To make a final conquest of all me

Here is a poem from Andrew Marvell in which love is a combat, where the lover is an adversary to be fought. Inevitability love will win and the poet will be enslaved by love and beauty. Cupid’s arrow is the instrument of domination, although not present here.
It is a fair singer who brings the poet to ruin by those fearsome weapons of beautiful eyes and a beautiful voice. Who would not surrender?

The Fair Singer
To make a final conquest of all me,
Love did compose so sweet an Enemy,
In whom both Beauties to my death agree,
Joyning themselves in fatal Harmony;
That while she with her Eyes my Heart does bind,
She with her Voice might captivate my Mind.

I could have fled from One but singly fair:
My dis-intangled Soul it self might save,
Breaking the curled trammels of her hair.
But how should I avoid to be her Slave,
Whose subtile Art invisibly can wreath
My Fetters of the very Air I breath?

It had been easie fighting in some plain,
Where Victory might hang in equal choice.
But all resistance against her is vain,
Who has th’ advantage both of Eyes and Voice.
And all my Forces needs must be undone,
She having gained both the Wind and Sun.
Andrew Marvell
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In the first stanza, the poet sets out love’s invincible strategy for victory over him, a strategy of combining his lover’s beautiful eyes to captivate his heart with her beautiful singing voice to win over his mind. What else could resist her charms?

The second stanza is built around the claim that the poet could have resisted physical beauty alone. Interestingly, here it is her hair that symbolises her beauty, not her eyes, so this is a bit of departure from the expected symmetry of imagery with the first stanza. The final three lines of the stanza represent his surrender because of being exposed to the additional weapon of her Art, presumably her singing voice, which binds him in chains through the air.

The third stanza again claims the poet could have resisted in an equal combat, fought on a plain where no side has an advantage, but the fact that she can use both her eyes and her voice make resistance impossible. She has harnessed all the forces of the wind and the sun, sound and beauty, and the poet will lie down and do her bidding.

Love is indeed often irresistable

The Poetry Dude


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