The Garden of Adonis is a fascinating image that, despite being Spenser’s own devising, seems to fit right in with the classic Roman mythologies. The Garden is where souls are fashioned and nurtured until the Gardener “with fleshly weedes would them attire.” They would go to Earth, and when they died they would return to the garden to sit and wait to be given a body again. The “Gardin” was as “faire a place, as Nature can devize,” and is analogous to the biblical Eden, in which “[God] put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground‑‑trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:8-9). Similarly, the Garden is the “the first seminarie/ Of all things, borne to live and die.” The metaphor comparing babies to plants is one that recurs throughout the allegorical landscape. When the souls are ready to be sent out, they are let out by the porter Genius through the gold gate, symbolizing innocence and purity, and are let back in through the iron gate, symbolizing age and rust and moral and physical decay. It is interesting that iron plays such a big role in the Garden of Adonis, as it is a common superstition that faeries cannot stand the touch of cold iron. The gates keep out anything that might hurt the souls except for one mortal foe: Time. Time’s influence in the Garden is somewhat questionable, for though he “does mow the flowring herbes and goodly things/ All all their glory to the ground downe flings,” his control over the seasons doesn’t exist, and time itself does not act in the usual manner. When “continuall spring, and harvest there” both meet “at one time,” you know that something isn’t quite right with the lfow of time.
The reason for the name Garden of Adonis is quite obvious. Adonis, Venus’ boy toy, “in secret he does ly,” waiting for Venus to come and ravish him whenever she’s in the mood. Plus, the allegorical image of Venus and Adonis shadows Book III at every turn, with direct references showing up many times. Venus is the goddess of love and fertility, of generation, and the Garden is the actual place of generation for the beings of the world.
The Garden of Adonis’ idea is an early western idea of reincarnation. The idea of souls springing forth from “chaos” and then returning to the garden is very similar to Buddhist and other religions’ beliefs. This idea, along with other Spenser allegories (such as the immaculate conception imagery), could have been very dangerous for Spenser, but he avoided persecution by treading carefully around such imagery and by putting it in a fictional work that was not widely circulated at the time.
This Garden is a brilliant and fantastical myth that could easily sit amongst the greatest of Roman stories. It is an interesting thought that when we die, our souls will just flit up to a near-paradise to sit and wait for our next earthly form.