Marvell and Post-Miltonic Poets

        Andrew Marvell is a post-Miltonic poet in a way shared by many poets in the period between Milton's death and PL's second edition in 1674, and the coming of the Romantics in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  Blake, Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge finally summoned up the poetic courage to "write the big poem," and to write poems that once again attempted to redefine, as Milton had done, the business of being a poet.  The Miltonic "great poet" was a prophet, in touch with the hidden sacred sources of knowledge about the past and future.  Blake appropriated that role directly, challenging even Milton's ability to understand his own poem with the famous argument that Satan was the true hero of Milton's epic, whether Milton knew it or not.  (See Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence for a very good, if sexist, reading of this phenomenon as a testing of younger poets by symbolic Oedipal combat with, an elder poet.)  Byron and Shelley shrugged off the epic challenge and began to redefine poets' roles as satiric cultural critics, free spirits who escaped the bounds of convention and inaugurated new ideas of human identity.  Coleridge and Wordsworth invented their own theories of poetic composition, the idea of "organic form" and the poet as a mediator between the divinity of Nature and the fallen civilization of Europe's Industrial Revolution.  As Milton had done, the Romantics fought for their aesthetic rights in the public press, and won, though not without wounds delivered by hostilie reviewers.  Marvell, by contrast, was a private poet who wrote for wealthy patrons and private friends, and whose works were only published posthumously by his housekeeper, a woman who styled herself "Mary Marvell" though no record of a marriage exists. As in the case of Shakespeare's sonnets, we have no more than scattered internal evidence about the poems' dates or occasions of composition.  Each one is best understood on its own, but Marvell clearly has read and been influenced by Donne, Herrick, Herbert, and Milton.  He might be understood as a window into a lost world of post-Civil-War retreat from public controversy into private meditations upon nature, love, faith, and poetry, itself.  He also influenced later poets he never would have dreamed of touching, including T. S. Eliot, Archibald Macleish, and Mark Strand.