John Donne and the Seventeenth-Century Metaphysical Poets

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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GEOFFREY HARTMAN
"The Nymph Complaining
for the Death of Her Faun":
A Brief Allegory

The allegories [previously] proposed have crushed the lightness of nymph and fawn, the high poetic spirits of Marvell's poem. Why allegorize at all? The only good reason is that the poem itself teases us into thinking that nymph and fawn are also something else. This teasing should be respected: either there is some allegory here, or the poem is deceptively suggestive. Is the nymph the human soul; the fawn a gift of grace, or some aspect of Christ or Church? Such thoughts are especially encouraged by images reminiscent of the Song of Songs.

The fawn is not unlike the young hart of the Song of Songs or its fawns that feed among the lillies, while the nymph's garden is a kind of hortus conclusus with which fawn and Shulammite are linked. Such allusions, it is true, freely used in the love poetry of the time, do not of themselves establish the presence of allegory. Yet when imagery from the Song of Songs is used in comparable contexts—either directly, as in Crashaw, to celebrate divine love in passionate terms, or allusively, as in Vaughan, to illustrate the quest for evidences of election—it reposes on well-established allegorical tradition. Marvell may have chosen this tradition for its very bivalence, but a reader cannot miss the sacramental and even christological note emerging first in lines 13-24 ("There is not such another in / The World, to offer for their Sin"), crowding around the imagery from Song of Songs (lines 71-93), and sustained to the end of the poem, whose coda is a series of conceits on

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From Beyond Formalism: Literary Essays 1958-1970. © 1970 by Yale University. Yale University Press, 1970.

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