Monday, November 1, 2021
Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” ― “perhaps the most famous ‘persuasion to love’ or carpe diem poem in English” ― eloquently praises the woman his protagonist desires, encouraging her to not delay accepting his wooing. And yet, as the Poetry Foundation suggests, “Everything we know about Marvell’s poetry should warn us to beware of taking its exhortation to carnality at face value.” Several alternatives are suggested before concluding, “The persona’s desire for the reluctant Lady is mingled with revulsion at the prospect of mortality and fleshly decay, and he manifests an ambivalence toward sexual love that is pervasive in Marvell’s poetry.”
It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that his lyrical poems came out from under the shadow of his political writing. In 1921, T.S. Eliot published an essay in the Times Literary Supplement in which he struggled to define the quality in Marvell’s poetry that sets it apart ― wit and magniloquence, perhaps, in part ―
-------“The quality which Marvell had, this modest and certainly
-------impersonal virtue ― whether we call it wit or reason, or
-------even urbanity ― we have patently failed to define. By
-------whatever name we call it, and however we define that name,
-------it is something precious and needed and apparently extinct;
-------it is what should preserve the reputation of Marvell.”
Where the remote Bermudas ride
In th’ ocean’s bosom unespy’d,
From a small boat, that row’d along,
The list’ning winds receiv’d this song.
What should we do but sing his praise
That led us through the wat’ry maze
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where he the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storm’s and prelates’ rage.
He gave us this eternal spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air.
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night;
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows.
He makes the figs our mouths to meet
And throws the melons at our feet,
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
With cedars, chosen by his hand,
From Lebanon, he stores the land,
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel’s pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple, where to sound his name.
Oh let our voice his praise exalt,
Till it arrive at heaven’s vault;
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexic Bay.
Thus sung they in the English boat
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.
*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Andrew Marvel: first post.
Another Andrew Marvell poem was recently featured at Poems For Ephesians.
Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.