Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Poetry - Andrew Marvell

This week I've chosen a poem by Andrew Marvell (picture from here), one of my favourite poets. The Definition of Love is quoted in Linda Gillard's absorbing new novel, The Glass Guardian, which I reviewed yesterday.
I knew the first & last verses but it was a lovely opportunity to read the rest of the poem again. It's a difficult poem to understand but the melancholy of an impossible love is so beautifully described that I don't feel I have to understand all the metaphysical conceits.

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'er have flown,
    But vainly flapped its tinsel wing.

And yet I quickly might arrive
    Where my extended soul is fixed ;
But Fate does iron wedges drive,
    And always crowds itself betwixt.

For Fate with jealous eye does see
    Two perfect loves, nor lets them close;
Their union would her ruin be,
    And her tyrannic power depose.

And therefore her decrees of steel
    Us as the distant poles have placed,
(Though Love's whole world on us doth wheel),
    Not by themselves to be embraced,

Unless the giddy heaven fall,
    And earth some new convulsion tear.
And, us to join, the world should all
    Be cramp'd into a planisphere.

As lines, so love's oblique, may well
    Themselves in every angle greet :
But ours, so truly parallel,
    Though infinite, can never meet.

Therefore the love which us doth bind,
    But Fate so enviously debars,
Is the conjunction of the mind,
    And opposition of the stars.


  1. I love Marvell's work. Did you know he was a top government official and probably a spy as well. In his own time his poetry was the least of his attributes.

    1. Yes, I know a little about Marvell's life but I'd like to know more. Is there a biography you'd recommend, Alex? There's always more to discover, isn't there?

  2. Yes, Lynn, 'Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon' by Nigel Smith came out about eighteen months ago. It's very readable and yet still scholarly.

    1. Thanks Alex, I've added it to my wishlist.