Andrew Marvell was a fine poet of seventeenth century England, whose work appeals as much to the intellect as to the emotions. Consider this poem “The Definition of Love”. The title itself warns us we are not about to get a parade of feelings and emotions created by love, but something more abstract, more analytical, more intellectual. And so it proves…
The Definition Of Love
My Love is of a birth as rare
As ’tis for object strange and high:
It was begotten by despair
Magnanimous Despair alone.
Could show me so divine a thing,
Where feeble Hope could ne’r have flown
But vainly flapt its Tinsel Wing.
And yet I quickly might arrive
Where my extended Soul is fixt,
But Fate does Iron wedges drive,
And alwaies crouds it self betwixt.
For Fate with jealous Eye does see.
Two perfect Loves; nor lets them close:
Their union would her ruine be,
And her Tyrannick pow’r depose.
And therefore her Decrees of Steel
Us as the distant Poles have plac’d,
(Though Loves whole World on us doth wheel)
Not by themselves to be embrac’d.
Unless the giddy Heaven fall,
And Earth some new Convulsion tear;
And, us to joyn, the World should all
Be cramp’d into a Planisphere.
As Lines so Loves Oblique may well
Themselves in every Angle greet:
But ours so truly Paralel,
Though infinite can never meet.
Therefore the Love which us doth bind,
But Fate so enviously debarrs,
Is the Conjunction of the Mind,
And Opposition of the Stars.
The first two stanzas firmly position the view of love as an impossible state, where despair and impossibility are the qualities which make love strong, trumping hope, which is doomed to failure.
The remainder of the poem goes through the various ways in which Fate confounds Love, fate seeing love as a threat to its omnipotence. There are scientific and mathematical references, to the earth going round the sun, to the geometry of parallel lines. The reader of the 17th century would feel flattered to recognize the modernity and energy of these concepts.
For the modern reader this poem works best as an exercize in style and an expression of the craft of the poet. It engages our mind not our soul, but it engages us compellingly on that basis. It is a poem to admire, if not to love.
The Poetry Dude