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Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell

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Image:Andrew marvell statue.jpg
A statue of Andrew Marvell, located in King Street, Kingston upon Hull, UK

Andrew Marvell (March 31,1621August 16,1678) was an English metaphysical poet, and the son of an Anglican clergyman (also named Andrew Marvell). As a metaphysical poet, he is associated with John Donne and George Herbert. He was the first assistant of John Milton.

Marvell was born in Winestead-in-Holderness, East Riding of Yorkshire, near the city of Kingston upon Hull. The family moved to Hull when his father was appointed Lecturer at Holy Trinity Church there, and Marvell was educated at Hull Grammar School. A secondary school in the city is now named after him.

At the age of twelve, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge and received his BA degree when he was eighteen. Going to university at a very young age was much more common in the 17th century than it is now. Afterwards, Marvell went on the Grand Tour; while England was embroiled in a civil war from 1642 to 1647, Marvell was on the continent until 1646. We do not know exactly where his travels took him, except that he was in Rome in 1645, but he said later that he spent the time well, and learned four languages.

Although his first poems, which were written in Latin and Greek and published when he was still at Cambridge, celebrated the birth of a child to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, he soon became sympathetic to the Parliamentarian cause. After returning from his tour, he worked for two years as tutor to the daughter of Thomas Fairfax, who had recently given command of the Parliamentary army to Oliver Cromwell. He lived during that time at Nun Appleton House, near York. He was very happy there, and wrote much beautiful poetry. One poem, Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax, is about the beauty of the house. Another was a long ode in a Latin style celebrating Cromwell’s return from Ireland. Probably the best-known poem he wrote at this time was To His Coy Mistress.

During the period of increasing tensions leading up to the First Anglo-Dutch War of 1653, Marvell published "The Character of Holland," repeating the then current stereotype of the Dutch as "drunken and profane": "This indigested vomit of the Sea,/ Fell to the Dutch by Just Propriety".

He became a tutor to Cromwell’s ward, William Dutton, in 1653, and travelled to France with him. Later, when they were in England, he lived at the house of John Oxenbridge in Eton. Oxenbridge had made two trips to Bermuda, and it is thought that this inspired Marvell to write his poem Bermudas. He also wrote several poems in praise of Cromwell, who was by this time Lord Protector of England.

In 1657, Marvell joined Milton, who by that time had lost his sight, in the post of Latin secretary to Cromwell's Council of State at a salary of £200 a year, which represented financial security at that time. In 1659 he was elected to Parliament from his hometown of Hull in Yorkshire, a post he held until his death. He was financially supported by the contributions of his constituents [1].

Oliver Cromwell died in 1658. He was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son Richard, but In 1660 the monarchy was restored, and Charles II was crowned in 1661. Marvell wrote several long and bitter verses against the corruption of the monarchy. Although they were probably circulated privately among his friends, they were too politically sensitive to be published until after his death. Satire was a dangerous exercise in those days. His political maneuvering must have been skillful, because he not only avoided all punishment for his cooperation with republicanism but helped convince the government of Charles II not to execute John Milton for his antimonarchical writings and revolutionary activities. (Marvell also contributed an eloquent prefatory poem to the second edition of Paradise Lost.)

In one long satire, written in 1667, Marvell took up again his anti-Dutch feelings, dealing with the Second Anglo-Dutch War then raging. It is called Last Instructions to a Painter, and was first published anonymously as a broadsheet – a kind of political pamphlet. The poet is telling a painter how to picture the state without a proper navy to defend them, led by men without intelligence or courage, a corrupt and dissolute court, and dishonest officials. Samuel Pepys, himself a government official, commented in his Diary, Here I met with a fourth Advice to a Painter upon the coming in of the Dutch and the End of the War, that made my heart ake to read, it being too sharp and so true.

From 1659 until his death in 1678, Marvell was a conscientious member of Parliament, answering letters from his constituents and going on two diplomatic missions, one to Holland and the other to Russia. He also wrote prose satires (anonymously, of course) criticizing the monarchy and Catholicism, defending Puritan dissenters, and denouncing censorship. Vincent Palmieri noted that he is sometimes known as the "British Aristides" for his incorruptible integrity in life and poverty at death.

Although Marvell was a Parliamentarian, he was not a Puritan. He had flirted briefly with the Catholic church as a youth, and was described in his thirties as a notable English Italo-Machiavellian. During his lifetime, his prose satires were better known and considered wittier than his verse, and many of his poems were not published until 1681, three years after his death, from a collection owned by his wife, Mary.

A recent study by Derek Hirst and Steven Zwicker of Washington University in St. Louis, has suggested that Marvell's lifelong struggle for individual rights may have been a result of his own inner struggle with homosexuality in a repressive society.

Famous poems include To His Coy Mistress (to which T. S. Eliot refers in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land), The Garden, An Horatian Ode, and the Country House Poem, "Upon Appleton House".

Marvell's poetic style

Marvell’s poetry is often witty and full of elaborate conceits in the elegant style of the metaphysical poets. Many poems were inspired by events of the time, public or personal. The Picture of Little TC in a Prospect of Flowers was written about the daughter of one of Marvell's friends, Theophila Cornwell, who was named after an elder sister who had died as a baby. Marvell uses the picture of her surrounded by flowers in a garden to convey the transience of spring and the fragility of childhood.

Others were written in the pastoral style familiar to students of the classical Roman authors. Even here, Marvell tends to place a particular picture before us. In The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn, the nymph weeps for the little animal as it dies, and tells us how it consoled her for her betrayal in love.

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