Comment on Andrew Marvell’s Treatment of Love in His Love-Poetry

As in the other metaphysical poets, love plays a significant role in Marvell’s poetry. It has been said that one of three themes is love, and it occupies a considerable portion of his poetry. In his love poetry, Marvell’s attitude toward women is more adoration than condemnation found in John Donne.

Marvell’s love poems have been subject to critical analysis, with some poems receiving more acclaim than others. While some critics find his love poetry lacking passion, this opinion is disproven when considering poems such as “To His Coy Mistress” and others like “The Fair Singer” and “The Unfortunate Lover.” To delve into Marvell’s mastery of love poetry, I invite you to explore the comprehensive analysis presented in the article focusing on the critical appreciation of “To His Coy Mistress.”

Marvell’s Love Poems Are Critically Least Successful

Marvell is critically the most unsatisfactory in the poems, dealing with the theme of love except the poem, To His Coy Mistress. The Unfortunate Love is the least successful love poem ever written by a man of genius.

Even the celebrated love poem, The Definition of Love, is mere; a critic points out a study in the manner of Donne’s Valediction. Despite this attack, some of Marvell’s love poems are rightly considered the most miniature metaphysical love poetry and even the love poems written by English poets.

One such poem is To His Coy Mistress. It is a masterpiece. His love poetry lacks passion- this opinion of some critics does not hold water when we consider this poem along with the poems like The Fair Singer, The Unfortunate Lover, and so on.

Marvell Followed Petrarch in Writing A Few Love Poems

Although most of the points of his love poems are unconventional, Marvell took inspiration from Petrarch in at least three poems— To His Coy Mistress, The Fair Singer, and The Unfortunate Lover. Like Petrarch and most of the Elizabethan love poets, he exalts his beloved and lavishly praises her beauty and charm.

The Petrarchan lover was given to sighting and weeping over the indifference and callousness of his beloved, ultimately leading him to disappointment in love. In the poems To His Coy Mistress and The Fair Singer, the poet showers glowing and eloquent praises on her physical charms as manifested in her eyes and voice.

The poet says:

A hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes, and on thy Forehead Gaze

An age at least to every part

And the last age should show your heart.

To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell

The pretty love lyric tells that the poet finds in his beloved a combination of two beauties; the beauty of her eyes and her voice. It has compelled the poet to surrender to her.

The poet says:

But all resistance against her is vain,

Who has the advantage both of Eyes and Voice.

To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell

In all these three poems, we find intense passion. It is ardent and fervid. In the poem The Unfortunate Lover, his passion is almost red-hot. The lover is here hit by “all the winged artillery of Cupid and like Ajax finds himself between “the flames of the waves.”

Marvell’s Intellectual Elements Overshadow Love Elements in His Love Poems

As the fine example of metaphysical conceit, we find the lover “dressed in his blood.” Marvell’s disappointment in love constitutes his real tragedy, which brings his life to a sorrowful conclusion.

The passion is not as intense as in the poems mentioned above in other love poems. The intellectual element is so vital in Marvell’s love poetry that it pushes the passion of love into the background.

In these poems, T. S. Eliot rightly finds “a tough reasonableness beneath the slight lyric grace.” The argumentative quality is starkly distinct in these poems.

The Definition of Lover is an outstanding example of such love lyrics. The poet gets entangled with arguments, although Marvell begins with a highly intellectual conceit. The poet says:

My love is of a birth as rare

As ‘tis for object strange and high

It was begotten by despair

Upon Impossibility.

The Definition of Lover, Andrew Marvell

As a critic has pointed out, the poem begins with three-dimensional allegorical figures— Despair, Hope, and Fate—with Tinsel wings, iron wedges, and decrees of steel who control love’s whole world. The poet could have achieved the friction of his love, but fate drove them apart as it grew jealous of them—the lover and the beloved.

Next, the poet compares his and his mistress’ love to parallel lines that can never meet even if stretched to infinity.

Finally, he describes the love between him and his beloved as the “conjunction of mind” and “the opposition of stars.” The entire poem rests on logically developed arguments and creates the illusion of an essay in abstraction.

The Role of Science In Poetry’s Artistic Sentimental Expression

Science plays the role of aiding the art of expressing sentiment. Geometry and Astronomy are here pressed into the service of logic. The poem, The Definition of Love, therefore, expresses a thoroughly unconventional theme and holds a unique position in the whole range of English love poetry.

There is yet another poem in which Marvell has given precedence to the argumentative quality over the passion of love. “young love” expresses a grown-up man’s love for a little girl of about thirteen or fourteen.

The poet persuades the young, immature girl to love him because he loves her. He cannot wait till she attains fifteen as Fate may intervene in the fulfillment of love. The whole poem is one extended argument, and the originality of this poem lies in how one should develop an argument.

Marvell Added Syllogistic Pattern in His Love Poems

The syllogistic pattern of the poem To His Coy Mistress bears testimony to the poet’s intellectual quality. The poem consists of three stanzas, so the construction conforms to the requirement of syllogism.

Like a sound syllogism, the poem begins with “If” and proceeds to “But” and concludes in “Therefore.” In the first stanza, he tells us what would happen if they had enough time and space.

But in the second stanza, he tells us that he hears the coming of the winged chariot of time, so they cannot spend their time.

In the third and concluding stanza, the poet reaches the decision.

Final Thoughts

Andrew Marvell might not have been as much successful in his love poetry as he should have been according to his brilliance, but he surely got ahead of his time with some remarkable love poems.

Critics were speculative about his poetry style and formula, nonetheless, Marvell will always be remembered for some of the best love lyrics of English literature. 

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