My mind was once the true survey

Today’s poem is from Andrew Marvell, from the seventeenth century, a very clever and accomplished poet, who could tackle multiple subjects and themes with great skill and impact. In this poem, Marvell develops a metaphor for love based on mowing grass in a meadow. The poet’s love, Juliana in this poem, cuts down the poet just as he cuts down the grass in the meadow. Cleverly done, I think.

The Mower’s Song
BY ANDREW MARVELL

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 spy’d
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 shall adorn my tomb;
For Juliana comes, and she
What I do to the grass, does to my thoughts and me

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173952&gt;

The poem has a kind of narrative flow, proceeding from the poet’s state in the first stanza, when he has total mastery of his task of cutting grass, right to the end of the poem where he must die under the despair of being in love and the grass will adorn his tomb. The intervening stanzas recount the growing pain and suffering of being in love with the said Juliana, such that the poet and the meadow he is cutting fall into ruin. The two repeated lines at the end of each stanza hammer home the notion of love as a destructive force, upsetting the wellbeing of the poet and the world around him.

The Poetry Dude

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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
From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-fair-singer/&gt;

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

SEE how the flowers, as at parade, 

The poet Andrew Marvell was writing around the middle of the 17th century, before during and after the English Civil Wars, the rule of Oliver Cromwell and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. It was indeed a turbulent time, and this poem is a commentary on the state of England when the Civil War had finished. The metaphor is of the country as a garden, and the parallels he draws are quite poignant, and regretful of the self-destructive forces which were ravaging the country.
You can even take the poem a bit more literally and imagine the poet walking through a garden and imagining the flowers and bees are soldiers, a bit like a retired general illustrating battles on the dinner table with the salt and pepper pots.

A Garden, Written After The Civil Wars

 
SEE how the flowers, as at parade,
Under their colours stand display’d:
Each regiment in order grows,
That of the tulip, pink, and rose.
But when the vigilant patrol
Of stars walks round about the pole,
Their leaves, that to the stalks are curl’d,
Seem to their staves the ensigns furl’d.
Then in some flower’s beloved hut
Each bee, as sentinel, is shut,
And sleeps so too; but if once stirr’d,
She runs you through, nor asks the word.
O thou, that dear and happy Isle,
The garden of the world erewhile,
Thou Paradise of the four seas
Which Heaven planted us to please,
But, to exclude the world, did guard
With wat’ry if not flaming sword;
What luckless apple did we taste
To make us mortal and thee waste!
Unhappy! shall we never more
That sweet militia restore,
When gardens only had their towers,
And all the garrisons were flowers;
When roses only arms might bear,
And men did rosy garlands wear?

 
Andrew Marvell

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-garden-written-after-the-civil-wars/&gt;

The first 12 lines of the poem set up the metaphor of the garden, with the flowers as regiments of soldiers standing in formation, and bees lying in wait to stab them and lay them low. The poem then goes on to refer directly to England, “that dear and happy isle” which should be a paradise, and which should be protected from harm by the sea which surrounds it . (It is of course a myth that England has never been invaded from abroad, except by William of Normandy in 1066 – invasion has happened on numerous occasions throughout England’s history).

But in the case of the civil War, being surrounded by the sea was no defense because the conflict was entirely within England – and Marvell laments this, “What luckless apple did we taste to make us mortal and thee waste”. England was indeed laid to waste and its gardens, its beauty, its innocence seemed to be gone forever. A doleful prospect indeed.

The Poetry Dude

Where the remote Bermudas ride

We might read this poem by Andrew Marvell as praise of the attractions of island life. Where you can mess about with boats, pluck exotic fruits from the abundance of trees, enjoy the scents and sounds of the sea, the wind in the palm trees and feel the warmth of the sun, a bit like some of Baudelaire’s poems 200 years later. There might be some clues here as to why Bermuda is still a favoured holiday destination for the sun and sand crowd. But as you read the poem, you realise that the features of the island are praised, not just for their inherent qualities but as manifestations of the divine. The poem was written at a time when England was recovering from the austerities of Cromwell’s puritan government, and religious expression could find a more joyous tone. I think this succeeds.
A secondary layer of meaning in this poem is to celebrate the discoveries and adventures of explorers and traders who were opening up the New World in the seventeenth century, both on the mainland of North and South America, as well as the Caribbean islands which are the subject of this poem. I take Bermudas here to refer to all of the Caribbean rather than the islands we now know as Bermuda.

Bermudas

 
Where the remote Bermudas ride
In th’ Oceans bosome unespy’d,
From a small Boat, that row’d along,
The listning Winds receiv’d this Song.
What should we do but sing his Praise
That led us through the watry 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 Prelat’s rage.
He gave us this eternal Spring,
Which here enamells every thing;
And sends the Fowl’s 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 Pomgranates close,
Jewels more rich than Ormus show’s.
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,
Proclaime the Ambergris on shoar.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospels Pearl upon our coast.
And in these Rocks for us did frame
A Temple, where to sound his Name.
Oh let our Voice his Praise exalt,
Till it arrive at Heavens Vault:
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Eccho beyond the Mexique Bay.
Thus sung they, in the English boat,
An holy and a chearful Note,
And all the way, to guide their Chime,
With falling Oars they kept the time.
Andrew Marvell

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/bermudas/&gt;

So the story of this poem is of a divine force guiding the mariner through the perils of the sea to reach safe harbour in this wonderful island, which serves as a demonstration of divine will and divine blessings. The description is both recongnisably as a tropical island, but also could stand as an allegory for the garden of Eden, reconstituted in then modern times.

The poem is composed of rhyming couplets, perhaps the simplest verse form, and which can degenerate into superficial doggerel if the poet lapses. Here it works very well, Marvell finds the rhymes which fit the meaning and intent and his choice of words is always faithful to the overall spirit of the poem.

The Poetry Dude

My Love is of a birth as rare

The title of this poem from seventeenth century English poet Andrew Marvell promises The Definition of Love – not a definition of love but the real thing, the definitive answer. Who would not rush to read this and find out the solutions to one of life’s eternal conundrums? Well, we don’t quite get that lofty ambition fulfilled, but we do get a very good poem in which the forces of attraction are stymied by the forces of separation, or as Marvell frames it, Love versus Fate. Can love win out? Read on…

The Definition Of Love

 
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’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.

 
Andrew Marvell

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-definition-of-love/&gt;

The poet sets the bar high for a possible triumph of love in the very first stanza when he characterise s his love as “begotten by despair upon impossibility”. Unfortunately for all romantics, the poem continues, stanza after stanza, to talk up the strength of Fate and the feebleness of Hope and love. The two lovers are like parralel lines which can gaze across at each other but never meet. (A nice short geometry lesson can be read in the seventh stanza. And the random thought occurs to me, could the great 1970s album from Blondie, Parralel Lines, have a subtext of unrequited love?)

And so on to the conclusion, in the final stanza – Fate decrees the eternal separation of the lovers, therefore they can only be joined by the mind – an intellectual love, not a physical love. Contrast this with The sensuousness of Marvell’s “To his coy mistress”, posted here on October 7th, 2014, and you can see a great contrast in the poet’s treatment of love.

The Poetry Dude

My love is of a birth as rare

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
Upon Impossibility.

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.

 
Andrew Marvell

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-definition-of-love/&gt;

 

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

Had we but world enough, and time

A big shout out to Andrew Marvell, on behalf of all of us (every heterosexual male) who is or has been an impatient would-be lover trying to overcome the prevarication of the girl of our dreams. Let’s just do it, tonight, now…
Marvell wonderfully goes through the arguments – if time were limitless, courtship could be worthy of the desired one , with years dedicated to praising each aspect of her beauty. But time is limited, we will get old, we will die, so let’s do it now before its too late.
Who could resist such an argument. Invoke your inner 17 year old self when reading this poem.

To His Coy Mistress
BY ANDREW MARVELL

 
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-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173954&gt;

 
When you have fallen in love with the words and sentiments of this poem, then look at the way it is constructed in rhyming couplets, hurrying the reader forward, echoing the haste of the poet to win over his love and get her between the sheets.

This poem of course is another manifestation of carpe diem, but here it is applied carpe diem, carpe diem with an urgent purpose. Like the 1980s song from Olivia Newton-John, “Let’s get physical”.

Marvell navigated the turbulent world of seventeenth century England, surviving civil war, the execution of the king, the puritan dictatorship and then restoration, keeping his head while many others were losing theirs. To produce a poem like this in the midst of such turmoil proclaims his humanity from the rooftops.

Bloody marvellous!

 

 

The Poetry Dude