Metaphysical to Augustan: Studies in Tone and Sensibility in the Seventeenth Century

By Geoffrey Walton | Go to book overview

6
THE POETRY OF ANDREW MARVELL

THE ATTENTION devoted to Andrew Marvell as a poet during the present century is in conspicuous contrast to the neglect that his work suffered previously. Though the Romantics regarded him as a noble champion of liberty, Coleridge has not even a jotting about his poetry. Marvell is no mere transitional figure -- far less so than Cowley -- but his work exhibits certain features that are germane to this study. An interpretation of his major poems, made in the light of what has been said about wit and about their literary environment, may therefore help further to illuminate his achievement. 'Illuminate' is, indeed, scarcely an appropriate word, for in reading Marvell one usually finds oneself blinded by excess of light and one's problem is to appreciate the exact configuration of the brilliant surface and to penetrate to the sources of light beyond; Isaac Rosenberg stated the difficulty in his own way when he wrote in a letter, 'Now I think that if Andrew Marvell had broken up his rhythms more he would have been considered a terrific poet'.1

Let us first examine the little pastoral, Clorinda and Damon, an example of Marvell's lightest manner which nevertheless shows some of the principal features of his genius in an easily observable form -- probably this is an early poem,2 which makes consideration of it now even more appropriate:

____________________
1
Collected Works, ed. G. Bottomley and D. Harding, p. 317.
2
The chronology of Marvell's poetry cannot be finally settled. I agree with Miss Bradbrook and Miss Lloyd Thomas when they say that To His Coy Mistress and The Definition of Love are in advance of the other courtly and pastoral poetry and so, presumably, later in date( Andrew Marvell, p. 42), but to suggest that there are stylistic reasons for saying that the Fairfax poems might have been written later still (p. 72) seems to me completely erroneous.

-121-

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