The Garden of Cyrus

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The Garden of Cyrus, or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered, is a discourse written by Sir Thomas Browne. It was first published in 1658, along with its diptych companion, Urn-Burial. In modern times it has been recognised as Browne's major literary contribution to Hermetic wisdom.


The Garden of Cyrus is Browne's Neo-Platonic and Neo-Pythagorean vision of the interconnection of art, nature and the Universe via numerous symbols, primarily the number five, and the quincunx pattern along with its variants, including the figure X and lattice design. Its slender but compressed pages of imagery, symbolism and associative thought are evidence of Sir Thomas Browne's complete understanding of a fundamental quest of Hermetic philosophy, namely proof of the wisdom of God and advocation of intelligent design.


With its near vertiginous procession of visual imagery and objects, its constant reinforcement of how God geometrizes (via the symbols of the number five and quincunx pattern), developed from hastily jotted notes in a fractured, breathless, style, The Garden of Cyrus is one of the most idiosyncratic of all literary works. A critical examination of draught manuscripts reveals that the rapid procession of visual images from art and nature in Browne's 1658 discourse were written with uncharacteristic haste, as if the physician-philosopher's imagination were conjuring evidence of the quincunx pattern faster than his pen could possibly write. Cyrus may therefore be considered an early example of stream of consciousness and even of altered consciousness writing. Not unlike Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, or the science fiction of H. G. Wells, The Garden of Cyrus invites the reader to share with its author in a fantastic perspective upon life and reality.

There are two major reasons however why The Garden of Cyrus is not as well known as its diptych companion, Urn-Burial. Firstly, due to an editorial and publishing trend, totally against Browne's artistic intentions, it has been omitted from many nineteenth and twentieth century editions. Because it has been little understood, it has thus been frequently omitted in many publications. Even modern editions from highly reputable publishers, such as Penguin New Directions in 2006 and New York Review Books in May 2012 continue to perpetuate this error.

The second reason for The Garden of Cyrus being little-known is the sheer difficulty of the text itself, which has baffled all but the most determined readers. Stylistically, the discourse veers abruptly from passages of sublime purple prose to crabbed note-book jottings. It also alludes to what is now considered to be obscure learning, namely Hermeticism and the esoteric in general.

Though difficult to read, The Garden of Cyrus remains an important work of English literature, primarily because it is incontrovertible evidence that as late as the mid-seventeenth century, isolated individuals throughout Europe continued to subscribe to the tenets of Hermetic philosophy.

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