Andrew Marvell, Various Short Poems, the
"Mower and the Garden" group, "An Horatian Ode: Upon Cromwell's Return from
Genre: metrically experimental lyrics, many in
the pastoral mode, and a "balanced" or "Horatian" ode describing its
subject's strengths and weaknesses.
Form: Marvell's most common strategy is alternation of short and
long lines, like the tetrameter-trimeter groups in "The Coronet" or the
pentameter-tetrameter pairs in "The Mower Against Gardens." He also likes
tetrameter couplets ("To His Coy Mistress," "Bermudas," "A
Dialogue Between the Soul and Body," and "The Nymph Complaining"), which
anticipate the pentameter couplet ("heroic couplet") whose measured balance
becomes the hallmark of the next century's poetry. The "Horatian Ode"
alternates tetrameter and trimeter couplets in which the first pair sets up a situation
which the second, shorter pair tartly comments upon. Sometimes the sentiment is
admiration (ll. 27-8, 43-4, 75-6) and at others, ambiguous truth (ll. 99-10) or outright
criticism (ll. 15-16, 119-120).
Characters: Marvell's most famous personae are Damon, the hapless mower in
love with Juliana and hostile to gardens, the sentimentally grieving "Nymph,"
and his mute but memorable "Coy Mistress." His own persona is more
ambiguous, masked by its playful use of langauge and standard poetic conventions.
Marvell presents us with an interesting literary reflection of the "binary
paradoxes" (my term) inflicted upon English authors by the Civil War (1642-8), the
parliamentary dictatorship (1649-60), and the Restoration of the monarchy under
Charles II (1660-85). Are English gardens good or bad? Have humans
ruined nature, or worse, the New World, or have they "discovered" and "improved
it"? Is the poetic art good for religious subjects or does it ruin them?
Is love Marvell had worshipped in both the Church of England
and the Roman Christian church, and had written to support both the royalists
and the parliamentarians. To those who would accuse him of lacking
principles, we should ask how they would explain his defense of Milton after the
blind poet was imprisoned and near execution by the Restoration government.
Like many people who live intimately with civil war, Marvell had friends on both
sides of the conflict, and to be fair, the conflict was less a mere governmental
dispute than a shift in culture
from medieval to modern mentality.
He also is a good example of a
post-Miltonic poet, one who seemingly measures his gifts and ambitions
against the epic poet and finds himself lacking the will and skills to challenge
his immediate predecessor.
is a religious poem that we cannot date due to its late
publication by Mary "Marvell" Palmer (see #1 below), but which may
have been influenced by George Herbert's poems (pub. 1633). It also may reflect both poets' common response to the
problem of faith in a nation divided by wars over religious observance (among other
causes). Compare its use of "wreaths" as a synonym for poems with Donne's
"pretty rooms" ("Canonization") and the threat that the persona's
subtle corruption by art may require God's violent attack to purge it (Holy Sonnets,
"Hymn to God My God in Sickness").
"Bermudas" is a framed poem, purporting to have been overheard across
the water from a small boat being rowed by English sailors. First, acknowledge that
any tunes sung by English sailors of the period doubtless would have had an earthier
subject or, at least, a less smooth meter. However, you can find chanteys that
praise the bounty of the New World and the freedom of the seas in contrast with the Old
World's conflicts and familiar economic tangles. Compare this with Ralegh's
"Discovery" for a similar sense of this land as a New Eden, a place "Safe
from storms, and prelate's rage" (11).
- What is the moral effect of poetry?
- What debts does the author of a poem incur?
"A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Body" is an old medieval motif
which reminds us of Everyman, almost a piece of closet theatre, in which the
stanzas, alternating, present the view of human life from these two radically differing
points of view. Note the potential for comparison with "Coronet" and
(hence) with Donne's religious poems and those of Herbert.
- Given this similarity, why does Marvell cast the poem as a song overheard, not his,
though of "An holy and a cheerful note"(38)?
- Does the dialogue sound sympathetic or hostile to the Body's situation?
Especially note the introduction of the notion that ensoulment, and life in society,
constitutes a kind of fall into construction doomed to failure (ll. 41-44). Marvell
does much more with this in the "Mower" poems. The Norton footnote
(1687) has been changed from the 6th edition note which says "The
outsize last stanza, the inconclusive ending, and the fact that the body has
the last word, all suggest that the poem as we have it is incomplete"
(6th edition, 1418).
"The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn" has two background
allusions, the first to the classics: Virgil's Aeneid VII, in which the Trojans are
brought to open war with the Latins when Aeneas' son, Ascanius, while hunting, slays a
stag which he does not realize is the tame pet of Silvia, daughter
of the warden of the king's game. For the
passage in question (translated by John Dryden), click here.
The other allusive reference is the (female) soul's lament for the slain Innocent
who was crucified by Man. In both instances, men are "wild" when they are
untrue (see Sylvio's behavior, ll. 33-36) but the garden is another form of
"wilderness" (74) in which natural relations are properly observed. Her
behavior in ll. 93-110 can be compared with a medieval saint's worship, including the
relics and reliquary she constructs to hold them.
"To His Coy Mistress" is (with Herrick's "To Maidens to Make Much
of Time" and "Corinna's Gone A-Maying") one of the era's most famous expressions of the carpe diem
motif. Note the comparisons one might make with Donne's and Jonson's poetic flights
of fancy regarding the lover's claims about the vast world's riches, and the cosmic scale
of time. The phrase "But at my back I always here" shows up in Eliot's
"The Wasteland," with a slightly different sound accompanying the persona's
observation. Note that, like many Marvell poems, this one unfolds in stanzas that
work like verse paragraphs, opening with a hypothetical exposition of timeless love,
changing to the dreadful effects of time (see Spenser and Shakespeare), and turning the
threat into the motive for reversing the effect of "devouring time" ("Now
let us sport us while we may, / And now, like amorous birds of prey, / Rather at once our
time devour / Than languish in his slow-chapped power."). His closing three
couplets are a triumph of the metaphysical conceit's power to represent the human
condition in violent, memorable, and witty metaphor. Wylie Sypher often uses
this poem as an example of the peculiar restlessness and disturbed proportions by which he
defines "Mannerist" style in English literature (e.g., Four Stages of
Renaissance Style 118-9). There he says "Marvell's sharp but sustained
attack [upon conventional Renaissance poetic formulas] . . . is like the loose and
surprising adjustment and counter-adjustment of figure to figure in Parmigianino's
paintings, with their evidence of subjective stress . . . [which] relies upon an involved
energy, not a closed design [which produces] equilibriums [which] are always momentary and
undependable" (119). To test Sypher's visual metaphor, compare the poem's
stretching of perspective and explosive shifts of point of view to the structure of
"Madonna dal Collo Lungo" (1534-40).
"The Definition of Love" attaches Donne's navigation motifs to an
allegory about the birth of Love out of Despair. The poem addresses love forbidden
by social inequality. Might there be a pattern here?
"The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers" is like a proud
parent showing you photographs of the Blessed Babe's first booties. I cannot defend
its wisdom, but its structure contains an amazing resemblence to a stanzaic structure
called the "bob and wheel" which is famous for the medieval poem, "Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight" (see 158-210 in the Norton 7th edition.). The penultimate line of each stanza
is the dimeter "bob" and the pentameter line that follows rounds out the stanza
by resolving its stage in the poem's argument.
"The Mower Against Gardens" is the first of the "Mower"
sequence, an attack on the sophistications of human invention and a praise of Nature's
proper mixture vs. the hybrids' "Forbidden mixtures" and "nutriment"
that changes our kind. The poem's disgust with the freaks produced by science is
balanced with the praise of Nature's "wild and fragrant innocence" (34).
- Why do you suppose they changed their opinion? With which
reading of the poem's irregularities do you agree?
"Damon the Mower" exploits the figure of paradox in eleven 8-line
stanzas of tetrameter couplets. The mistress's "cruelty," refusing to
return Damon's love, distracts the mower until his scythe does to him what he did to the
grass. The figure of love as a wound also is used--it could be compared with
many a Petrarchan conceit, but here it is combined with the pastoral mode.
Think about about the powerful nostalgia this poem reflects. What
"The Mower to the Glowworms" continues to evoke the distracting and
destructive effects of love by wishing the glowworms might show the Mower the way back to
himself, which he has lost in his delirium.
"The Mower's Song" continues the "mower mown" paradox of
"Damon" within a more complex stanza structure. Note that, throughout the
poem, Damon is unable to simply name the deed by which he makes his living ("to
mow") and instead employs circumlocution.
- Do you see a Herrick connection here?
"The Garden" returns to the praise of idealized Nature
and contrasts it
with the fallen state of things under human domination. The quest to re-imagine the
un-fallen world leads the poet to a kind of ekstasis in which his language becomes
almost nonsense: what exactly would one be thinking were one to think "a green
thought in a green shade" (48). This return to Eden leads the persona to
imagine God-the-Gardener and Adam as the first Gardener's helper. This has direct
relevance for Milton, who was Marvell's mentor and predecessor as Cromwell's Latin
"An Horatian Ode: Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland" sets up the
praise of the de-facto dictatorial ruler of England in terms that allow Marvell to put his
deeds in context with the inexorable political realities which the Parliamentary cause
hoped to outwit. Most impressive, for this political climate, are Marvell's ability
to praise Charles I's conduct in defeat and to caution against English patriotic fervor
after the end of the Irish uprising. The poem is a continuous effort to balance
current appearances against the message of time and the poetic tradition.
["Upon Appleton House: To My Lord Fairfax":] this "country house
poem" is not assigned, but you may want to read it if you are
interested in the process by which poets changed from writing as servants of
wealthy aristocratic patrons (i.e., willing to support artists who, in turn,
embellish their households with art) to writing as entertaining instructors of
mass audiences of patrons (i.e., those who buy from bookstores).
Click here for a brief guide to a poem that
is, itself, a guide to a huge estate.
Click here for the Marvell Society Newsletter (3:1 [Summer 2011])
containing an article by Mark Heumann, a Marvell fan who visited the site of
the Fairfax estate and brings us up to date on the current situation there.
Hint: the house is gone, long gone. What might Marvell have thought about
that, one wonders?
- Why should he be unable to name the act?
- And why should the approach of the Beloved seem like Godzilla coming through the
Issues and Research Sources:
- Most of Marvell's lyric works were never published in his lifetime, when he was known as
an author of political satire attacking religious intolerance and political
corruption. He seems to have been an intensely private man while
writing these poems, which the Norton editors estimate to have been composed
between 1650 and 1652, during his employment by Lord Fairfax as tutor to his
young daughter at Nunappleton House. The estate house poem to that very
place, dedicated specifically to "my Lord Fairfax," is perhaps the most
private of all the poems, meant by the poet for the lord's eyes alone.
T.S. Eliot once wrote (in "The Three Voices of the Poet") that lyric poems
were meant to be "overheard" by their readers. In this case, the
"overhearing" effect is quite powerful. What characteristic stylistic
traits do you see in the poems that might enable you to detect a Marvell poem
among a group of others? Look especially at attempts to find balance by
looking at both sides of a question (gardens are good/gardens are bad; the
soul is trapped by the body/the body is haunted by the soul; Oliver Cromwell
was a heroic general/Oliver Cromwell was a destructive disaster, etc.).
What effect has the Civil War (1642-9) had upon this poet, born in 1621 and
working for a Parliamentary army general who resigned his commission in
protest against the most extreme Puritan policies and acts?
- Marvell's works would never have affected later poets had
not a rather unusual chain of events brought them to public attention after
his death. His housekeeper, Mary Palmer, sent his manuscript works
to press under a Preface she signed "Mary Marvell," suggesting she was his
wife. The Marvell canon remained in disarray for two centuries until Herbert
Grierson's annotated edition of Marvell's poems (1912) and the critical study,
Lyrics (1921). These attracted the attention of T.S. Eliot, whose essay on
Marvell brought him to the attention of American critics, as well as continuing a
reappraisal of metaphysical poets' strategies.
Contrast this with the effects of the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, which never
went out of print and continued to have enormous influence in nearly every generation
until the mid-twentieth century.
Marvell's relationship to the Puritan and Royalist causes seems to have been extremely
complex. The library does not have the best political biography, but it is available
in the area (H. Kelliher, Andrew Marvell: Poet and Politician ).
- Might unknown poets constitute a potentially revolutionary force against the reigning
authorities, or are they unknown for good reasons?
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