Poetic Tradition, Influence, and Innovation:
Marvell to Eliot to Macleish to Strand, a poetic "Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Andrew Marvell's rediscovery by Sir Herbert Grierson and T.S. Eliot was one of the great, revivifying forces which drove the Modernist movement (along with HD's re-reading of Sappho and Eliot's recovery of the Jacobean theater of Webster). Marvell's impact on American poets can be felt in the often-anthologized "You, Andrew Marvell" by Archibald Macleish (1892-1982), a poem that springs up from the matrix of "To His Coy Mistress" like an astronaut drunk on Herrick's sack with a thousand-mile stare. To read an appreciation of Macleish's poem by Mark Strand, who cites it as inspiring him to become a poet, click here. The indeterminacy of the poem's elliptical last line, and its desert bleakness, also suggests Yeats, and Williams' emphasis on the poem's manifestation of concrete moments of reality (plums, wheelbarrows, etc.). Strand loves the poem's central figure, someone lying "here face down beneath the sun" at noon but imagining and awaiting onrushing night. However, when read with Marvell's "Mistress," it seems astonishing that Macleish's persona urges nothing but consciousness of the planet's revolution into night, as if the sap had gone out of life and all that was left was the endlessly seeing eye. Or so it seems to me . . . as my own era's poets come to terms with the conditions of our existence with tools whose use was taught them by their predecessors in the tradition.