The Gardener and Death

When we prune the rose garden, if we don't stay one-pointed and look back, there's Death, our Death.

The Gardener and Death

A Persian nobleman


This morning, my gardener pale from fright,

‘Master, one moment, please’, came running inside.


‘In yonder rose-bush I was cutting shoot after shoot

And when I turned and looked, grim Death there stood.


I was appalled and by the other way I fled,

But still descried his hand casting a threat.


Master, your horse, and with godspeed let me ride

To Ispahan, which I may reach ere fall of night.’


This afternoon – long after he had sped –

In the park of cedars, Death it was I met.


‘Why,’ thus I asked, while he stood waiting there,

‘Did you, this morn, give my servant such a scare?’


Smilingly came his reply: ‘No threat, for sure, it was

That sent your gardener fleeing. Surprised I was


To find, in early morn, here still at work a man

Who, this same evening, I am to take in Ispahan.’  [1]


The story or poem is about the Gardener and Death.

Not about a gardener, but about the Gardener, someone who is apparently familiar and known to us. We are told it by a noble man, a man of high standing, for whom the gardener cuts shoot after shoot in the rose garden. To a student on the spiritual path this seems very recognizable. Are we not also chosen to prune shoot after shoot in our lord’s rose garden?

So the story is about us. After all, that gardener is us.

When we prune the rose garden, if we don’t stay one-pointed and look back, there’s Death, our Death. That is, everything that binds our personality to the pursuits and allurements of this world, and makes it subservient to it. That worries us, we feel threatened. The natural response of us as individuals is to want to avoid the inevitable at all costs.

Later in the day, the nobleman encounters Death in the cedar park. The cedar park indicates the power of faith, like the cedars of Lebanon, with which the (wisdom) temple of Solomon is built. Then it appears that the nobleman is not afraid of Death, on the contrary, as an example of inner peace he enters into conversation with him. He keeps aloof from the gardener’s fate, nor does he get angry with Death. He is in neutral. Therefore we can see the nobleman as a symbol for the new (original) soul.

By heeding the impulse of the ‘old me’, the gardener cannot escape his fate.

If, with the awakening new soul consciousness, he had asked his lord for advice, he would have given him the strength and wisdom to accept his fate.

Rudolf Steiner says the following about the intervention of fate in a person’s life:

What lies in the destiny of man comes only in the tiniest part in ordinary consciousness, it rules for the most part in the unconscious. But it is precisely by revealing what comes through fate that it becomes apparent how something unconscious can be brought to consciousness. With every piece of his destiny that reveals itself to man, he brings something previously unconscious into the realm of consciousness.

By this ‘bringing into consciousness’, one becomes aware how in the life between birth and death destiny is not woven; one is reminded of the life between death and new birth,

Steiner adds. And he continues:

In discussing this reference of the human experience of oneself to the question of fate, one will be able to develop a good feeling for the relationship between the sensory and the spiritual. He who sees destiny reigning in man, he is already in the spiritual. For fate has nothing natural.

Pieter Nicolaas van Eyck (1887-1954)

P.N. van Eyck was an authoritative professor of Dutch language and literature at the University of Leiden for decades. He rose to fame as a poet and critic, and was an influential opinion-forming intellectual nationally. This poem is one of the best known in Dutch literary history. It comes from the Eastern Sufi tradition [2] (hence the reference to the Persian city of Isfahan) and was brought to Western Europe by the French poet, painter and cinematographer Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) through his novel Le Grand Écart (1923), translated into Dutch as De Grote Vergissing. Van Eyck subsequently made a variant of it that found a lot of resonance in our language area. The awakening of a new soul consciousness (here personified in the Persian nobleman) is a central theme in Van Eyck’s work.

When Van Eyck began to taste life, he threatened to sink into the earthly beauty as a ‘bay of never-satisfactory pleasures’ in which he initially searched in vain for essential values ​​that would also make ‘the sensuous sense’. For many, these are experiences that are recognizable by the poet afterwards as ‘the play of vanity’. But once he has rediscovered the soul, the ‘luminous’ or the ‘core soul of light’, he knows that there is no salvation outside of his own being. Then a lot changes. In his new vision of the world, it is illuminated and irradiated in a higher brightness. The poet sees through that “all things are connected in the Unity.” He finds much support for this in the mystical poems of John of the Cross in which unity with the deity is sung. God definitely takes center stage in the poet’s life:

God wants, in me, to be happy as a human being.

No longer is the world for him desolate and empty, chaos. On the contrary, it is filled with the “divine fullness.” The world is a manifestation-in-forms of God or with a famous saying of Spinoza: Deus sive natura [3] . From 1920 Van Eyck embraced Spinoza in his poetry. In the experience of the world as the form of God, the duality between earth and ‘heaven’ has definitively disappeared. The poet also overcomes his loneliness, now that the ego-consciousness becomes a unity-consciousness. By fully adopting these Spinozist views, he only reached full maturity in the poetic field.

That goes by trial and error. Then again he can testify to the ‘happiness of being one-in-all’, then again he must resignedly accept the disappointments of life on this earth. The latter results in a beautiful, often quoted verse in the collection ‘Inkeer’:

Whoever has found his suffering eternal necessity,

Asks no help (consolation) for his bruised humanity,

Can’t complain for the sorrow of the disconnected (=random),

wounds struck in his soul without pity,

from whose sharp pain his part of the world suffers.

In the last phase of his life, the poet arrives at a concrete description of man’s destiny in this life,

the self-realization of the soul, through the contemplation of the created world as the beautiful self-revelation of God in nature or world.

He nevertheless testifies to this ‘new life’ with reservations in the well-known lines:

However, this new life here on earth is not a completion;

No temporary home can hide the lack,

That only hooks on what abducts from here.

The soul longs, longs for that which abducts from here, for the “other side” where the blessed land is, and where the soul will attain its fullness, free from the hindrances which the body imposes on the soul. Yet – and this is the lasting contradiction with Van Eyck – the soul man does not have to go ‘there’, not to the ‘other side’, but ‘hither’ (here) as the title of his last collection reads. The poet’s message is very clear in this: complete the task that life imposes on you on earth, a task that you do not have to seek. Just wait and see ‘what life wants from you.

In this the soul finds rest and lives ‘blessed in this one thing, that is: this moment‘.



[1] English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009 from the Dutch, ‘De Tuinman en de Dood’ by P.N.van Eyck (1887-1954) who took the theme from Jean Cocteau’s ‘Le grand écart’.

Your aunt on a timber raft: The Gardener and Death (

[2] Jalaluddin Rumi, Masnavi

[3] ‘Deus sive natura’ Latin for ‘God in nature’ in B. Spinoza, Ethics


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Date: November 29, 2021
Author: Hans Rietveld en Dick van Niekerk (Netherlands)
Photo: Olga Boiarkina

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