Marvell

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) poet, pamphleteer, and politician, was born on the eve of Easter, March 31, 1621. His sudden death was recorded as the result of an overdose of opium given as an antidote to his ague. Never disproven was the rumor that the death was suspicious - poison? Very little is recorded of his tastes and preferences: lonely or just alone, public or private life? One critic referred to him as “the British Aristides” although I could find no particular connection other than the fact that Aristides is also someone we know very little about with the exception of his Apology. This would be a something for a student to explore. Marvell served as Latin secretary in the foreign office and later as the MP representing the seaport city of Hull. His one life-long friend was John Milton. In a letter of recommendation Milton wrote "(Marvell) hath spent four years abroad, in Holland, France, Italy, and Spain...gaining four languages; he is a scholar and well-read in the Latin and Greek authors."

Marvell responded with equal praise:

“Pardon me, mighty poet, nor despise
My causeless, yet not impious surmise,
But I am now convinced, and none will dare
With thy labours to pretend a share.
Thou has not miss’d one thought that could be fit,
And all that was improper dost omit;
So that no room is here for writers left,
But to detect their ignorance or theft.

Thou sing’st with so much gravity and ease;
And above human flight dost soar aloft,
With plume so strong, so equal, and so soft:
The bird named from that paradise you sing
So never flags, but always keeps on wing.” On Milton’s Paradise Lost

The paper trail is scant on Marvell. Letters that he sent were found to be too dangerous to be kept and pamphlets were carelessly discarded i.e. given “to the pastry-maid to put under pie-bottoms.” He is described as “of a middling stature, pretty strong-set, roundish face, cherry cheeked, hazel eye, brown hair.” One visiting the National Portrait Gallery in London or the Wilberforce Museum, can attest to this description. He was a member of the “metaphysical” sect of poets where potentials for the metaphor were unlimited. See Glossary. metaphysical poets. He was educated at Trinity College which was at that time “the fountain-head of metaphysical poetry.

His best poems were pastoral spawned, nature driven. At Nunappleton, in the service of Lord Appleton, he wrote his best work “not lively vers d’occasion, but genuine poetry.” For the most part, he is regarded as eclectic; his poetry much like his politics not favoring any particular style. For example To His Coy Mistress is classic metaphysical; An Horatian Ode is definitely classical; while Upon Appleton House leans toward the Puritan Platonists; others reflecting attitude towards war, honor, and duty are definitely in the style of the Cavaliers. When we look at form and meter they also vary. There is the allegorical tale of Clorinda and Damon. There was one serious work, An Horatian Ode. The poem Mourning is comprised a long string of similes. Also the triptych or trilogy of the “mower” poems. And although he was fond of satire, it was satire to amuse not abuse. For example in his trilogy Mower poems he used the mower as a symbol for destruction, the killing of the grass, that’s pretty benign. For use of words there is the spondee to slow down time as in To His Coy Mistress - “To walk, and pass our long love’s day. The verbal trochee:

“But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.”

He also used the dialogue for Marriage of Lord Fauconberg, Ametas and Thestylis, The Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure, and Body and Soul.

More recently there has been some attention given to Marvell’s use, better yet, overuse of the word “green.” If interested look at Carl Jung who pioneered the field of color psychology and the role of alchemy and properties of colors. Again see: Glossary.metaphysical poets.
What I find more interesting are his use of oppositional nouns for example: desire vs virtue in Clorinda and Damon (Clorinda representing desire of the body and Damon the virtuous), tolerance vs monarchist in The Coronet, reflection vs philosophy in Horatian Ode, power vs justice in To the King, contemplation vs. activity, nature vs intervention. In A Dialogue between the Soul and Body senses of body vs senses of soul. Throughout all his writing we find conformist vs non-conformist.

Marvell lived most of his private life in an English house, with an English garden and in a mystical way, at one with nature.

"Turn me but, and you shall see
I was but an inverted tree,”

Our first characteristic is elusive, retiring, irresolute.

“Fair quite, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear?
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men.
Your sacred plants, if here below
Only among the plants will grow;
Society is all but rude
To this delicious solitude.” The Garden

“Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas… The Garden

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“…the old argument about his political convictions, as to whether he ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds…or in fact a turncoat…my impression is that he was a sensible man, who could appreciate the opportune virtues of Cromwell and yet was prepared, to welcome the Restoration.” Sackville-West

“He had not a general acquaintance… nor was he a sociable man.” Pell

“It is not the genius of Cromwell or the Fate of Charles I that is Marvell’s principal thought…”

"It is understandable that he should feel a compulsion to work for the State after the restoration, ...refrained from fighting in the Civil War...accepted Charles while Charles was king...accept the forced pow'r of Cromwell after Charles' execution, adopted the Stuarts after they were restored." Bradbrook

"In conversation he was modest, and of very few words." Wright

“…lacked the grammar of commitment.” Hirst

“He wanted food and linen: so he took toleration for his seamstress and his cook.” Cleveland

“A more elusive, non-recorded character is hardly to be found. We know all about him, but very little of him…the man remains undiscovered. He rarely comes to the surface.” Birrell

“I who have no imployment but idlenesse and who am so oblivious that I should forget mine own name did I not see it sometimes in a friends superscription.” Marvell

Our second characteristic is sense of duty, loyalty, zeal.

“Oh Thou, that dear and happy Isle
The Garden of the World erewhile,
Thou paradise of four Seas,
Which Heaven planted us to please,
But, to exclude the World, did guard
With watery if not flaming Sword;
What luckless Apple did we taste,
To make us Mortal and the Waste? Upon Appleton House

"One king, one faith, one language and one isle,
English and Scotch, 'tis all but cross and pile.'
Charles, our great soul, this only understands;
He our affections both, and wills, command;
And where twin-sympathies cannot atone,
Knows the last secret, how to make us one." The Loyal Scot

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“…a gradual conviction that the Parliamentary government was in fact best for the country seems to have led Marvell to attach himself…to its members.” Bradbrook

“…began to print his series of verse attacks upon the government policy and …satires of the royal family and leaders of government.” Bradbrook

“Marvell has done his best, before he set aside the muse of poetry and devoted his talents to the service of his country.” Sackville-West

“Whether it be war of religion or of liberty it is not worth the labour to enquire. Whichsoever was at the top, the other was at the bottom; …I think the cause was too good to have been fought for…The arms of the Church are prayers and tears; the arms of the subject are patience and petition.” Marvell

Our third characteristic is nature mysticism, .

“Green dense and dim-delicious, bred o’ the sun.”

“The gardener had the soldiers’s place,
And his more gentle forts did trace;
The nursery of all things green
Was then the only magazine;…” Upon Appleton House

“Ánnihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.”

“So architects do square and hew
Green trees that in the forest grew.”

“No white nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green.” The Garden

“But I, retiring from the flood,
Take sanctuary in the wood;
And, while it lasts, myself imbark
In this yet green, yet growing ark.
“Here at fountain’s sliding foot’,

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

About The Garden “the elegant gardens of General Fairfax are less exotic in suggestion…the gardens merge into the meadow, the great dominant metaphor – that of a battle field…” Bradbrook

Our fourth characteristic is imagination, wit, humor.

“But Physick yet could never reach
The Maladies Thou me dost teach;
Whom first the Crap of Hope does Tear:
And then the Palsie Shakes of Fear.
The Pestilence of Love does heat:
Or Hatred’s hidden Ulcer eat.” Soul and Body

“Who like Augustus young
Was called to empire and had governed long;
In prose and verse was owned, without dispute
Through all the realms of nonsense absolute.” Flecknoe

“With consecrated wafers, and the Host
Hath sure more flesh and blood than he can boast;
This basso-relievo of a man
Who, as a camel tall, yet easily can
The needle’s eye thread without any stitch
(His only impossible is to be rich,)
Lest his too subtle body, growing rare,
Should leave his soul to wander in the air.” An English Priest at Rome

“For pickled herring, pickled heeren changed.
Nature, it seemed, ashamed of her mistake,
Would throw their land away at duck and drake;
Therefore necessity, that first made kings,
Something like government among them brings….
But who could first discern the rising lands;
Who best could know to pump an earth so leak
Him they their lord, and Country’s Father, speak;
To make a bank, was a great plot of state;
Invent a shovel and be magistrate.” The Character of Holland

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

"Marvell's humor is seen in almost everything that came from his pen...often united with fine pathos." Wright

“And whereas he was noted in his youth to have a sharp wit and apt to jest, by time, travel, and conversation was so polished and made useful, that his company seemed to be one of the delights of mankind.” Wotton

“I write chiefly to avoid idleness and print to avoid the imputation of idleness and as others do it to live after they are dead, I do it only not to be thought dead whilst I am alive.” Marvell

We close with this:

“In this the land, where, in those worst of times,
The hardy poet raised his honest rimes
To dread rebuke, and bade Controlment speak
In guilty blushes on the villain’s cheek;
Bade Power turn pale, kept mighty rogues in awe,
And made them fear the Muse, who fear’d not law?” Charles Churchill.