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Andrew Marvell

1621–1678

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.

Andrew Marvell

By This Poet

7

To His Coy Mistress

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 please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart;
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
   But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
   Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

The Mower's Song

My mind was once the true survey
    Of all these meadows fresh and gay,
    And in the greenness of the grass
    Did see its hopes as in a glass;
    When Juliana came, and she
What I do to the grass, does to my thoughts and me.

    But these, while I with sorrow pine,
    Grew more luxuriant still and fine,
    That not one blade of grass you spied,
    But had a flower on either side;
    When Juliana came, and she
What I do to the grass, does to my thoughts and me.

    Unthankful meadows, could you so
    A fellowship so true forgo,
    And in your gaudy May-games meet,
    While I lay trodden under feet?
    When Juliana came, and she
What I do to the grass, does to my thoughts and me.

    But what you in compassion ought,
    Shall now by my revenge be wrought:
    And flow'rs, and grass, and I and all,
    Will in one common ruin fall.
    For Juliana comes, and she
What I do to the grass, does to my thoughts and me.

    And thus, ye meadows, which have been
    Companions of my thoughts more green,
    Shall now the heraldry become
    With which I will adorn my tomb;
    For Juliana comes, and she
What I do to the grass, does to my thoughts and me.

Bermudas

Where the remote Bermudas ride   
In the ocean's bosom unespied,   
From a small boat that row'd along   
The listening woods received this song:   
  
'What should we do but sing His praise
That led us through the watery maze   
Unto an isle so long unknown,   
And yet far kinder than our own?   
Where He the huge sea-monsters wracks,   
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,   
Safe from the storms' and prelates' rage:   
He gave us this eternal Spring   
Which here enamels everything,   
And sends the fowls to us in care
On daily visits through the air:   
He hangs in shades the orange bright   
Like golden lamps in a green night,   
And does in the pomegranates close   
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows:
He makes the figs our mouths to meet   
And throws the melons at our feet;   
But apples plants of such a price,   
No tree could ever bear them twice.   
With cedars chosen by His hand 
From Lebanon He stores the land;   
And makes the hollow seas that roar   
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.   
He cast (of which we rather boast)   
The Gospel's pearl upon our coast;
And in these rocks for us did frame   
A temple where to sound His name.   
O, let our voice His praise exalt   
Till it arrive at Heaven's vault,   
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding may
Echo beyond the Mexique bay!'   
  
Thus sung they in the English boat   
A holy and a cheerful note:   
And all the way, to guide their chime,   
With falling oars they kept the time.

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