John Donne and the Seventeenth-Century Metaphysical Poets

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

HARRY BERGER, JR.
Marvell's "Upon Appleton House":
An Interpretation

In this great poem the speaker enacts the process of withdrawal and return in a manner which is traditional when seen against the background of pastoral literature, but unique when explored in terms of other contexts. One such context is that of the lyric or first-person poem, especially as we find it in the late Renaissance or trace it through the line of great English poets from Chaucer.Another context is the so-called "baroque" interest in theatricality and role-playing. For in this as in other poems, the experience about which Marvell writes is identical with the experience the speaker is at once uttering and undergoing, i.e., what happens in "Appleton House" happens now in and to Marvell while he "says" the poem. And the peculiar tone Marvell imparts to this experience, a tone at once engaged and detached, sensuous and wittily disengaged, is closely connected to the fact that Marvell is staging himself, trying on (and trying out) certain conventional "roles"- attitudes, gestures, habits of mind—and delighting in his play both as participant and audience.

But these contexts are too purely aesthetic to allow us to do justice to other aspects of the poem, and I should like to approach my interpretation by way of another and wider corridor, over the entry of which might be inscribed "Thinking reed and thinking Reed." The necessary interdependence of these contrary emphases is a commonplace. The great seventeenth‐ century versions of the commonplace are distinguished by their dialectical and disjunctive stresses, and by their concern with the antipathy of inside to outside, or of small to large. Thought is opposed to extension, time to

____________________
From Southern Review (Australia) 1, no. 4 ( 1965). © 1965 by Harry Berger, Jr. University of Adelaide, South Australia, 1965.

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