1852 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Andrew Marvell

Mary Russell Mitford, "Old Poets. Andrew Marvell" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 532-39.



ANDREW MARVELL'S very name suggests the idea of incorruptible patriotism. The well-known story of his refusing a court bribe by calling his servant to prove that he had dined three times upon a shoulder of mutton, although probably apocryphal, serves to prove the notion universally entertained of the uncompromising member for Hull; unassailable as Robespierre himself to all money temptations, and strong enough to have resisted the subtler temptations of power. His learning too is generally acknowledged. He shared with Milton the high and honorable office of Latin Secretary to the Lord Protector; was the champion of the great poet's living reputation; the supporter of free principles against all assailants, and is praised even by Swift, not addicted to over-praise, for the keen wit and fiery eloquence of his polemical tracts, nay, the Dean paid him the still more unequivocal compliment of imitating his style pretty closely.

As a poet, he is little known, except to the professed and unwearied reader of old folios. And yet his poems possess many of the finest elements of popularity: a rich profusion of fancy which almost dazzles the mind as bright colors dazzle the eye; an earnestness and heartiness which do not always, do not often belong to these flowery fancies, but which when found in their company add to them inexpressible vitality and savor; and a frequent felicity of phrase, which, when once read, fixes itself in the memory and will not be forgotten.

Mixed with these dazzling qualities is much carelessness and a prodigality of conceits which the stern Roundhead ought to have left with other frippery to his old enemies, the Cavaliers. But it was the vice of the age — all ages have their favorite literary sins — and we must not blame Marvell too severely for falling into an error to which the very exuberance of his nature rendered him peculiarly prone. His mind was a bright garden, such a garden as he has described so finely, and that a few gaudy weeds should mingle with the healthier plants does but serve to prove the fertility of the soil.

BERMUDAS.
Where the remote Bermudas ride
In the ocean's bosom unespied;
From a small boat that rowed along
The listening winds 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 prelate's rage.

He gave us this eternal spring,
Which here enamels every thing;
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.

Oh let our voice His praise exalt
Till it shall reach to 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.

THE GARDEN.
How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak or bays;
And their incessant labors see
Crowned from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all the flowers and trees do close,
To weave the garland of repose.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear;
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men.
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.
Society is all but rude
To this delicious solitude.

No white, nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green.
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress' name.
Little, alas! they know or heed
How far these beauties her exceed!
Fair trees! where'er your backs I wound,
No name shall but your own be found.

When we have run our passion's heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat.
The gods, who mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race.
Apollo bunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow;
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
Not as a nymph but for a seed.

What wondrous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my bead;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine, the curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind from pleasure less
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean, where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
Casting the body's vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There, like a bird, it sits and sings,
Then whets and claps its silver wings;
And, still prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate;
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But 'twas beyond a mortal's share
To wander solitary there;
Two Paradises are in one,
To live in Paradise alone!

How well the skillful gardener drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new:
Where, from above, the milder sun
Does through a fragrant Zodiac run:
And as it works the industrious bee
Computes his time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours,
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers?

Wicked person! I was over charitable in forgiving his conceits. It is not in woman to pardon his want of gallantry. One can only suppose that the unhappy man was an old bachelor. If the last stanza but one be provoking to female vanity, the last of all excites another feminine quality, called curiosity. What does the now dial mean? Is there really nothing new under the sun? And had they in the middle of the seventeenth century discovered the horologe of Flora?

THE NYMPH COMPLAINING FOR THE DEATH OF HER FAWN.
The wanton troopers riding by
Have shot my fawn and it will die.
Ungentle men! they can not thrive
Who killed thee. Thou ne'er didst alive
Them any harm. Alas! nor could
Thy death to them do any good.
I'm sure I never wished them ill;
Nor do I for all this; nor will:
But if my simple prayer may yet
Prevail with Heaven to forget
Thy murder, I will join my tears
Rather than fail. But oh, my fears!
It can not die so. Heaven's King
Keeps register of every thing,
And nothing may we use in vain:
Even beasts must be with justice slain.
———*———*———*———*———
Inconstant Silvio, when yet
I had not found him counterfeit,
One morning, (I remember well)
Tied in this silver chain and bell,
Gave it to me: nay, and I know
What he said then: I'm sure I do.
Said he, "Look how your huntsmen here
Hath brought a fawn to hunt his deer."
But Silvio soon had me beguiled.
This waxed tame, while he grew wild,
And, quite regardless of my smart,
Left me his fawn but took his heart.
Thenceforth I set myself to play
My solitary time away
With this, and very well content
Could so my idle life have spent;
For it was foil of sport, and light
Of foot and heart; and did invite
Me to its game; it seemed to bless
Itself in me. How could I less
Than love it? Oh! I can not be
Unkind to a beast that loveth me.
Had it lived long, I do not know
Whether it too might have done so
As Silvio did; his gifts might be
Perhaps as false or more than he,
But I am sure, for anght that I
Could in so short a time espy,
Thy love was far more better than
The love of false and cruel man.
With sweetest milk and sugar, first
I it at my own fingers nursed;
And, as it grew so every day
It waxed more sweet and white than they:
It had so sweet a breath. And oft
I blushed to see its foot more soft
And white, shall I say than my hand?
Nay, any lady's of the land.
It is a wondrous thing how fleet
'Twas on those little silver feet;
With what a pretty skipping grace
It oft would challenge me the race;
And, when 't had left me far away,
'Twould stay, and run again, and stay;
For it was nimbler much than hinds,
And trod as if on the four winds:

I have a garden of my own,
But so with roses overgrown
And lilies, that you would it guess
To be a little wilderness,
And all the spring-time of the year
It only loved to be there.
Among the beds of lilies I
Have sought it oft where it should lie,
Yet could not, till itself would rise,
Find it, although before mine eyes;
For in the flaxen lilies' shade
It like a bank of lilies laid;
Upon the roses it would feed,
Until its lips e'en seemed to bleed;
And then to me 'twould boldly trip,
And print those roses on my lip.
But all its chief delight was still
On roses thus itself to fill,
And its pure virgin limbs to fold
In whitest sheets of lilies cold.
Had it lived long, it would have been
Lilies without, roses within.
———*———*———*———*———

Nothing can exceed the grace, the delicate prettiness of this little poem. There is a trippingness in the measure, now stopping short, now bounding on, which could not have been exceeded by the playful motions of the poor fawn itself. We must forgive his want of gallantry. It must have been all pretense. No true woman-hater could so have embodied a feeling peculiar to the sex, the innocent love of a young girl for her innocent pet.

I must find room for a few stanzas of Marvell's Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's return from Ireland. Fine as the praise of Cromwell is, it yields in grandeur and beauty to the tribute paid by the poet to the demeanor of the King upon the scaffold; by far the noblest of the many panegyrics upon the martyred King.

———*———*———*———*———
'Tis time to leave the hooks in dust,
And oil the unused armor's rust;
Removing from the wall
The corslet of the hall.

So restless Cromwell could not cease,
In the inglorious arts of peace,
But through adventurous war
Urged his active star:

———*———*———*———*———
And if we would speak true
Much to the man is due,

Who from his private gardens, where
He lived reserved and austere,
(As if his highest plot
To plant the bergamot,)

Could by industrious valor climb
To win the great work of Time,
And cast the kingdoms old
Into another mold!

Though justice against fate complain
And plead the ancient rights in vain,
But those do hold or break
As men are strong or weak.

Nature that hateth emptiness
Allows of penetration less.
And therefore must make room
Where greater spirits come.

What field of all the civil war
Where his were not the deepest scar?
And Hampton shows what part
He had of wiser art:

Where, twining civil fears with hope,
He wove a net of such a scope,
That Charles himself might chase
To Carisbrooke's narrow case;

That thence the royal actor borne
The tragic scaffold might adorn.
While round the armed bands
Did clap their bloody hands,

He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe's edge did try;

Nor called the gods, with vulgar spite,
To vindicate his helpless right;
But bowed his comely head
Down, as upon a bed.

And he who wrote this was Cromwell's Latin Secretary! and Cromwell's other Latin Secretary was Milton! There have been many praises of the Lord Protector written latterly, but these two facts seem to me worth them all.