Andrew Marvell an English metaphysical poet, Parliamentarian, and the son of a Church of England clergyman (also named Andrew Marvell). As a metaphysical poet, he is associated with John Donne and George Herbert. He was a colleague and friend of John Milton.
The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell
Marvell was born in Winestead-in-Holderness, East Riding of Yorkshire, near the city of Kingston upon Hull. The family moved to Hull when his father was appointed Lecturer at Holy Trinity Church there, and Marvell was educated at Hull Grammar School. A secondary school in the city is now named after him.
His most famous poems include To His Coy Mistress, The Garden, An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland, The Mower’s Song and the country house poem Upon Appleton House.
At the age of twelve, Marvell attended Trinity College, Cambridge and eventually received his BA degree. Afterwards, from the middle of 1642 onwards, Marvell probably travelled in continental Europe. He may well have served as a tutor for an aristocrat on the Grand Tour; but the facts are not clear on this point. While England was embroiled in the civil war, Marvell seems to have remained on the continent until 1647. It is not known exactly where his travels took him, except that he was in Rome in 1645 and Milton later reported that Marvell had mastered four languages, including French, Italian and Spanish.
First poems and Marvell’s time at Nun Appleton
Marvell’s first poems, which were written in Latin and Greek and published when he was still at Cambridge, lamented a visitation of the plague and celebrated the birth of a child to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. He only belatedly became sympathetic to the successive regimes during the Interregnum after Charles I’s execution, which took place 30 January 1649. His Horatian Ode, a political poem dated to early 1650, responds with sorrow to the regicide even as it praises Oliver Cromwell’s return from Ireland.
Circa 1650-52, Marvell served as tutor to the daughter of the Lord General Thomas Fairfax, who had recently relinquished command of the Parliamentary army to Cromwell. He lived during that time at Nun Appleton House, near York, where he continued to write poetry. One poem, Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax, uses a description of the estate as a way of exploring Fairfax’s and Marvell’s own situation in a time of war and political change. Probably the best-known poem he wrote at this time was To His Coy Mistress.
Marvell’s poetic style
Marvell’s poetry is often witty and full of elaborate conceits in the elegant style of the metaphysical poets. Many poems were inspired by events of the time, public or personal. The Picture of Little TC in a Prospect of Flowers was written about the daughter of one of Marvell’s friends, Theophila Cornwell, who was named after an elder sister who had died as a baby. Marvell uses the picture of her surrounded by flowers in a garden to convey the transience of spring and the fragility of childhood. This poem’s title is ironically echoed by John Ashbery’s poem “The Picture of Little JA in a Prospect of Flowers.”
POEMS BY ANDREW MARVELL
The Definition of Love
BY ANDREW MARVELL
My love is of a birth as rare
As ’tis for object strange and high;
It was begotten by Despair
Magnanimous Despair alone
Could show me so divine a thing
Where feeble Hope could ne’er have flown,
But vainly flapp’d its tinsel wing.
And yet I quickly might arrive
Where my extended soul is fixt,
But Fate does iron wedges drive,
And always crowds itself betwixt.
For Fate with jealous eye does see
Two perfect loves, nor lets them close;
Their union would her ruin be,
And her tyrannic pow’r depose.
And therefore her decrees of steel
Us as the distant poles have plac’d,
(Though love’s whole world on us doth wheel)
Not by themselves to be embrac’d;
Unless the giddy heaven fall,
And earth some new convulsion tear;
And, us to join, the world should all
Be cramp’d into a planisphere.
As lines, so loves oblique may well
Themselves in every angle greet;
But ours so truly parallel,
Though infinite, can never meet.
Therefore the love which us doth bind,
But Fate so enviously debars,
Is the conjunction of the mind,
And opposition of the stars.
Others were written in the pastoral style of the classical Roman authors. Even here, Marvell tends to place a particular picture before us. In The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn, the nymph weeps for the little animal as it dies, and tells us how it consoled her for her betrayal in love.
His pastoral poems, including Upon Appleton House achieve originality and a unique tone through his reworking and subversion of the pastoral genre.