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The Mind of Andrew Marvell

September 7, 2019

 

Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678) an English metaphysical poet, satirist and politician, sat in the House of Commons between 1659 and 1678 and, during the Commonwealth period, was a colleague and friend of John Milton. Famous for poems such as the love-song "To His Coy Mistress", or "Upon Appleton House" and "The Garden", he also penned the political address "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland", and later satires "Flecknoe" and "The Character of Holland".

Marvell, the son of a Church of England clergyman, was born in Winestead-in-Holderness, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, near the city of Kingston upon Hull, His father was appointed Lecturer at Holy Trinity Church in Hull, and Marvell was educated at Hull Grammar School. At the age of 13, Marvell attended Trinity College, Cambridge.

From the middle of 1642 onwards, Marvell probably travelled in continental Europe. During the English Civil War, Marvell seems to have remained on the continent, where he mastered four languages, including French, Italian and Spanish.

Marvell's first poems were written in Latin and Greek and published when he was still at Cambridge. They lamented a visitation of the plague and celebrated the birth of a child to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. However, his "Horatian Ode", a political poem dated to early 1650, praises Oliver Cromwell's return from Ireland.

Circa 1650–52, Marvell lived at Nun Appleton Hall, near York, where he continued to write poetry. One poem, "Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax", explores Fairfax's and Marvell's own situation in a time of war and political change.

 

Here is a brief selection from his poetry:

 

“Had we but world enough and time, 

This coyness, lady, were no crime. 

We would sit down, and think which way 

To walk, and pass our long love’s day. 

Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side 

Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide 

Of Humber would complain. I would 

Love you ten years before the flood, 

And you should, if you please, refuse 

Till the conversion of the Jews. 

My vegetable love should grow 

Vaster than empires and more slow; 

An 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; 

An age at least to every part, 

And the last age should show your heart. 

For, lady, you deserve this state, 

Nor would I love at lower rate. 

 

But at my back I always hear 

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near; 

And yonder all before us lie 

Deserts of vast eternity. 

Thy beauty shall no more be found; 

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound 

My echoing song; then worms shall try 

That long-preserved virginity, 

And your quaint honour turn to dust, 

And into ashes all my lust; 

The grave’s a fine and private place, 

But none, I think, do there embrace. 

 

Now therefore, while the youthful hue 

Sits on thy skin like morning dew, 

And while thy willing soul transpires 

At every pore with instant fires, 

Now let us sport us while we may, 

And now, like amorous birds of prey, 

Rather at once our time devour 

Than languish in his slow-chapped power. 

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.” 

 

― Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress

 

 

 

“My love is of a birth as rare

As 'tis, for object, strange and high;

It was begotten by Despair

Upon Impossibility.” 

 

 

“Music, the mosaic of the air” 

 

 

“But Fate does iron wedges drive,

And always crowds itself betwixt.” 

 

 

“For Juliana comes, and she, what I do to the grass, does to my thoughts and me.” 

 

 

“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.” 

 

 

 

“Now therefore, while the youthful hue 

Sits on thy skin like morning dew, 

And while thy willing soul transpires

At every pore with instant fires, 

Now let us sport us while we may, 

And now, like amorous birds of prey, 

Rather at once our time devour 

Than languish in his slow-chapt power.” 

 

 

“Like the vain curlings of the watery maze,

Which in smooth streams a sinking weight does raise,

So Man, declining always, disappears

In the weak circles of increasing years;

And his short tumults of themselves compose,

While flowing Time above his head does close.” 

 

 

“Ye glow-worms, whose officious flame

To wand’ring mowers shows the way,

That in the night have lost their aim,

And after foolish fires do stray;

 

Your courteous lights in vain you waste,

Since Juliana here is come,

For she my mind hath so displac’d

That I shall never find my home.” 

 

 

“And yet I quickly might arrive 

Where my extended soul is fixt, 

But Fate does iron wedges drive, 

And always crowds itself betwixt.” 

 

 

“If these the Times, then this must be the Man.”

 

[on Oliver Cromwell] 

 

 

“The same arts that did gain

A power, must it maintain.” 

 

 

“O, who shall from this dungeon raise 

A soul enslaved so many ways? 

With bolts of bones, that fettered stands 

In feet; and manacled in hands. 

Here blinded with an eye: and there 

Deaf with the drumming of an ear; 

A soul hung up, as ’twere, in chains 

Of nerves, and arteries, and veins; 

Tortured, besides each other part, 

In a vain head and double heart?” 

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