poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Due to the inconsistencies and ambiguities within his work and the scarcity of information about his personal life, Andrew Marvell has been a source of fascination for scholars and readers since his work found recognition in the early decades of the twentieth century. Born on March 31, 1621, Marvell grew up in the Yorkshire town of Hull, England, where his father, Rev. Andrew Marvell, was a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church and master of the Charterhouse. At age twelve Marvell began his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge. Four years later, two of Marvell's poems, one in Latin and one in Greek, were published in an anthology of Cambridge poets. After receiving his bachelor's degree in 1639, Marvell stayed on at Trinity, apparently to complete a master's degree. In 1641, however, his father drowned in the Hull estuary and Marvell abandoned his studies. During the 1640's Marvell traveled extensively on the continent, adding Dutch, French, Spanish, and Italian to his Latin and Greek—missing the English civil wars entirely.

Marvell spent most of the 1650s working as a tutor, first for Mary Fairfax, daughter of a retired Cromwellian general, then for one of Oliver Cromwell's wards. Scholars believe that Marvell's greatest lyrics were written during this time. In 1657, due to John Miltons efforts on his behalf, Marvell was appointed Milton's Latin secretary, a post Marvell held until his election to Parliament in 1660.

A well-known politician, Marvell held office in Cromwell's government and represented Hull to Parliament during the Restoration. His very public position—in a time of tremendous political turmoil and upheaval—almost certainly led Marvell away from publication. No faction escaped Marvell's satirical eye; he criticized and lampooned both the court and Parliament. Indeed, had they been published during his lifetime, many of Marvell's more famous poems—in particular, "Tom May's Death," an attack on the famous Cromwellian—would have made him rather unpopular with royalists and republicans alike.

Marvell used his political status to free Milton, who was jailed during the Restoration, and quite possibly saved the elder poet's life. In the early years of his tenure, Marvell made two extraordinary diplomatic journeys: to Holland (1662-1663) and to Russia, Sweden, and Denmark (1663-1665). In 1678, after 18 years in Parliament, Marvell died rather suddenly of a fever. Gossip of the time suggested that the Jesuits (a target of Marvell's satire) had poisoned him. After his death he was remembered as a fierce and loyal patriot.

Now considered one of the greatest poets of the seventeenth century, Marvell published very little of his scathing political satire and complex lyric verse in his lifetime. Although he published a handful of poems in anthologies, a collection of his work did not appear until 1681, three years after his death, when his nephew compiled and found a publisher for Miscellaneous Poems. The circumstances surrounding the publication of the volume aroused some suspicion: a person named "Mary Marvell," who claimed to be Marvell's wife, wrote the preface to the book. "Mary Marvell" was, in fact, Mary Palmer—Marvell's housekeeper—who posed as Marvell's wife, apparently, in order to keep Marvell's small estate from the creditors of his business partners. Her ruse, of course, merely contributes to the mystery that surrounds the life of this great poet. Marvell died on August 16, 1678.

The Definition of Love

Andrew Marvell, 1621 - 1678
My Love is of a birth as rare
As 'tis for object strange and high:
It was begotten by Despair
Upon Impossibility.

Magnanimous Despair alone
Could show me so divine a thing,
Where feeble Hope could ne'er have flown
But vainly flapped its Tinsel wing.

And yet I quickly might arrive
Where my extended soul is fixt,
But Fate does iron wedges drive,
And always crowds itself betwixt.

For Fate with jealous eye does see
Two perfect Loves; nor lets them close:
Their union would her ruin be,
And her tyrannic power depose.

And therefore her decrees of steel
Us as the distant Poles have placed,
(Though Love's whole World on us doth wheel)
Not by themselves to be embraced.

Unless the giddy Heaven fall,
And Earth some new convulsion tear;
And, us to join, the World should all
Be cramped into a planisphere.

As lines so Loves oblique may well
Themselves in every angle greet:
But ours so truly parallel,
Though infinite can never meet.
                                                    
Therefore the Love which us doth bind,
But Fate so enviously debars,
Is the conjunction of the Mind,
And opposition of the Stars.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell

A well-known politician, English poet and satirist Andrew Marvell held office in Oliver Cromwell's government and represented Hull to Parliament during the Restoration.

by this poet

poem
See with what simplicity
    This nymph begins her golden days!
      In the green grass she loves to lie,
  And there with her fair aspect tames
  The wilder flowers, and gives them names;
    But only with the roses plays,
                       And them does tell
What colour best becomes them, and what smell
poem
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you
poem
How vainly men themselves amaze 
To win the palm, the oak, or bays; 
And their uncessant labors see 
Crowned from some single herb or tree, 
Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade 
Does prudently their toils upbraid; 
While all the flowers and trees do close 
To weave the garlands of repose. 

Fair Quiet, have I