. If you can’t tell by now, I’ll end with it: I LOVE THIS BOOK.