The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, and Politics in the Age of Milton

By John Rogers | Go to book overview

2
Marvell, Winstanley, and the Natural History of the Green Age

I say that nothing is made without seed: all things are made by vertue of seed: and let the sons of Art know, that seed is in vain sought for in trees that are cut off, or cut down, because it is found in them only that are green. -- JOHN FRENCH, A new light of Alchymie (1650)

With the exception of the poems of Milton, few lyric poems of the seventeenth century have elicited as many critical attempts to discern their ideological significance as the Mower poems and Upon Appleton House of Andrew Marvell. In the wake of the famous debate between Cleanth Brooks and Douglas Bush on the question of the historical significance of Marvell's "Horatian Ode," there has prevailed for some years now the critical assumption that Marvell's pastoral poems -- "Damon the Mower", "The Mower against Gardens," "The Mower to the Glo-worms," "The Mower's Song," as well as Upon Appleton House -- cannot fully be understood until they are pressed to render up their historical significance.1 For the Elizabethan critic George Puttenham, a pastoral poem's historical meaning could be located in the poet's desire to "insinuate and glaunce at greater matters."2 And those

____________________
1
Cleanth Brooks, "Marvell's 'Horatian Ode"' ( 1946), and Douglas Bush, "Marvell's 'Horatian Ode"' ( 1952), are both reprinted in Michael Wilding, ed., Marvell: Modern Judgements ( London: Macmillan, 1969), pp. 93-124.
2
George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. Gladys D. Willcock and Alice Walker ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), p. 38. For political readings of Marvell's pastorals, see, for example, Don Cameron Allen, Image and Meaning: Metaphoric Traditions in Renaissance Poetry, 2d ed. ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968), pp. 187-225; and more recently, Michael Wilding, Dragons Teeth: Literature in the English Revolution ( Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), pp. 138-72. The sociopolitical readings of Marvell's images of agrarian labor, an interpretive tradition I discuss later in this chapter, include Raymond Williams, The Country and the City ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 26-34; Anthony Low, The Georgic Revolution ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985); Annabel Patterson, "Pastoral versus Georgic: The Politics of Virgilian Quotation", in Renaissance Genres: Essays on Theory, History, and Interpretation, ed. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), pp. 241-67; and Rosemary Kegl, ' "Joyning my Labour to my Pain': The Politics of Labor in Marvell's Mower Poems", in Soliciting Interpretation: Literary Theory and Seventeenth-Century

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