Andrew Marvell’s poetry exemplifies an ancient literary genre known as the pastoral. This genre, which dates back to the third century B.C.E., represents the values of the shepherd and rustic life. Marvell’s poems “The Garden” and “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn” both embody the pastoral style, but they differ in the way they portray pastoral ideals. This essay analyzes their pastoral themes and color metaphors. “The Garden” focuses on an abstract theme, far-fetched and yet typical for Marvell, who is renowned for his unique, metaphysical elaborations. In this poem, he compares the shade of a garden to a sanctuary, a place where one finds peace and enlightenment. Marvell begins this metaphor by criticizing material ambition. He argues that glory-seeking men compete in “uncessant labors” in order to be “crowned from some single herb or tree” (3, 4). These crowns, however, produce only a “narrow-verged shade” that cannot compare to the much more satisfying shade of “all the flowers and trees” in the vast garden (5, 7). Marvell is overwhelmingly intrigued with the garden’s ability to cultivate knowledge, and in the second stanza he further develops the theme of Nature’s superiority. He goes on to explain that “busy companies of men” cannot find “Fair Quiet” and “Innocence” in their vain business (12, 9, 10). Only in the garden, he suggests, can we discover these two personified ideals. “Quiet” and “Innocence,” in this context, represent the essential elements for clear thought and pure mind, thus enabling enlightenment (9, 10). Marvell argues that “Society is all but rude / to this delicious solitude” (15, 16). Here, Marvell formulates an interesting comparison. Choosing a physical sensation such as “delicious” to modify a nonphysical state such as “solitude” strangely suggests that the garden fosters both physical pleasure as well as incorporeal perceptions (16). This paradox demonstrates a pastoral concept of Nature’s ability to transcend the body and soul. In contrast to “The Garden,” in which the pastoral theme is clearer, Marvell’s “Nymph” purposefully juxtaposes two conflicting ideas: an Edenic paradise problematized by an emphasis on momento mori, a reminder of one’s mortality. Marvell describes two falls from innocence. The first is of the nymph when she admits that her lover, whom she had not previously found “counterfeit,” “soon had me beguiled” (27, 34). Her seemingly paradisiacal love for “Unconstant Sylvio” had tarnished when he “Left his fawn, but took his heart” (25, 36). The second fall from innocence occurs as the “wanton troopers” shoot her fawn (1). The word “wanton” suggests the needlessness of killing the fawn; Marvell couples phrases such as “ungentle men” in order to establish a more dramatic fall from innocence, one caused by needless violence (1, 3). The narrator of this elegy vividly recounts the Edenic scene before the fawn was killed: “Could so mine idle life have spent; / For it was full of sport, and light” (40, 41). Marvell then slowly transitions into a momento mori, raising an interesting question about the fate of innocence — not just of the fawn, but of every living thing: …It seemed to blessitself in me; how could I lessThan love it? O, I cannot be Unkind to a beast that loveth me.Had it lived long I do not knowWhether it too might have done soAs Sylvio did… (43-49) Here Marvell suggests a reversal of roles for the Nymph’s lover. Phrases such as “a beast that loveth me” and “seemed to bless / itself in me” both indicate the fawn has taken the place of Sylvio (46, 43). The nymph fears that the fawn, if given the chance to live long enough, would lose its innocence, as Sylvio did, and flee in wild passion. Through this question, Marvell begs us to consider a difficult scenario: since we live in a postlapsarian context, are all things fated to naturally lose their innocence? Even the things that we think are pure, like the fawn? Will they too fall victim to the temptations of the rosebush? The pastoral scene of the nymph and fawn is now problematized by two falls from innocence. As is typical of Marvell, he includes a stretched metaphor involving colors to explain the dual existence of the fawn: innocent but driven by passion. He compares the white, pure innocence of a lily bed to the red, thorn-penetrating passion of a rosebush. In the flaxen lilies’ shade,It like a bank of lilies laid.Upon the roses it would feed,Until its lips e’en seem to bleed.And its pure virgin limbs to foldIn whitest sheets of lilies cold;Had it lived long, it would have beenLilies without, roses within. (81-93)The “lilies’ shade” shifts from peaceful innocence to passion when the fawn eats from the tempting red roses, allowing the thorns to pluck its virginity and stain its “lips” red (81, 85). Then the fawn’s “pure virgin limbs” fold, anticipating its fall from innocence (86). The last couplet, ending with “Lilies without, roses within,” suggests that even if the fawn had not been shot, its innocence would have been overcome naturally, as is the nature of all living things: “On roses thus itself to fill” (93, 88). Contrary to this personification of red as passion and white as innocence, in “The Garden” Marvell introduces us to another color metaphor: “No white nor red was ever seen / so amorous as this lovely green” (17, 18). Marvell uses green in this poem to symbolize enlightenment, which is only achievable through the peacefulness of the garden shade. In this garden, the mind transcends materialistic reality. It possesses the unique power to imagine “far other worlds, and other seas” (46). If this counter-reality is true, some may ask: what is the world today but a picture of our imagination? Marvell assures us that the mind transcends what we think is reality, “annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade” (47, 48). Holding true to the metaphor, Marvell suggests that the only permanence is a fresh thought in a green garden. Thus, the only way we can maintain a prelapsarian happiness is to live with nature and embrace the green shade. In both poems, Marvell portrays complex visions of the pastoral. “The Garden” serves to admire nature’s superiority, and the ability of the garden to cultivate intellectual growth. “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn” considers innocence’s fate in a postlapsarian world. Both poems utilize extended color metaphors to personify ideals and human characteristics. Through these two poems, Marvell demonstrates his superior ability to weave metaphysical comparisons that challenge his readers and allow them to stretch their minds in order to see the pastoral through a wider — yet far more focused — lens.
To His Coy Virgins The concept of carpe diem or “seize the day” is a popular poetic credo. Seventeenth century poets Andrew Marvell and Robert Herrick address carpe diem by admonishing young virgins against coyness and procrastination. Despite differences in device, motive, and narrative voice, Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Herrick’s “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” are unified by an urgent message. This message emphasizes that a young girl should utilize the gift of youth while she is still able, or she will later regret having not lived. More specifically, the virgin should not remain chaste her entire life, and should relinquish her virginity while young so she does not cheat herself out of the pleasures of youth. The two poems share much imagery. Both poets personify the sun and time as looming reminders of mortality. Marvell sees the sun as life’s adversary, and asks his mistress to challenge fleeting time by living deliberately with him, “Thus, though we cannot make our sun/Stand still, yet we will make him run ” (45-46). Herrick takes a more passive approach to the sun, seeing it as a mark of time’s inevitable passage, “The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun/The higher he’s a getting/The sooner will his race be run/And nearer he’s to setting” (5-8). Herrick and Marvell also approach the entity of time differently. In the first half of “To His Coy Mistress” the speaker makes glorious promises on the hypothetical basis of having an eternity to fulfill them: “Had we but world enough and time/This coyness, Lady, were no crime” (1-2). However, after the speaker records his extensive list of noble intentions, he claims it is impossible to act upon them because “…at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near/And yonder all before us lie/Deserts of vast eternity” (21-24). In contrast, Herrick does not use the image of time as a manipulating force. He actually encourages the virgins to live as they see fit, as long as they acknowledge the existence of time and intend to utilize it, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may/Old Time is still a flying” (1-2). It is apparent that Marvell takes a negative, urgent approach to these images while Herrick is calm, passive and somewhat didactic. The speakers in these two poems have different, but not necessarily opposing, agendas. Herrick seems to take the role of a sage, giving advice to a younger generation of women, not one particular girl. The speaker in Marvell’s poem is specifically addressing his mistress, with the ulterior motive of winning her virginity. His poetry, filled with promises and pleas, has the blatant intent of seduction. In the latter half of “To His Coy Mistress,” the speaker invokes grotesque images of the grave, worms, and dust to as a desperate attempt to intimidate his obstinate mistress into acquiescence, “…then worms shall try/That long preserved virginity/And your quaint honor turn to dust, and into ashes all my lust” (27-30). In addition to extensive flattery, Marvell resorts to playing on his mistress’ fear of death in order to seduce her. His message: The only fate worse than death is dying a virgin. He ignores all repercussions of immediate physical consummation, and only acknowledges the backlash of never acting upon sexual desire, which is an odd inversion of conventional morality. Interestingly enough, Marvell does not once mention the prospect of marriage in this poem. The reader is left wondering how noble his intent truly is. From a philosophical standpoint, one could say that Marvell is “seizing the day,” living in the immediate present, and viewing each moment as an isolated chance for happiness with no bearing on the future. However, It is clear that the notion of carpe diem is merely a cheap, self-serving concept for this speaker, who could possibly be a mindless hedonist. Herrick also warns virgins against coyness, but to his merit, the last stanza recommends the virgins to “…while ye may, go marry” (14). Both poets use metaphors and a constant, predictable rhyme scheme. Herrick’s metaphors, such as the gathering of rosebuds, are very conventional, yet effective. Interestingly, he does not use simile. The effect is that the speaker appears less seductive or flattering than Marvell’s. Rather, Herrick’s tone is more didactic. Marvell’s language is overflowing with excessive, hyperbolic metaphor and simile. The majority of his images are quite grandiose, such as “My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires and more slow” (11-12). Marvell is normally classified as a metaphysical poet, and many of his far-fetched metaphors, like “vegetable love,” are characteristic of this movement. For rhyme scheme, Herrick’s uses abab, while Marvell uses the simple rhyming couplet, aabb, etc. Yet, unlike the near-perfect rhyme in “To the Virgins…” there are two couplets in “To His Coy Mistress” where slant rhyme occurs. Lines 23 and 24 rhyme “lie” and “eternity”; lines 27 and 28 couple “try” and “virginity.” Both “To His Coy Mistress” and “To the Virgins” deal with the progression of carpe diem as an ideal for a young woman who still possesses her virginity. The former poem’s approach is seductive and self-interested, and the latter is more didactic. Yet both end with the implicit message of “seize the day, or you shall wither away!” Robert Herrick’s closing lines, “For having lost but once your prime/You may forever tarry” (15-16) express this sentiment perfectly, implying that excessive coyness will result in a limbo, and a loss of life and love.
In Octavio Paz’s book The Double Flame, he describes three different categories of love that can arise between partners: sexuality, eroticism, and Love. The first category, sexuality, refers to the biological and instinctive urge to reproduce, whereas eroticism descibes the pleasure and desire of the sexual act. The third category, Love, refers to an attraction to the person as a whole, and encompasses an equal sharing of love between the body and the soul. While Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” both pursue the theme of love, each poem describes a kind of love that is different from the other. “To His Coy Mistress” seems to conform to Paz’s second type of love, eroticism; however, “Sonnet 116” posits an alternative to all three of Paz’s types. The speaker in Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” longs for a woman whom he attempts to persuade to go to bed with him. Because they will not live for eternity, the speaker argues, he and his mistress should then “tear [their] Pleasures with rough strife” (43) as soon as possible, while they still have the chance. The speaker’s focus is on attaining pleasure through intercourse, and not on producing offspring. Although the speaker claims that if he had all the time in the world he would spend “thirty thousand” (16) years adoring every inch of her, he perhaps says this only to try and woo her so that he can fulfill his desire as quickly as possible. He knows that he does not have much time, so he can tell her this without ever having to prove it. The speaker is not driven by a biological urge to reproduce nor does he possess an equal sharing of love between his mistresses’ body and soul; he is focused entirely on her body. The speaker wants only to indulge in bliss by having intercourse, and as soon as possible to avoid any chance of his lust turning to ashes. For this reason, the love that the speaker has for his mistress falls under Paz’s second category, eroticism.Because in the first stanza of “To His Coy Mistress” the speaker focuses on the mistress as a whole person, and not solely on his pure erotic desire for her body, it is tempting to classify the poem within Paz’s third category, Love. The speaker declares that his “vegetable Love” (11) would grow slowly, and be “Vaster than Empires” (12) if he had more time. He insists that he would spend “An Age at least to every part,” (17) indicating he would love her as an entire person, and spend lavish amounts of time doing so. However, the reader cannot be sure that the speaker is being entirely truthful, for there is no way for him to prove this. The speaker wants to engage “now, like am’rous birds of prey” (38) in intercourse, and his aggressive tone indicates that he is becoming impatient. His impatience suggests that the speaker is anxious to explore his mistresses’ body and is not interested in anything else. Also, if he truly did want more than just her body, he presumably would not attempt to frighten her with crude images (“then Worms shall try / that long preserv’d Virginity” [27-2])) into the idea that if she doesn’t give up her virginity soon, if not immediately, she may die a virgin. Because the speaker is not willing to wait and let his love for his mistress develop prior to engaging in the sexual act, and is only interested in making sure his lust does not turn to ashes, his love is purely eroticism. While Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” illustrates Paz’s concept of eroticism, Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” does not fit into any of Paz’s three categories. The speaker describes a “marriage of true mindes,” (1) a kind of love that is solid and “never shaken” (6). Because this love bypasses the body and is centered on the mind, it transcends both sexuality and eroticism. “Sonnet 116” puts little emphasis on love of the body, in fact, even though “rosie lips and cheeks”(9) will diminish as time continues, the speaker asserts that his kind of eternal love will not be altered. Insofar as it considers lovers that are no longer youthful, the poem does not encompass an equal sharing between body and soul, for the body begins to lose its beauty and liveliness with time, and love between souls “beares it out even to the edge of doome” (14). However, while its lovers are youthful, the poem describes Love: there is a true connection between both the young and lively body and the soul. Perhaps, Shakespere suggests, as couples age and the body begins to lose its beauty, love between partners becomes more and more love between two souls. “Sonnet 116” emphasizes that true love cannot be altered with time. In contrast, the speaker of “To His Coy Mistress” urges his mistress to pursue sex immediately because there is never enough time. While “To His Coy Mistress” illustrates eroticism, “Sonnet 116” describes a kind of Love that Paz does not account for in The Double Flame. Rather, Shakespere suggests a fourth type of love, one that is between souls alone. This kind of love can remain potent with the passing of time, as the body declines into age, and the soul is enriched with experience.Works CitedMarvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress”. Selected Poetry and Prose. Ed. Robert Wilcher. New York: Methuen, 1986. 40-42.Paz, Octavio. The Double Flame. Trans. Helen Lane. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1993.Shakespere, William. “Let me not to the marriage of true minds.” Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound and Sense. 8th ed. Eds. Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnston. Boston: Heinle and Heinle, 2002. 1092.
Many poets draw on the theme of nature to symbolize the message they are trying to convey. In many cases, nature is juxtaposed with artistic design to emphasize the conflict or the relationship between the natural and the human worlds. Millar Maclure clarifies the distinction between nature and art as follows: “nature as what is given, the universal order of creation, including human nature, and art as what is made, what man makes.” He futher explains, “it is also proper to speak of nature as the art or ‘signature’ of God, and of art as the distinguishing quality or evidence of man’s nature.” This conflict between nature and art is often designed as an allegory by authors of poetry to communicate their opinion on society. Both Edmund Spenser (1522-1599) and Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) explore the idea of nature (and art) in their poetry, in order to present a moral as well as a historical lesson. The works compared in this essay are Book 1 and part of Book 2 (“The Bower of Bliss” episode) of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House: To My Lord Fairfax.” The Faerie Queene, Spenser’s longest and greatest work, was published in two parts, the first in 1590 and the second in 1596. He himself describes his work as “a continued Allegory, or darke conceit,” thus alerting the reader to look beyond the literal meaning of the text. Susanne Wofford explains that Spenser uses external events and places to convey the characters’ internal consciousness; “the landscape of Spenser’s poem is a psychological one: many of its places and commonplaces represent spiritual or emotional aspects of the characters themselves. To learn how to read Spenser’s poem,” she writes, “is to learn that everything – a person in a story, a house, a tree or a giant – can represent an aspect of the hero or heroine’s own psyche.” Even though Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House” (1651) is not a “continued allegory” it is filled with allegories referring to England and with a deep relation to the scriptures. “In the poem’s rich symbolism, biblical events – Eden, the first temptation, the Fall, the wilderness experience of the Israelites – find echoes in the experience of the Fairfax family, the speaker, the history of the English Reformation, and the wanton destruction of the recent Civil Wars.” In this essay, I will primarily be examining three aspects of both poems: the relationship between nature and art, the effect of female beauty on nature, and the reference to the Garden of Eden. In these poems, Spenser and Marvell take their reader on a journey through various landscapes and sceneries, each of which bears a different meaning and contributes to the implication of the plot. These works are not only adventurous, but are also instructional, both for the characters and for the reader. Spenser uses the imagery of gardens and buildings with the intention of reflecting “Renaissance pictorial and architectural display. His architecture and his horticulture are presented precisely and symbolically while his untamed forests, his thickets, plains, and pastures remain vague (if no less symbolic).” Both nature and art are prominent in Spenser’s work, and they both serve the same symbolical purpose. “The generall end therefore of all the booke,” writes Spenser in his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, which accompanied the first edition of The Faerie Queene, “is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline.” Hence, it is intended to educate in a honorable and creditable fashion worthy of a good Christian. The same religious character and intention can be found in Marvell’s poetry. Joseph Summers states that in Marvell’s “poems nature apart from man is usually ‘green,’ vital, fecund, and triumphant. Since it affirms life it is, as part of the divine plan, ‘good,’ but its goodness is neither available nor quite comprehensible to man…Since his alienation with the departure from Eden, man can only live in nature either as its observer or its destroyer.” That might be one of the reasons why man starts imitating nature. In “Upon Appleton House,” however, there is one person who is not only observing nature, but is also capable of adding to its beauty. Still, Marvell, like Spenser, uses natural imagery to express his view of history and religion. The first point of comparison in these two poems is the relationship between nature and art, and its implications for society. Nature and art are often personified to emphasize the tension that exists between them. In Book II of The Faerie Queene, the Bower of Bliss is an artful place that has imitated nature to the extent that it might seem real, but the author gives clear hints as to its artifice:Thus being entred, they behold around A large and spacious plaine, on every side Strowed with pleasauns, whose faire grassy ground Mantled with green, and goodly beautifide With all the ornaments of Floraes pride, Wherewith her mother Art, as halfe in scorne Of niggard Nature, like a pompous bride Did decke her, and too lavishly adorne,When forth from virgin bowre she comes in th’early morne. (II, vii, 50)This stanza starts off with a picturesque description of the plain, but as the lines progress it becomes clear that it is not the work of “Nature,” but that it is “mother Art” who has beautified it all “too lavishly.” Nature is cast off as a “niggard” by Art, and she has made the plain look like a “pompous bride,” which, eventually, is too much of a good thing. Another scene of conflict between nature and art can be found in stanza 59:One would have thought (so cunningly, the rude, And scornÃ¨d parts were mingled with the fine) That nature had for wantonesse ensued Art, and that Art at nature did repine; So striving each th’other to undermine, Each did the others worke more beautifie; So diff’ring both in willes, agreed in fine: So all agreed through sweete diversitie,This Garden to adorne with all varietie. (II, vii)Nature and Art seem to be competing to see who the best creator is, but as a result of this battle, no one notices the “rude and scornÃ¨d part” that are “mingled with the fine.” Although they are not of the same mind, they end up agreeing in “sweete diversitie.” In the place where, fundamentally, nature should rule, there is a mixture of nature and art, and it is not clear where one starts and the other ends. All creatures and objects in this garden “like” something from nature, “as if” they belong there and “seem” authentic, but they merely “resemble” the natural world. Words like these dominate this passage of the Bower of Bliss, and with these Spenser hints at the corruption of art, the unnatural, the ungodly. In the opening lines of “Upon Appleton House,” Marvell contrasts the natural character of the Fairfax house with the works of “foreign Architect[s]” (l. 2). Nature rules this house which is not ostentatious, but a place where “all things are composed…Like Nature, orderly and near” (ll. 25-6). In stanza 2, Marvell compares human architecture to natural design: Why should of all things man unruledSuch unproportioned dwellings build?The beasts are by their dens exprest,And birds contrive an equal nest; The low-roofed tortoises do dwellIn cases fit of tortoise-shell:No creature loves an empty space;Their bodies measure out their place.Like the builders of the Tower of Babel, man is trying to surpass the work of God, and “thinks by breadth the world t’unite” (l. 24). The first group, of course, failed miserably in their mission, and God punished them for thinking they could measure up to Him. Consequently, nature, God’s creation, is superior to human art. Marvell too, personifies nature and art in his poem:But Nature here hath been so freeAs if she said, Leave this to me.Art would more neatly have defacedWhat she had laid so sweetly waste;In fragrant gardens, shady woods,Deep meadows, and transparent floods. (st. 10)If she gets the chance, Art will defile Natures work in “gardens,” “woods,” “meadows” and “floods,” but not none of this happens at the Fairfax estate. Like Spenser, Marvell depicts nature as “good” and art as generally “bad,” but whereas Marvell’s nature is able to stand against the forces of art, Spenser’s nature has to compromise with the dominating character of art. The second point of comparison is the effect of female beauty on her natural surroundings. In the first book of The Faerie Queene, Una’s beauty is revealed every time she removes the veil from her face: Her angels face As the great eye of heaven shynÃ¨d bright, And made a sunshine in the shadie place;Did never mortall eye behold such heavenly grace. (I, iii, 4)It seems that even the sun is affected by Una’s “angels face” as it lights up the “shadie place” where Una is resting. When a “ramping Lyon” (l. 38) rushes “out of the thickest wood” (l. 37) obviously intending to devour her, he too is amazed at her sight and instead of attacking her, the beast kisses “her wearie feet” (l. 46). The lion, the king of the animal kingdom, surrenders to Una, and decides to protect her on her journey. This wild creature from the forest rejects his innate nature when he comes face to face with this “heavenly grace.” Later, in canto 6, Una is rescued from Sans Lou by a group of “wyld woodgods” (l. 73) who “stand astonied at her beautie bright, | In their rude eyes unworthie of so wofull plight” (ll. 80-1). They too “kisse her feete” (l. 108) and “worship her, as Queene,” but when she tries to put a stop to their idolatry of her, “they her Asse would worship fayn” (l. 171). Even though these mystical creatures do not represent nature in this poem, they do show the same natural reaction as nature to her beauty and grace. In a similar way, Mary Fairfax affects her natural surroundings in Marvell’s poem. At the end of the poem, writes Andrew Sanders, “[t]here is a firm return to the idea embodied by the house and its a occupants as Fairfax’s daughter is presented as the auspicious restorer of a limited earthly paradise, much as her father may still be to the country at large”: ‘Tis she that to these gardens gave That wondrous beauty which they have;She straightness on the woods bestows;To her the meadow sweetness owes;Nothing could make the river beSo crystal-pure but only she;She yet more pure, sweet, straight, and fair,Than gardens, woods, meads, rivers are. Therefore what first she on them spent,They gratefully again present:The meadow, carpets where to tread;The garden, flow’rs to crown her head;And for her glass, the limpid brook,Where she may all her beauties look;But, since she would not have them seen,The wood about her draws a screen. (st. 87-88)Nature is exalted throughout the poem, but Mary’s beauty even exceeds the natural beauty of Nunappleton. In fact, she is the cause of “that wondrous beauty,” and like the kingfisher, she “Admiring Nature does benumb” (l. 672); that is, she controls the elements around her. Both Mary and Una try to hide their appearances from the outside world, probably because they know the power that lies in it. It is not only the outward beauty of these women that the poets are concerned with; their inward beauty reveals that they are indeed moderate and excellent creatures. Both Spenser and Marvell make use of historical and biblical allegories to put a deeper meaning in their poetry, and each of them draws on the image of Paradise, the third point of comparison, to expose the sinfulness of man. Sanders explains the role of nature (and art) in Spenser’s allegories: “Where Spenser’s landscapes tend to be generalized, his buildings are solid and spatially imagined and his formal gardens are ordered and ornamentally planted. Each is the occasion of a knightly sojourn, temptation, distraction, or recuperation, but each also helps to stabilize the foundations from which the poem’s allegory rises.” The description of the Bower of Bliss seems to recall that of the Garden of Eden before the fall of man:The joyous birds shrouded in chearefull shade, Their notes unto the voice attempred sweet; Th’Angelicall soft trembling voyces made To th’instruments divine respondence meet; With the base murmere of the waters fall: The waters fall with difference discreet, Now soft, now loud, unto the wind did call:The gentle warbling wind low answerÃ¨d to all. (II, xii, 71)Looks, however, can be deceiving, and they certainly are in this case. The following stanza depicts Acrasia in the middle of the bower, enjoying an immoral life:There, whence that Musick seemÃ¨d heard to bee, Was the faire Witch here selfe now solacing, With a New Lover, whom through sorceree And witchcraft, she from farre did thither bring: There she had him now layd a slombering, In secret shade, after long wanton joyes: Whilst round about them pleasauntly did sing Many faire Ladies, and lascivious boyes,That ever mixt their song with light licentious toyes. (II, xii, 72)Paradise is corrupted by sin, but its deceiving appearances might be appealing to onlookers. However, Sir Guyon, the knight of Temperance, is able to see through this deception, and destroys the Bower of Bliss:But all those pleasant bowres and Pallace brave, Guyon broke downe, with rigour pittilesse; Ne ought their goodly workmanship might save Them from the tempest of his wrathfulnesse, But that their blisse he turn’d to balefulnesse: Their groves he feld, their gardins did deface, Their arbers spoyle, their Cabinets suppresse, Their banket houses burne, their buildings race,And of the fairest late, now made the fowlest place. (II, xii, 83)The artificial nature in the garden is destroyed by Guyon, and there can be no mistake about the allegory here: when practising temperance and self-control, man can overcome lust and desire. Marvell’s garden is not artificial, but it has been tainted by sin as much as Spenser’s:O thou, that dear and happy isleThe garden of the world ere while,Thou Paradise of four seas,Which Heaven planted us to please,But, to exclude the world, did guardWith wat’ry if not flaming sword;What luckless apple did we taste,To make us mortal, and thee waste? (st. 41)This stanza actually contains two allegories; a biblical one referring to the lost Paradise, the Garden of Eden (which is now guarded with a “flaming sword,” as a consequence of human sin), and a historical one referring to that “dear and happy isle” of fallen England, devastated by the Civil War as a result of Thomas Fairfax’s retirement as gardener of this paradise. Like The Faerie Queene, this poem points to the devastating results of a sinful life, but where the Bower of Bliss is destroyed, Nunappleton remains “Heaven’s Center, Nature’s Lap, | And Paradise’s only Map” (ll. 767-8). In summary, Edmund Spenser describes a competitive relationship between nature and art in The Faerie Queene in which art seems to have the upper hand, but where nature is depicted as “good.” Andrew Marvell, on the other hand, draws a picture of a very “natural” art at Nunappleton, where nature is victorious over art. Further, external and internal female beauty, embodied in Una and Mary Fairfax, affect the natural surroundings. Both women represent grace, and nature can only react in one way: with worship and submission. Finally, Spenser’s Garden of Eden is an illusion of artificial nature trying to imitate Paradise while it is in fact its antipode, while Marvell’s fallen Paradise is resurrected on that small piece of Thomas Fairfax’s land. Ultimately, these poems reveal that the line between “nature as what is given, the universal order of creation” and “art as what is made, what man makes” is a very thin one.
For both “The Mower Against Gardens” and “The Garden”, the primary terms in opposition are the same: the world of nature, the world of men. The former is a realm of leisure, the latter of ceaseless, pointless toil. And yet the status granted to the garden in one poem is directly contrary to that granted in the other: for “The Mower Against Gardens”, the garden is the locus of human labor (and perversion), it is at the heart of the world of men. The scene of “The Garden,” by contrast, is one of leisure, solitude, and nature’s fecundity. The relationship between the two poems is more complicated than the mere opposition suggested by their titles: while the terms of the argument are constant between them, the value granted them shifts; the status of labor, leisure, and nature is different in each. Also different, I will argue, is the tone of the poems: one seems earnest in its argument, while the other is self-mocking.The argument of “The Mower Against Gardens” falls into three parts. The first (ll. 1-22) is by far the longest, and presents in its first sentence the opposed terms of its argument. In the very first word, we find the poem’s moral verdict:Luxurious man, to bring his vice in use,Did after him the world seduce,And from the fields the flowers and plants allure,Where nature was most plain and pure.On one hand is “Luxurious man”; on the other, “world”, “Fields…flowers and plants”, and “nature.” The terms of condemnation are bald (“Luxurious,” “vice”), but the statement of the offense is more subtle: it is not the practice of man’s vice that corrupts the world, but rather his determination to “seduce” the world to follow his vice, his need to make nature into a mirror for himself. This is a familiar moralizing argument: the real danger of vice is not individual practice, but rather the transmission of that practice to others. In this passage, such transmission occurs through careful perversion of the environment (“And a more luscious earth for them did knead, / Which stupefied them”), and its effects are precisely as desired: “The pink grew then as double as his mind” – the tainted man can see his image in the world he has made around him. “Double” is a curious adjective, implying self-division, inner conflict, a straining against nature: aspects of man’s state after the Fall (the earliest Christian word for the post-lapsarian state makes clear this aspect: dipsychia, double-souledness).The examples of perversion presented in lines 9-18 concern accidental rather than essential properties: scent, color, and value in terms of both money and labor. The examples found in lines 11-14 aim their condemnation at specifically female (and perhaps largely courtly) acts of self-adornment: “perfume”, “paint”, “interline its cheek”. (I take the last in the sense of the OED’s fifth definition, “To mark with lines, esp. of various colours”; the texts cited are comfortably 17th-century.) This is the first instance of an argumentative thread common to both poems, and which is especially strong in “The Garden”: a reviling of sexual pursuit and the (non-auto) erotic life. Lines 15-19 turn from personal vanity to economic waste: a meadow sold for a tulip, the toil and risk of exploration for “the Marvel of Peru” (the discovery of “another world” is merely a happy coincidence).A shift occurs in line 19 (“And yet”), beginning the second section of the poem (to line 31). Lines 19-22 make a conciliatory gesture, and then dramatically intensify the poem’s condemnation:And yet these rarities might be allowedTo man, that sovereign thing and proud,Had he not dealt between the bark and tree,Forbidden mixtures there to see.If in the first movement of the poem there is a sense of perversion, a willful straying from nature, with line 22 a new sense of transgression is introduced. “Forbidden” implies not only moral laxity or lapse; it implies law, a concrete statute, the breaking of which invokes punishment from an authority higher than man, however “sovereign”. Unlike the adornments of lines 9-18, which concern only the addition or alteration of accidental properties, in lines 21-30 it is the essence of things that is altered, with ensuing chaos: “No plant now knew the stock from which it came; / He grafts upon the wild the tame.” This transgression, the result of which is a loss of origins, is made more grievous because it is frivolous, intended not even to delight “the palate”, but merely to “put [it] in dispute”. Not even pleasure governs man’s appetite; novelty is all. With the entrance of “his green seraglio” there is a suggestion not only of the exotic but of the heathen; man’s perversion has become a religious transgression.With the new terms of the argument, however, the poem has backed itself into a corner. With the transgression of law must come punishment, and none seems forthcoming. Indeed, man seems able to fulfill his wishes (however empty) in their entirety: he’s perfectly capable of vexing nature (l.29), and the word “forbidden”, so effective at heightening the force of the poem’s invective, begins to ring hollow. The poem responds to this dilemma by shifting its strategy entirely; in its third and final section, from line 31, the poem turns from damning the world of men to praising the world of nature, and the implied terms of disparagement switch from condemnation to pity. Man needn’t work so hard for satisfaction; in “the sweet fields”, “willing Nature does to all dispense / A wild and fragrant innocence.” If he gave over his perverse love of the exotic, man would find his needs met almost entirely without toil: “And fauns and fairies do the meadows till / More by their presence than their skill.” Finally, man’s punishment is one of self-imposed deprivation; however beautiful his creations, they lack real substance: “howsoe’er the figures do excel, / The Gods themselves with us do dwell.”The beginning of “The Garden” seems to take up this argument seamlessly: “How vainly men themselves amaze / To win the palm, the oak, or bays.” Again, the inutility of labor is denigrated in favor of the leisured enjoyment of nature: the little crowns won by man’s great effort can’t even provide adequate shade, while “all flowers and all trees do close / To weave the garlands of repose.” Like the mower poem, “The Garden” follows a three-part structure. In the first four stanzas, the virtues of the garden are proved through comparison with the trials (and supposed pleasures) of the world of men. As he compares the two worlds, the speaker seems to fully inhabit neither, and his praise of the garden is mitigated, in the second stanza, by doubt: “Fair Quiet, have I found thee here, / And Innocence, thy sister dear?” In the very stanza that should establish the garden’s virtues, the speaker can’t even be certain that those virtues exist: “Your sacred plants, if here below, / Only among the plants will grow.”As in “The Mower Against Gardens”, the polemic has a sexual edge; in the third and fourth stanzas the pleasures of (human) erotic pursuit are found decidedly wanting when compared to the pleasures of the garden. Importantly, though, the pleasures compared are of a kind: “No white nor red was ever seen / So amorous as this lovely green.” The erotic is not rejected in “The Garden”, but merely takes a different (and decidedly odd) object: “Fair trees, wheresoe’er your barks I wound, / No name shall but your own be found.” This conceit provides the poem with its finest display of wit: far from foiled by the metamorphoses of their quarry, Apollo and Pan were after the plants all along. It also, however, leads the poem into the second section (the three stanzas from l. 33), which disrupts the speaker’s former credibility by introducing elements that make “The Garden” a poem impossible to read straight.The three stanzas of the second section address the pleasures of the body, the mind, and the soul as they are gratified in the garden. “What wondrous life is this I lead!” the speaker exults: there’s no longer any trace of the uncertainty found in the poem’s second stanza, nor is there any presence – even rhetorically – of the world outside the garden. As with the “sweet fields” of the earlier poem, gratification requires little or no action on the part of the speaker:Ripe apples drop about my head;The luscious clusters of the vineUpon my mouth do crush their wine;The nectarine and curious peachInto my hands themselves do reach…Already this seems suspect: “luscious” was a word of denigration in the mower poem, and what’s described here isn’t easeful subsistence, but rather gluttony. The final lines of the stanza clarify the detrimental effects: “Stumbling on melons, as I pass, / Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.” The negative cast of the following stanzas becomes even starker: in stanza six, the mind “Withdraws into its happiness”, rejecting the possibility of interaction with the real world (“The mind, that ocean where each kind / Does straight its own resemblance find”) for an entirely imagined creation. Lest we think this a salutary use of the imagination, the poem underscores it as destructive: “Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade.” Even as the soul is transformed into a singing bird in stanza seven, the pointlessness of the speaker’s leisure is as pronounced as the inutility of labor in the mower poem: “And, till prepared for longer flight, / Waves in its plumes the various light.” One is correct, I think, in doubting the advent of this “longer flight”; the movement from body to soul has been less an ascension than a stupor.Having arrived at the soul, the only intensification possible in the poem’s third section (from stanza 9) is a gesture to Paradise. The retreat to the garden is a rejection of the entire world and society, and what is presented as a validating gesture defeats itself – the state of satisfaction (or stupor) of the speaker is doomed to be short-lived, as it presumes a greater privilege than is granted to “a mortal’s share”. (By so entirely rejecting society, this stanza extends the poem’s striking anti-erotic posture: were man truly perfect, even in a prelapsarian state, he would be allowed full autonomy, free from the cloying necessities of sex and procreation; nor would he desire any Miltonic “apt and cheerful conversation”.) The poem’s closing stanza, with its image of the flower dial, underscores this fleetingness: “How could such sweet and wholesome hours / Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers?” Herbs and flowers are transient, quickly wilting things, unsustainable through seasons; the sojourn in the garden must be similarly transient.It is tempting to see these two poems as an easy pair, with “The Garden” merely embodying those vices railed against by the mower. However, the relationship is not quite so neat. The poems’ speakers are not clear opposites: both feel an antipathy for the world of men, both denigrate a seemingly vain labor, and both praise the natural world (though it is important that the word “nature” does not appear in “The Garden”, while in the mower poem it is a capitalized entity). The gardens described in the poems (though both, as noted above, are “luscious”) are not precisely the same, and there’s no suggestion of innovation or labor in the fruits of “The Garden”: none is the product of grafting, none is imported from “another world”. Most importantly, “The Mower Against Gardens” seems to me a fundamentally earnest poem, lamenting a tendency to be dissatisfied with the common and known, and to prefer a profligate search for novelty. In its depiction of drunken stupor, and its acknowledgment of the unsustainability of its vision, on the other hand, “The Garden” takes on a tone of self-mockery.The source of these differences may lie in the poems’ diverging conceptions of “labor” and “leisure”. The mower disparages needless scientific innovation, a vexing of nature with no real end; the speaker of “The Garden” dismisses poetry, sport, and civic duty (at least two of which we know to have been among Marvell’s endeavors). The leisure of the mower is not sloth: his very title indicates labor, and the ease granted by “willing nature” is not gluttony but an effort harmonious with nature, toward necessary ends. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the pitch of the poems’ rejection of the world of men is decidedly different. The mower rejects the social world not in the abstract, but in its particular incarnation; there’s nothing in “a wild and fragrant innocence” that requires solitude, and the mower seems to long for the repopulation of “the sweet fields [that] lie forgot.” The speaker in “The Garden”, by contrast, desires an utter break with society, a rejection of all labor and all duty. The tone of the poem and the ridiculousness of its drunkenly stumbling speaker, I think, deflate the desirability of so perfect a severance from the human world.
The intention of Andrew Marvell as to publication and public reception was often interfered with by the necessity of his political circumstances, particularly after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. This interference does however unintentionally enrich the works with a simultaneous feeling of reading the public thoughts of a writer interacting with other published ideas, and of private conspiratorial thoughts read only by friends, especially in regards to how he uses allusions to other works. Loxley describes Marvell’s works as ‘echoic’ verse, saying that ‘words are both owned and disowned, used with their full pragmatic force and held fastidiously between the tongs of quotation. If allusion affirms or identifies, it also distances; if it articulates something as sure as the occasions of a friendship or commitment, it also toys with their vocal manifestation.’ The allusions to others as well as his own works open his works up to interpretation as a published writer, as he participates in public debates with established poets and politicians, but distance him from the sentiments he alludes to as well, and excludes those who do not understand the references. They both embellish and complicate any public perception of Marvell himself.
His interactions often took the form of animadversion and combative satire after 1660. When he was published, anonymity was sometimes necessary: by 1678, the year of his death, there was a reward offered by the government for the identity of whoever authored An Account of the Growth of Popery (a political pamphlet, and therefore published for a far wider audience than his quartos – perhaps evidence that the larger his readership, the more danger came from his name being attached to his work.) Marvell could directly criticize public figures by name if he himself was anonymous, as with ‘Clarendon’s House-warming’, which satirises Clarendon’s choice to build his £50,000 Dunkirk House in the same year as the Great Fire of London. Marvell compares this display of wealth to treason by drawing parallels to Guy Fawkes in the line, ‘A lantern like Faux’s surveys the burnt town,’ (90) proving his willingness to manipulate public opinion by using controversial figures, even if his printer saw fit to attribute this poem to ‘an unknown author.’
Von Maltzhan, however, claims that his ‘last great move’ was to ‘turn on animadversion itself’, which is why in verses like The Last Scot or Epigram: Upon Blood’s attempt to steal the Crown, he sets the wise moderation of the citizen against the clerical cruelty of both High Church excesses and Presbyterian rigidity alike, emphasizing unity rather than logical debate on behalf of either side. In The Loyal Scot in particular, he expresses humanistic sentiments about the possible union of England and Scotland:
‘Nation is all but name: a Shibboleth
Where a mistaken accent causes death.’ (107-8)
This is a complete contradiction of his previous nationalistic sentiments in verses like The Character of Holland (1953), and he apologizes at the end, entreating ‘My former Satyre for this verse forget.’ (137) By contradicting himself in this way, Marvell assumes that the reader is familiar with his other works, implying a public persona with commonly known opinions. The difficulties with publishing did not prevent him from interacting with politically relevant debates as though his poems were a cohesive presence on a public platform, attributable to one man.
As Von Maltzhan explains, Marvell’s work was often in debate with other poets as well as political figures and his own past works. Murray draws connections between Marvell’s earlier lyrics to poetry he respected and tried to emulate, such as Abraham Cowley’s The Mistress (1647), William Davenant’s Gondibert (1651) and Milton’s Lycidas. In the satires of the 1670s, his engagement with other published works still places him in the reader’s view as an equal of publicly known poets, and creates the same self-conscious intertextuality. Marvell’s use of allusion is more antagonistic in these later satirical works, however, such as his ‘painter’ poetry’s mocking appropriation of Waller’s dramatically heightened tenor in Instructions to a Painter (1665). The same sails that swelled with the duke’s ‘extraction’ and ‘glorious mind’ in Waller’s naval scenes are ‘Swoln like [Coventry’s] purse, with tackling like its strings’, implying the statesman’s greed, in those of Marvell’s ‘Second Advice to a Painter’. As well as applying Waller’s heroic tone to poetry that directly contradicted his portrayal of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, Marvell mentions him by name in The Last Instructions to a Painter:
‘Old Waller, Trumpet-gen’rall, swore he’d write
This combat truer than the navall fight.’ (263-4)
Waller was ‘widely criticized as a political turncoat’, according to Lord, so this rhyming couplet evaluating him is evidence of Marvell purposefully interacting with public consensus in this poem, and perhaps of him trying to influence it. The description of him as a ‘trumpet-gen’rall’ may be implied criticism of Waller’s position celebrating war through his published art but not actually participating in it.
In both the poems ‘The Garden’ and ‘To His Coy Mistress’, Marvell approaches social taboos around sexuality rather than political views of battles, and demonstrates the futility of the pursuit of heterosexual love in the face of encroaching time and mortality. ‘The Garden’ uses nature as a comparison, and invokes the Greek gods to do so:
‘Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow.
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
Not as a Nymph, but for a Reed.’ (29-32)
These classical allusions posit conventional sexuality as superficial or ephemeral in contrast to the natural world, as even gods themselves, ‘that mortal beauty chase’, end their races with nothing but a tree. Marvell is reclaiming public myth for the purpose of criticizing conventional wisdom about courtly, unrequited love. In ‘To His Coy Mistress’, Marvell echoes Abraham Cowley through an idealized image of how he could spend eternity in courtly worship of his mistress’ beauty:
‘A hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze
Two hundred to adore each breast:
But thirty thousand to the rest.’ (13-16)
These lines directly echo Cowley’s ‘My Dyet’ (published in 1647), where Cowley lists scenarios like ‘On a sigh of pity I a year can live’ and ‘Fifty a gentle look will give’. Marvell then subverts this fantasy of assigning hyperbolic worth to a woman’s attributes or actions, and therefore challenges older published poetry, with the mention of their mortality:
‘(…) then worms shall try
That long-preserv’d virginity:
And your quaint honour turn to dust;
And into ashes all my lust.’ (27-30)
Although the anaphora of ‘And’ may evoke the list format of his imagined centuries of worship, the image of a worm turning her ‘long-preserv’d virginity’ to ‘dust’ is a shocking one. The lover has described not only a bodily violation of his mistress, but also a negation of the specific value of an unmarried woman in society: her chasteness, and therefore her potential to be legitimately wed. The numerical value that he and Cowley had previously conferred in years is subverted by this destruction of the monetary implications that would be associated with virginity, like a dowry. This use of intertextuality weakens an established poetic image with the morbid idea of heterosexual pursuit turning to ‘ashes’ in the grave.
The alternative provided in The Garden, an implicit homo-eroticism, is instead aligned with nature, which in contrast is constantly replenished and infinite. In lines 35-6, he writes that ‘The luscious clusters of the vine / Upon my mouth do crush the wine’, which, if the vine is to be read as a phallic presence, implies a sensual experience that may even be a kind of fellatio with nature. The interactions with the natural world are explicitly judged to be mutually exclusive with heterosexual love in the penultimate verse:
‘Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate.’ (57-58)
These lines also support the idea of the eponymous garden as Eden itself, and call it a paradise that could only be enjoyed before the creation of Eve. Hyman’s interpretation of Adam in this poem is as an androgynous figure, to counter the ‘misogynist’ interpretation of Hollander and Kermode, who embodies both genders with no need for a partner; Marvell could also, however, be representing same-sex attraction through a kind of Narcissus figure who is in love with what reflects him. The allusion to the popular contemporary misconception that all land animals had their equivalent in the sea, ‘that Ocean where each kind / Does straight its own resemblance find’ (43-44), supports the idea of this garden-state representing admiration of something that mirrors Man (‘a green thought in a green shade’, 47-48.) Whether homosexuality or auto-sexuality is intended, Marvell’s effect is a coded inversion of heterosexuality that, if published publicly, may have drawn unwanted attention to his actual life.
Healy writes that Marvell’s verse in general is ‘enamoured of masculine prowess – admired in Villiers, in Douglas, in the heroic nude unfortunate lover, in the Mower with his scythe, even Cromwell with his erect sword’, but also connects that admiration to his allusions to other writers. Even solitary spaces, like that created in ‘The Garden’, ‘echo with other men’s voices’. His concluding invitation in ‘To His Coy Mistress’ arguably does this too:
‘Let us roll all our Strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.’ (41-46)
These lines share the rhymes of ‘run’ and ‘sun’, as well as the vocabulary of ‘tear’ and ‘ball’, with a six-line entreaty from John Hall’s ‘To his Tutor, Master Pawson, an Ode’: framing heterosexual love by evoking an ode to intellectual pleasure between men. Both ‘The Garden’ and ‘To His Coy Mistress’ were published posthumously in 1681, but still would have been passed around in manuscript form when written. If his intention was actually to imply homosexual love amongst the Edenic setting of ‘The Garden’, he would have had to disguise that with the knowledge of this limited but still public reception in mind.
These coded allusions, however, had the effect of both creating familiarity with the reader who understood them, and enriching the intertextuality in his work. Even if Marvell’s actual reach was limited in his lifetime, due to his controversial ideas about politics, and potentially sexuality, preventing publication, the way he interacts with other poets shows a willingness for his work to be part of the public literary environment. He invites interpretations of his own poetry by echoing or contradicting established works, creating ongoing debates while still maintaining the intimacy of elite literary circles, or a shared joke, through the coded references and assumed knowledge that circumstances demanded. Marvell’s poetry contains the scandal of public poetry made private, and the collaborative intertextuality of private poetry made public.
A number of Marvell’s poetry often centers around the soul and its qualities, notably in ‘A Dialogue, between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure’ and ‘On a Drop of Dew’. There is significant highlight of the soul’s spiritual and nature, along with its strong bond to religion and the heavens. ‘A Dialogue, between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure’ focuses on the soul’s resolution and devotion to divine salvation despite distractions of earthly pleasures. On the other hand, ‘On a Drop of Dew’ focuses on the human soul’s purity and desire to return to the heavens as it is trapped by the material earth and human body. The two poems’ image of the soul as a perfect and pure being devoted to the heavens is strongly portrayed and emphasized on throughout, along with the opposing entrapment of the material plane to further highlight the soul’s purity. The contrast of resolution and purity of the soul against the temptations are central themes of Marvell’s poetry.
In a ‘A Dialogue, between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure’, the human soul is presented as the noble hero as the main focus of the poem, that deflects pleasure’s attempt at temptation in favor of its pursuit of its devotion to the heavens. There is a battle imagery throughout the poem, the debate between the soul and pleasure referred to as a “combat”. The soul’s position as a noble hero is highlighted through this imagery, as the chorus depicts the soul as a divine warrior with ‘immortal shield’, helmet and sword. The chorus, as an observer, encourages and challenges the soul to let its divinity “shine” in “this day’s combat”, further highlighting the soul’s role as it describes the soul in a heroic manner. Furthermore, the poem is much like a drama of a hero’s battle, the soul as the hero who overcomes various trials and the pleasure as its antagonist. The military imagery as the soul “fence/the battering of alluring senses” further dramatizes and calls attention to the soul. Similarly, the alternating conversation between the soul and pleasure in the linguistic battle also serves to add on to the effect. Thus the soul’s pursuit for salvation and rejection of the material world is viewed as a struggle for good. The neo-platonic idea of the spiritual over the material world is visited through this poem, as it places importance on the human soul’s ability to resist the material pleasures and “triumph”. Finally, the soul is “victorious” over pleasure and gains its reward as its ”everlasting store”, conclusively calling attention to the way heroes are rewarded at the end of their trials, cheered on by the Chorus.
Furthermore, the poem depicts the soul’s characteristic as a pure and determined being with close bonds to the heavens. The soul consistently deflects pleasure’s attempt to stray it from its path, claiming its devotion to heaven is much more worthwhile, deciding to “sup above” at its final destination of heaven instead of enjoying “Nature’s banquet” and indulge in the material world. The soul answers pleasure’s temptation through couplets, generally much shorter lines than the lengthy persuasions of pleasure, showings its determination and unwillingness to entertain pleasure to distract it from its path. The soul’s language is declarative rather than the imperative one of pleasure, further highlighting its resistance and resolve. Though pleasure may tempt it, the soul ultimately emerges victorious with the aid of its devotion to the heavens, rejecting all kinds of temptations from pleasure. Through pleasure tempts the soul with all its senses and even wealth and knowledge, the soul continually maintains its stand, further highlighted through its mostly regular rhyming couplets. Along with its steady-fast attitude, the noble qualities of the soul is shown along with the religious faith, attributing good qualities to God instead, praising God’s creation of beauty and smell. The soul’s noble traits are highlighted in its value of humility over “degree of knowledge” in becoming closer to heaven, further showing its devotion. This religious allusion is further expanded as the soul continually refers to the heaven as somewhere it must and soon will return to as it leaves behind the material world, calling attention to its spiritual origins where it will be claiming its reward.
Similarly, this depiction of the soul as a pure, spiritual thing with great bond to the heavens with is further highlighted in ‘On a Drop of Dew’, which focuses on the human soul’s desire to return the heavens as it is bound to the temporary material world. ‘On a Drop of Dew’ uses conceit of the titular drop of dew to call attention to the similarities between the purity of dew and the human soul. However, in this poem, the soul takes a more passive and victimized role rather than a heroic one, as the poem has greater focus on the soul’s suffering and helplessness in the confines of the material world. However, the soul is equally resolved in its devotion to the heavens. Though the material world is not terrible, described as a “mansion” or “the human flow’r” which are both attractive and desirable things, it is still not enough for the soul as it yearns for where it came from, the heavens. The soul is shown to be so pure and superior it has reluctance in even interacting with the material world, preferring to “round in itself incloses” as it detests the material world. The soul continually longs for the much purer heaven instead, desiring it to “pity its pain” and take it back, akin to a longing for salvation. Furthermore, the perfect nature of the soul is shown in its depiction as a round drop of dew, a sphere just like the sun, which is the heaven. Similarly, it is the human soul that is the spiritual, and thus the most similar to heaven. The image of the sphere’s spirituality in its “pure and circling thoughts” underscores the bond the human soul have with the heaven once more, as the soul, dew of a perfect circle, wishes to return the other perfect circle, the sun.
Additionally, the spiritual aspect and immortality of the soul is further highlighted through the contrast in the conceits. Though the material world may be pleasurable, its natural imagery as a “flower” or “sweet leaves and blossoms green” denote its status as a mortal thing that will someday perish, unlike the heaven the soul desires, likened to the sun. The temporary nature of the material world can prominently seen in the comparisons of the human soul to drops of dew and manna, similarly bound to earth “congealed and chill” by the heavens but dissolving in time back “into the glories of th’ almighty sun.” Though both the human body and the soul’s current state are temporary, it is the human body, or the conceit of flowers, that seems beautiful now but will decay ultimately. In contrast, the soul will merely change form to rejoin the heaven, similar to a drop of dew evaporating by the sun in the water cycle. This emphasis on its ‘immortality’ brings attention to its spirituality.
Marvell’s poetry has spiritual depictions of the soul as a pure being with great devotion to the heavens. This is heavily emphasized through its detachment and rejection of the temporary and impure material world, which contrasts the higher pursuit of a soul seeking salvation. Though there are opposing depictions on the soul’s active role as a hero in ‘A Dialogue, between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure’ and a passive role as the helpless dew in ‘On a Drop of Dew’, both views ultimately brings attention to the soul’s purity and attachment to heaven, and its final destination as the desired return to the ‘pure’ heavens.
Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House” and Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst” share similarities characteristic of the English “Country House” poem, but they also contain notable differences from each other. Both “To Penshurst” and “Upon Appleton House” describe the respective estates and family life of the poets’ patrons in idyllic terms. An admiration for the aristocracy also serves to reveal artistic dependence on patronage at this time period, as well as the need to uphold their high station so as to preserve the social hierarchy. The poets differ in portrayal of perfection, however. Marvell’s drawn-out work, more complicated in its praise, focuses primarily on the superiority of the Fairfaxes, and also makes a broader reference to issues relating to politics and religion that Jonson either ignores entirely or merely glances over. Jonson, in a more straightforward manner, obsequiously describes the Sidneys as having a beautiful and luxurious lifestyle, but is especially interested in their generosity, which he claims is reflected in the external features of their palatial district. Both poets paint their patrons as the apex of perfection in all matters, made manifest in the homes that they depict in detail. Although there are major contrasts, these poems are alike regarding most of the typical “Country House” respects, attempting to discuss a particular abode while alluding to larger cultural attitudes regarding the nature, art, and society of the seventeenth-century era.
Writing “To Penshurst,” Jonson describes the bucolic environs of Penshurst as the ideal natural paradise to inhabit. Jonson acknowledges it to be less gaudy than other palatial abodes, say the temple of Solomon, but claims “art (still is there) reverenced the while.” (Jonson 6) The residence may not be Mount Olympus in terms of architectural brilliance, but this exquisite country charm only adds to the glory of Penshurst as a pastoral wood fit for nymphs to frolic in and gods to roam around. In typical country house terminology, he claims the forested landscape is full of all manner of wondrous things. Even the pheasants and partridges love the place so much that they are “willing to be killed” for food, “thy ponds…pay thee tribute fish…that run into thy net”, and “Bright eels, that emulate them, leap on land”; these references may seem absurd to our modern ears but would have been a quite familiar Arcadian theme to the classical scholar’s. (Jonson 30, 32-33, 37) Jonson continues in his panegyric fashion to laud the beauteous bounty offered by Penshurst. He characterizes it as overflowing with “thy garden flowers” and full of fruit trees whose luscious “early cherry, with later plum, / Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come / The blushing apricot and wooly peach / Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach”, particularly nice imagery. (Jonson 39,41-44)
But the poem is not merely an ode to idyllic scenery, having much more depth beneath the surface. The more forceful social commentary begins to emerge here: And though thy walls be of the country stone. They’re reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan; There’s none that dwell about them wish them down, But all come in, the farmer and the clown, And no one empty-handed to salute Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit. (Jonson 45-50) The patrons are loved by all for their own sake, not for selfish motives. This reveals the pleasant place Penshurst has in the surrounding community, not an object of scorn for the working classes. It’s worth noting that the building was, in this fantastical scenario, not constructed through the pains of labor. Serving as an oasis from work, Penshurst welcomes members of all levels of society to come within its gates and jubilantly bring their harvest to the feasts. Unfortunately, though, not all are treated equally in the poem: the objectification women faced in the seventeenth century is apparent when ladies are listed amongst the “ripe” fruits proffered. Nevertheless, the dwelling is still painted as the ideal idyllic abode for all, “But what can this (more than express their love) / Add to thy free provisions, far above / The need of such? whose liberal board doth flow / With all that hospitality doth know!”(Jonson 54,57-60) Partaking of “the lord’s own meat”, no one is turned away from the libidinous banquet, for what “is his lordship’s shall be also mine.”(Jonson 62 ,64) Idealistically, no turmoil exists between the noblemen or servants, as the height of virtue and caring for the downtrodden is represented in the work. Christian symbolism is present, since Penshurst resembles a paradise where no one is unhappy or overburdened by work; biblical references imbue the piece, such as illusions to the magnanimous master feeding poor, lowly sinners along with wealthy, invited guests.
Jonson’s patron, Robert, 1st Earl of Leicester and brother of that brilliant Renaissance man, Sir Phillip Sidney, is meant to be this kind lord who treats the people exquisitely well. Emphasis on highlighting the object of a poet’s gratitude, the patron who affords him the ability to keep writing, is emphasized here. According to the Broadview Anthology, “We see in his many commissioned occasional pieces the cultivation of aristocratic patronage on which he depended—as in ‘To Penshurst’, his eloquent tribute to the Sidney family.” (Black) Jonson also pays homage to the lady of his house, a woman of “high housewifery” with several lines expressing the loveliness of her domestic accoutrement and explaining how the bowers are always prepared for visitors. (Jonson 85) Jonson ends by completing the portrait, telling a personified Penshurst, “Thy lady’s noble, fruitful, chaste withal; / His children thy great lord may call his own, / A fortune in this age rarely known” and claiming the children’s “gentler spirits have sucked innocence”, having been taught to pray and study theology from “virtuous parents’ noble parts” and learned “The mysteries of manners, arms, and arts” in this pure, charming intellectual atmosphere. (Jonson 90-92, 94, 97, 98) Jonson echoes a classical sentiment in an English country setting, by portraying how living a tranquil life, secluded from the strife politics and warfare, is not an idle or useless waste of a family’s time, but the most desirable state of being, for “Now, Penshurst, they will proportion thee / With other edifices, when they see / Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else, / May say, their lords have built, but thy lord dwelt.” (Jonson 99-102) Harmony of art and nature in 17th century society culminates at this rural palace, befitting a rustic king, or a poet’s patron.
Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House” draws upon similar themes as “To Penshurst”, but there is a great deal of disparity in the body of the poem. At the very beginning, Marvell immediately poses a hypothetical question and promptly answers his own posited query: if we look to Nature as a guide, why does Lord Fairfax require such a grand, opulent home when it hardly suits the size he needs? Rather than talking about the magnanimous nature of the master towards the rest of the community, as Jonson did over and over again, Marvell, as if anticipating envious or judgmental backlash from others in awe of Fairfax’s residence, paints his patron as a sort of saintly personage higher above others and thus more deserving of Appleton House. He points out, first: But all things are composed here Like Nature, orderly and near: In which we the Dimensions find Of that more sober Age and Mind, When larger sized Men did stoop To enter at a narrow loop; As practising, in doors so strait, To strain themselves through Heavens Gate. (Marvell 25-32) Already, he is willing to expand the reasoning behind the architecture’s erection. Rather than taking into account many superficial elements, as Jonson was playfully wont to do, Marvell focuses primarily on the patron family’s moral integrity and heroism. With typical flourishes, he maintains that Fairfax deserves an elaborate dwelling, formerly on convent grounds, because of his noble merits and argues that men will flock in pilgrimage to his palace, “to adore…where Fairfax trod before.” (Marvell 36) Marvell actually reckons it too small for Fairfax’s metaphorical stature, and, in parodoxical words, writes, “ungirt and unconstrain’d, / Things greater are contain’d.” (Marvell 43-44) Often, in describing the property’s physicality, Marvell makes geometric references: in doing so, he attributes the brilliant house to human handiwork but, in a metaphysical fashion, rationalizes its magnificence as evidence of the owner’s spiritual worth.
In describing the grounds of his house, Marvell presents a larger than life characterization of Lord Fairfax. Both “Upon Appleton House” and “To Penshurst” offer abundant bases for the existence of the residences and shed light on their individual patrons’ virtue, though in varying ways: Marvell’s tactic is to cast his patron as a passionate romantic and spiritual hero. Marvell repeatedly talks of Fairfax’s honor above that of other lowly men: Yet thus the laden House does sweat, And scarce indures the Master great: But where he comes the swelling Hall So Honour better Lowness bears… Then That unwonted Greatness wears Height with a certain Grace does bend, But low Things clownishly ascend. (Marvell 49-56) He continues to claim that no excuse is warranted, however, because everything at Appleton “does answer Use”, saying it is prideful, a vice absent in Penshurst, to “contemn” “Where neatness nothing can condemn”. (Marvell 62, 64, 63) This concept of order being a high priority for a household, and in life in general, echoes Jonson’s sentiments, as well. For Marvell, Fairfax’s house stands as a beacon of order and goodness.
He views Fairfax as a Protestant hero having taken over a morally disordered Catholic stronghold. A large portion of the poem’s passages describe “Discoursing with the Suttle Nuns” who are held in contempt by Marvell as cunning and corrupt, nothing like his Lord Fairfax. Fairfax, in taking his bride from the sisters’ supposed snares and replacing their grounds with his “holy” house, is depicted as the restorer of order, in both a physical and spiritual sense. Before becoming Fairfax’s wife, Isabella was a naïve virgin girl, first lured to the convent lands by (what he believed to be) the “false” rituals of superstitious papal “folly”. According to Marvell, Fairfax would later come to transform it from a place of harm into a righteous, law-abiding area, “’Twas no Religious-House till now.” (Marvell 94, 218, 280)
Marvell describes how, with bribery, the women within the “Gloomy Cloyster Gates” claimed they led a life of prayerful contemplation, holy leisure, and fair obedience as innocent, chaste warriors for God. They reside in a bastion of religious seclusion, away from “those wild Creatures, called Men”, including Fairfax. (Marvell 89, 102) With homoerotic undertones, the condescending Mother Superior notes the beauty of the virgin’s face, comparing it to a statue of Mary (devotion which Anglicans lack and most Protestants view as idolatry), praises her industrious hands, and lauds her lovely voice lilting up to heaven, but Marvell believes her words are all part of the cunning plan to entrap girls within the “evil” convent. Marvell’s deliberate renunciation of any value resting in the Catholic Faith, lumping these nuns in with the whole of Catholicism, is shown in the hypocritical duplicity, from an Anglo-Protestant perspective, of the mother’s speech. Presenting a warped depiction of the religion, her woman-worshipping rhetoric leaves no room for a man such as Fairfax or of Christ; there would be no place for men at Appleton House unless he swooped in to save the day. The mighty protagonist, Fairfax, believes the nuns claims of finding piety in pleasure to be false when he rescues the virgin, “weeping at the Altar” from these liars with “smooth” tongues. (Marvell 264, 200) Valorous Fairfax is portrayed as freer of the so-called dungeons of imprisoning nunhood as a true man of God. Marvell uses natural analogy to express how “with his utmost Skill. / Ambition weed but conscience till. / Conscience, that Heaven-nursed Plant, / Which most our Earthly Gardens want / A prickling leaf it bears.” (Marvell 353-357) A redeemer of edifices ruled by folly, Fairfax as lauded a sort of savior of mankind against women who deem it “Sacriledge a Man t’admit / To holy things, for Heaven fit.”(Marvell 139-140) Jonson certainly heaps praise upon his patron, as well, but hardly with the same level of hero-worship that Marvell exhibits.
Ironically, considering the poem was created by an artist, art in “Upon Appleton House”, more specifically seamstress work, is presented in an unflattering light as part of the clever ploy to trap the Virgin of Thwaites in a vow, “Art by which you finly’r cheat.” (Marvell, 204) This mistrust of art is albeit mitigated, later, in his description of the wonders nature yields, like unto “Mexique-Paintings, all the Plumes” that “Rome, Greece, Palestine, ere said / I in this light Mosaick read…(not mistaken) in Natures mystick Book.” (Marvell 580-584) This shows that artistic beauty and the loveliness of Nature, which Appleton House is built upon, is not in itself dangerous, but that the spiritually sterile, barren nuns are unworthy of such beautiful grounds. The writer implies that these women sully the purity of Nature and abuse art, merely using them as illusions to trap the virgin. Likewise, before Fairfax inspired the “true” art of Marvell’s piece, Marvell posits that the beauty of art was employed only as a tool of corruption. Jonson portrays the beauty of art, architecture, and Nature in only a positive light, but Marvell exposes the dark underside of these things that his patron must destroy in order to recreate the pastoral paradise of Appleton House.
This prejudiced portrayal of the convent and disdain of the (in Marvell’s mind) insidious, Rosary-wielding nuns reflects the castigation of the Roman Catholic church in general, which was an abhorrence rife in England at this time. Such bias cannot be found anywhere in “To Penshurst” even if the author shared this repugnance. “To Penshurst” touches on Christian moral and spiritual themes, indeed, but never engages in this culturally relevant battle between religious sects. It is as if the blissful environs of Penshurst are protected from such spiritual strife. However, much like Jonson’s Sidneys, the Fairfax family is against completely retiring from the rest of the world and closing themselves in their private palisade, which is exactly what the nuns did according to Marvell. In his poem, the calculating nuns try to convince girls to join into an oasis of delight devoid of distress, where strict rules will bend for the borders of liberty. In Marvell’s actual esteem, their Catholic precepts are cage-like “Bars (that) inclose the wider Den…shuts its Gates / And, from us, locks on them the Grates.” (Marvell 101-104) Both Jonson’s and Marvell’s patrons advocate entering the gate of Heaven through generosity and openness to the broader, surrounding community, unlike the closed-up cloister. Thus, locking oneself away to a life of prayer and meditation is viewed by the poet as a lesser way of connecting with God and helping humanity, inferior to action and physical interaction with others. Fairfax saved the good lady from her purported reclusive torment, but along the way he exiles the cultish nuns and takes their lands, a morally dubious act. However, it is justified in Marvell’s mind, as he writes, “Ill-counsell’d Women, do you know / Whom you resist or what you do?” (Marvell 239-240) In both Marvell’s and Jonson’s poems, neither patron can do any wrong from the poets’ perspective, but, in Fairfax’s case, this includes casting out an entire group of people, ostracizing/slandering a religious order, and taking over their home, suggesting he may not be the perfect saint the poet portrays him to be, no matter how much rationalization Marvell offers.
Rather briefly, Marvell covers another controversial topic, defending Fairfax’s choice to retire away from Cromwell after the Glorious Revolution, another politically charged topic absent from the peace of Penshurst. Fairfax took a break from war in soft defiance, and Marvell has lost nothing of his admiration for his bravery or dependence on him financially after this incident. According to Ashley Randolph Griffith’s dissertation from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “information about the career and retirement of Thomas Fairfax–who in 1650 was nominally Interregnum England’s highest-ranking leader–partially demystifies both Fairfax’s retirement motives and Marvell’s poem.” (Griffith) But regardless of whether it really was the best course of life for Fairfax, Marvell explores an age-old conflict between pacifism and the honor of nobly fighting for one’s country, of contemplation versus action. Marvell qualifies his patron’s decision by saying that Fairfax’s status as a military man cannot be extricated, that his love for warfare has not dissipated even though he abandoned a vita activa for the contemplative life. In warlike imagery, Marvell maintains that Fairfax merely replaced actual warfare, absurdly enough, with the exaggerated intrigue of an imaginary domestic war zone, “The Gardiner had the Souldiers place, / And his more gentle Forts did trace. / The nursery of all things green. / Was then the only magazeen.” (Marvell 337-340) Almost ridiculous, Marvell often combines Nature and architecture with fighting imagery by discussing terms such as an “invisible Artillery,” armies of flower petals, “vigilant patrol,” language of encampment, the “Bee”-“sentinel”’s “Huts,” guards storming and conquering castles, “bloody” “Massacre”, shots well-fired, mini “Garrisons”; he even depicts the men mowing the grass of Appleton House as victors commanding the grassy field. (Marvell 362, 313, 317-318, 394, 397, 332) While Jonson holds more a high regard for a life devoid of work and embraces the passivity of a country lifestyle, Marvell maintains that, even off the battlefield, Fairfax is a man of action, not of contemplation and cunning like the nuns who owned the land before him.
Just as there are difference between how the poets view their respective patrons and how they characterize the ideal country life, there is disparity between Marvell’s fervent, active perception of nature and Jonson’s more serene, pacifistic embrace of it; however, their mutual interest in the natural surroundings of a country house is worth emphasizing. Indeed, in a striking parallel to the Penshurst poem, references to the beauty of Nature abound throughout “Appleton House.” The Mother Earth worship, so to speak, is less blind than Jonson’s, though, for he acknowledges negative aspects of it, as we touched up on earlier. Marvell focuses especially on the dying, falling, and overgrowing of plants, philosophically compared to the battle of temptation against blighting sin. Although it’s important to note that, just as Jonson had a deep, intimate connection to Penshurst, Marvell felt similarly fond and deeply proud of his patron’s house. Having lived at Appleton and spent many a lazy day amongst its foliage, cherishing the air that cooled his brow upon the mossy banks, the poet’s affection is personal. He never desires to escape the hold Appleton has on him, “Bind me ye Woodbines in your ‘twines, / Curle me about ye gadding Vines, / And Oh so close your Circles lace, / That I may never leave this Place” yet “lest your Fetters prove too weak, / Ere I your Silken Bondage break, / Do, you, O Brambles chain me too, / And courteous Briars nail me though.” (Marvell 609-616) Even this language, though laudatory, speaks to sinister, violent undertones, as if he has been mesmerized by Nature’s wiles and could not leave if he tried.
Marvell’s focus is less on Jonson’s fish and fruits and more on the birds of the fresh air and the colorful and redolent flowers, the bees flying about the air or insects flitting in and out of the humble grass, all of which he discusses multiple times. With religious imagery, Marvell compares the Mowers who forge ahead in the garden to “Israelites” parting “a green Sea”, once again, proving himself to use explicit religious imagery like Jonson, perhaps even a bit more often. (Marvell 389-390) Throughout, he refers to biblical sites, discussing taking shelter from the flood, and ancient foreign cities like Rome and Greece, the birthplaces of democracy, blending Nature with politics. In making allusions to great learning of classical times, he employs an epic style not unlike the exaggerated, idealistic elements of Jonsonian poetics. However, as we saw earlier, Jonson humbly acknowledges that Penshurst may not be quite as beautiful as the Temple of Solomon, Mount Olympus, etc. Marvell’s work paints the architecture of Appleton House and its natural surroundings as having historical import, hearkening back to luscious porticoes or palaces, writing “Arching Boughs unite between / The Columnes of the Temple Green.” (Marvell 509-510)
For Marvell, like Jonson, trees and water, especially the river, are main objects of pastoral affection because they have deeper significance, drawing a connection between Nature and his patrons. As we have seen, Jonson places a great deal of focus on water as an almost-magical source of life giving food and water and lets the contents of the river shed light on the bounty and generosity of his patrons, but Marvell uses it to illumine the beauty of his patron’s family. He compares the river to “a calm Sea”, but claims Maria surpasses its appeal, as every poem needs a young heroine. (Marvell 434) Marvell’s protégé, Fairfax’s daughter Maria, serves that role as the prancing Edenic woodland fairy for Appleton’s own “Elysian Fields.” (Marvell 759) Not to accuse the poet of having underhanded, avaricious motives, but it makes sense to lavish such praise on the girl tutored by the poet and to claim she takes after her father, considering her father pays for his living. Again utilizing nature to convey his point, he says Maria is worthy fruit of Fairfax’s loins and will one day make his line proud when she leaves them, “a sprig of Mistleto, / On the Fairfacian Oak does grow; / Whence for some universal good / The Priest shall cut the sacred bud; / While her glad parents must rejoice.” (Marvell 739-744) Like the Sidney children, her upbringing is under “the Discipline severe, / Of Fairfax,” but she’s also destined to be divine, incorruptible, and graceful, as the tutor compares her to the awesome River: To Her the Meadow sweetness owes; Nothing could make the River be So Chrystal-pure but only She; She yet more Pure, Sweet, Streight, and Fair, Than Gardens, Woods, Meads, Rivers are. (Marvell 723, 692-696) Like Lady Sidney, Maria completes the “Beauty, aiming at the heart” as the wise, blessed maiden “rais’d” of the household, whose boughs from the varied orchards are her fashionable accessories. (Marvell 705,603)
Both homesteads are blissful, British Arcadias with high regard for nature and order as seen from a classical perspective: a fixture of “Country House” poetry. Marvell, arguably, goes into more depth discussing his patron’s life and provides narrative details of the family whereas Jonson focuses more on poetic idealism and setting the scene in a fanciful way, creating a bucolic mood. Marvell only halfheartedly sets up vita completiva as the paragon of pleasure and joy, preferring action to a sedentary existence, unlike Jonson, who holds up humble relaxation as a way of life. For Marvell, even the retiring nature of Appleton House must be shoehorned into a life of public action; in order to justify its existence he uses warlike language that never shows up in “To Penshurst.” Thus, the poets disagree on the ideal lifestyle devoid of labor or tension, but both agree that happiness can be found in a country house. Jonson and Marvell have disparate ideas of what constitutes pastoral goodness and which matters are most important to discuss, but, at their cores, the poems convey the same message that the beauty and goodness of their patrons’ estates mirror the beauty and goodness of their patrons. Each poet concurs that a Country House is one of the most marvelous, peaceful places in the world to be.
Jonson, Ben. “To Penshurst.” Ed. Joseph Black, et.al. The Renaissance and the Seventeenth Century. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2010. Print.
Black, Joseph, et.al, eds. The Renaissance and the Seventeenth Century. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2010. page 584. Print.
Marvell, Andrew. “Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax.” Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature. 3 July 2012. Web accessed March 13, 2013
Asheley Randolph Griffith, “Four approaches to Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House”: Poetic patterns, estate lands, retirement of a hero, and education of a young woman” (January 1, 1996). Electronic Doctoral Dissertations for UMass Amherst. Paper AAI9709600.
‘Annihilating all that’s made/To a green thought in green shade.’ -Marvell
‘I am re-begot/of absence, darknesse, death; things which are not.’ -Donne
‘Nothing,’ as a concept has plasticity; it can be used in a number of different ways and refer to any number of different things. Nothing can be an adjective denoting something of little value, a noun referring to nonexistence, or literally meaning ‘not anything.’ Whilst W. Bradford Smith asserts that metaphysical poetry is ‘concerned with the analysis of experience,’ surely nothingness cannot be an experience, as every experience must surely consist of something. Therefore in metaphysical poetry we must interpret ‘nothing’ in a broad, and perhaps not entirely literal, sense. Using John Donne and Andrew Marvell’s metaphysical poetry as exemplars, this essay will outline the different kinds of nothing and nothingness that permeate their work, and the fear and frustration associated with it.
Death is a recurrent ‘nothingness’ throughout the works of metaphysical poets, and is the most obvious way in which this concept of ‘nothing’ is approached. it is John Donne who in particular has a fascination with death in his work, or as Ramie Targoff suggests, was ‘gripped by a tremendous dear of death, his writings return again and again to strategies for conquering this fear.’ In a modern context, this fear of death may be taken to be a fear of being rendered non-existent or nothing by it. however, living in a devoutly Christian climate, (Donne being first catholic then later protestant) death meant passing on into some kind of afterlife, and it is clear when reading Donne’s sermon death’s duell that his fear of death is not of spiritual nothingness:
‘the ways of our departing out of this life, are in his hands he will have a care of us in the our of death[.]’
Donne’s linguistic choices here are in fact comforting, ‘in his hands’ evoking the image of god caring for the dead, assuring the listener that death is neither solitary nor arbitrary but is in capable ‘hands.’ Donne’s fear of death seems to lie instead in his fear of physical decay, or ‘an overwhelming concern for the material decay of the corpse,’ and in this way becoming physically nothing. This is perhaps a reflection of the sensuous nature of Donne’s poetry, which is concerned with physical touch and sight; the decay of the body would remove these senses entirely. This fear of decay into nothingness is exemplified in the funeral which effectively gives instructions from Donne to whoever buries him after he is dead:
‘do not harm […] the subtle wreath of hair, which crowns my arm; the mystery, the sign, you must not touch’
Donne describes how he wants his lover’s hair entwined around his arm in order to keep his limbs ‘from dissolution,’ preserving his physical body. In this line his imperatives, ‘do not harm,’ ‘must not touch’ are commanding and clear, as though firmly in the belief that this preservation will work. In addition to this, Donne uses the words ‘tie’ and ‘manacled’ in reference to the entwined hair, expressing a desperation to be physically held together and remain intact, but also suggesting his desire to remain ‘tied’ with the living world. The final line of the poem, ‘I bury some of you,’ implies a kind of anchoring in the living world, or as Targoff puts it, a ‘strategy’ for conquering his fear of death. By entwining his dead, decaying body with a living woman, Donne cannot become physically ‘nothing’ because a part of him will still be associated with a living person.
This ‘strategy’ employed by Donne raises questions about identity in relation to death and nothingness. Targoff asserts that one of the reasons Donne’s fear of death was so great was the thought of ‘the violation of bodily integrity whereby one person’s remains become confused with another,’ thus becoming anonymous and thereby ‘nothing’ in terms of identity. To conquer this, Donne wrote a number of poems in which he bade farewell to various things; Farewell to Love for instance. Judith Schoerer Herz sees these farewell poems as ‘another way of saying ‘I am here.’ Don’t forget me, he insists to his mistresses and, more urgently, to God[.]’ This kind of grounding is evident in A Valediction: Of my Name, in the Window:
‘My name engrav’d herein, Doth contribute my firmnesse to this glasse[.]’
the act of engraving is one of great permanence as it involves force, and in this case a name; the most important identity marker one has. The choice of a window here is also important in Donne’s desire for permanence; in the second stanza Donne writes ‘here you see mee, and I am you,’ describing the reflection that the addressed woman will see of herself in the window. By engraving his name into the window, Donne makes himself a part of the woman’s reflection, so that when she looks in the window, she sees his name and her reflection as one. By doing so, Donne has made himself permanent on three different levels in the poem, the first being the engraving of the name into the window, the second being his subsequent reflection onto the living woman, and the act of writing the poem itself, which one could argue immortalizes the poet. Donne’s fear of nothingness (in terms of lost identity) is clear in this way, for it is clearly not enough for him to simply leave poetry behind, but even within the poetry he anchors himself with various concrete objects and actions.
Death in metaphysical poetry is not limited solely to the poet’s musings on their own deaths but also those deaths of others; their absence being a kind of nothingness. If we return to Smith’s conception of metaphysical poetry as concerned with ‘experience,’ one might suggest that fear of one’s own death is something approached with fear by metaphysical poets as it is an experience they cannot comprehend. However, in the case of Donne’s holy sonnets, written after his wife’s death, whilst he naturally laments her death, he seems to take comfort in the notion of her being in heaven: ‘And her soule early into heaven ravished[.]’ For Donne here, the subject of the poem (most likely his wife) has not been reduced to nothingness as he fears for himself, but her soul, her essential being, continues to live in heaven. Marvell similarly writes on the death of others, one example of this being An Epitaph Upon- which describes a woman who remained chaste to her death, a source of disappointment or dissatisfaction to Marvell:
‘She summ’d her life up ev’ry day; modest as morn; as mid-day bright; gentle as ev’ning, cool as night; ’tis true: but all so weakly said; ’twere more significant, she’s dead.’
These final few lines of the poem build up to the anti-climax of nothingness; Marvell presents us with the goodness of the woman’s ‘modesty’ and ‘gentleness,’ but in the final, blunt clause, stresses that these virtues are worth nothing now that she is dead. She is not only ‘nothing’ in the sense that she no longer exists, but her virtues and value have come to nothing as she has not given herself to a man, or more specifically, Marvell.
Marvell’s epitaph, however, seems less to lament the absence of the woman than express regret and even anger at the unreciprocated feelings Marvell had towards her, introducing a different kind of ‘nothing,’ in frustrated and unreturned affections and love. As Herz suggests, writing on Donne’s poetry, ‘erotic love, or sexual desire, require or presupposes a certain lack […] obstacles, absence, or frustration seem built into desire.’ Indeed, Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress, an urgent plea to the woman of his affections, highlights these frustrations:
‘Then worms shall try that long-preserved virginity: and your quaint honour turn to dust; and into ashes all my lust.’
In a similar vein to ”twere more significant, she’s dead,’ the line ‘then worms shall try that long-preserved virginity’ expresses a frustration at the idea of a woman’s chasteness being wasted; a woman dying without a man enjoying her body. The idea of nothingness is also bound up with the line ‘into ashes all my lust,’ again presenting an image of lust turning into nothing (ashes) because it is unfulfilled. Nothing as a value judgement also emerges in this examination, where women become effectively useless, i.e. nothing, when they die without giving themselves to a man sexually.
It is generally true that early modern metaphysical poetry was concerned largely with religion, death and love. Nothingness, in various senses of the word, pervades all of these things, being in itself a metaphysical concept; something one cannot really touch, and so inevitably is involved in much of Donne and Marvell’s work. Nothingness in most senses, whether this be nonexistence, decay or unreciprocated affections, remains a negative force in their poetry, in opposition to their desires and representing something difficult to comprehend and overcome.
The Journal of English Literary History indicates that ‘‘The picture of little T.C. in a prospect of Flowers’ is characteristic of Marvell’s poetry both in its complexity and in its subtle use of superficially ‘romantic’ or decorative detail’. The degree in which Marvell uses detail and figurative poetic symbols to portray common concerns throughout his poetry is what has elevated him to legendary status. These concerns that are discussed, and particularly highlighted within ‘The picture of little T.C. in a prospect of Flowers’ are; the loss of innocence, and the fall of man from prelapsarian world. Moreover, to portray these ideas, Marvell uses the poetic method of floral imagery in order for readers to gain a sense of natural wonder and hopelessness.
To begin ‘The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers’, Marvell uses the metaphor of the a ‘nymph’ to describe a little girl, believed to be Theophilia Cornewell. This introduces the theme of innocence from the outset as within the phrase ‘This nymph begins’, the imagery of an ancient tree creature is created, and T.C. is given a certain godliness. Moreover, the use of the word ‘nymph’ implies virginity and purity as the beautiful nature that these creatures inhabit has been left untouched by the evil Gods. The use of ‘nymph’ imagery is particularly fitting in the ‘green grass she loves to lie’, as not only does Marvell create the sense of a pure being, roaming a garden with little to care about. He also uses alliteration of the euphonious ‘g’ to lull the reader into a sense of calm. This theme harks back to one of Marvell’s original beliefs, that of the Platonic view of an untouched soul. Little T.C. in stanza one represents the soul that exists in the world of the forms, in the Christian case, heaven. We will soon realise, that as Barbara Everett suggests, the length of the title is perhaps ‘grander than the little girl to whom the poem devotes itself’
We learn, the evils of the world force the soul to lose it’s purity, much like the Platonic soul that becomes deformed when entering the world of the ‘Nouminas’ (humanity). Ian Ousby suggest that we are dealing with ‘a complicated contemplation of innocence’ and this is exemplified in the line ‘green grass she loves to lie’, as the inverted syntax of the sentence places ‘green’ as the subject. This could well refer to the snake that deceived Adam in the Garden of Eden, much like sexual desires are to deceive little T.C. into a world of dominance and impurity. Moreover, the sibilance throughout the line, further suggests the imminent loss of innocence to external desires. Finally, the ambiguity of the word ‘lie’ leads the reader to believe that this early innocence that is portrayed could well be a front, exemplified by ‘Let me be laid’ in Stanza 3.
This idea, loss of innocence is seen portrayed in ‘The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun’ through similar depictions. In this poem, the speaker is a nymph lamenting the death of her fawn. It begins similarly, with the nymph crying out that a band of ‘wanton troopers’ have shot her fawn ‘and it will die.’ She notes that the fawn never did these men any harm. Much like in ‘…little T.C…’ the fawn is described as a ‘pretty skipping grace’ in the garden, an image that creates the sense of a little child, galloping through a forrest clearing. Moreover, Marvell associates the nymph and her fawn with white, supposedly the colour of purity. This further depiction of innocence causes us to further regret this loss of innocence when it is harshly trampled by the intrusion of men. This overall concern of innocence that is discussed so frequently in Marvell’s poetry, and exemplified by the nymph’s description of the fawn’s calmness and innocence in her garden could well resonate with his views on Charles I as he faced his executioner, a man, facing the ultimate loss of innocence.
Marvell’s concern with innocence is heavily tied to his concern of the fall of man from prelapsarian world. Joseph H Summers indicated that ‘The picture of little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers is not a graceful trifle which somehow got wrong. It is a fine poem and it elucidates Marvell’s central vision of man and nature’. This can be vividly seen in two distinct pieces of imagery. Firstly, the idea that ‘her golden days’ were before the outward interruptions of hedonistic pleasures such as the quest for ‘triumph over hearts’. This picture seems to allude heavily to life before the fall of man. The Garden of Eden was indeed free from desire and devilish pleasures that are consistently depicted throughout Marvell’s poetry, particularly in ‘A dialogue between the resolved soul and created pleasures’. This prelapsarian world view is further depicted through ‘gives them names’, where T.C. is going through the garden naming the ‘wilder flowers’. This is much like the taxonomy that Adam gifted through the naming of all the flowers in the Garden of Eden, a symbol of the immense knowledge that God gifted to him before the fall, as opposed to the weak epistemology that we are afforded now. The overall effect of the imagery of prelapsarian life is to suggest the immense struggles of hedonism, and lack of purpose that we must deal with today in a world where in reality, deontology, and the following of the ‘word of God’ should reign supreme.
Further references to the fall of man are found throughout Marvell’s poetry, particularly in ‘The Garden’ and ‘Bermudas’. As Frank Kermode suggests, the title of ‘The Garden’ – alludes to ‘the earthly paradise’, more commonly, the Garden of Eden. From this, Marvell continues by painting the image of abundance and opulence that can be found through the pastoral poetry in stanza 5. Namely, through descriptions of ‘Ripe apples’ that ‘drop about my head’. This not only exemplifies the beauty and perfection of ‘ripe’ apples, but the ‘drop’ that follows when we try to take advantage of the lords perfection. Moreover, in ‘Bermudas’, the small island exemplifies paradise on earth, that could only be reached during the prelapsarian era. The notion that the island ‘throws the melons at our feet’ further suggests the opulence perfection of the Garden of Eden before the apple of knowledge was stolen. The overall effect being the anguish of humans at our inability to achieve the ‘heaven on earth’ that was once felt in the time of Adam.
Finally, a common poetic theme used throughout Marvell’s work is metaphors, portrayed through various flowers. In “The Picture of Little TC in a Prospect of Flowers”, we are told that it is ‘only with the roses’ that T.C. ‘plays’. The significance of the rose is that it i symbolises love, affection and beauty. For example, in Emily Bronte’s “A Little Budding Rose,” the poet compares the rose to love. It is a common poetic technique that has the effect in this poem of suggesting that soon T.C. will be playing with the hearts of men, much like she plays with the roses. Moreover, the metaphors drawn from flowers is seen in ‘The Mower Against The Gardens’ where ‘The tulip white did for complexion seek. Here the tulip is an unnecessary accessory, this is because tulips are pretty but without a scent. Whereas Corinthians 2:15 suggests that we need a scent, ‘an aroma of life’, thus, it is an analogy for life’s needless desires. Therefore, the effect of the reference is to add significant metaphorical depth to Marvell’s poetry.
“The Picture of Little TC in a Prospect of Flowers” provides an excellent reference to many of Marvell’s key concerns throughout his poetic career. Most notably is his concern for the loss of innocence, particularly in children such as Theophilia Cornewell. Moreover, the idea of a prelapsarian world is discussed throughout Marvell’s work, and ‘… Little TC …’ is no exception as it contributes through imagery of a ‘golden age’. Finally, Marvell’s poetic method of the depiction of flowers is exemplified thought the ‘roses’ in which T.C. is personified.